Reason #1: To Sir, with Love: Ruffin McNeill
I'm not done crushing over what Ruffin McNeill has done for this defense, much like Mark Thackeray helping to mold the lives of those tough inner-city London teenagers. McNeill has taken a defense that had been bad-mouthed for years into, at the very least respectable, and in my opinion, pretty damn good. It has started with McNeill's father-like attitude with his players (I think that the sole reason McKinner Dixon signed with Texas Tech was the strong hand of McNeill) and simplifying the defense. Let these guys play. But it didn't stop there. McNeill has had in-game adjustments as well as game preparations that have not only worked for the most part, but have held opponents to much less than I expected. McNeill and his defense held, Texas to 374 yards (the Longhorns are averaging 471) and Oklahoma State to 368 (the Cowboys are averaging 492). I'm not real sure what rabbit McNeill will pull out of his hat this week, even if it's the traditional straight-up defense that we've known to both love and cringe at the thought of bending-but-not-breaking, but I'm pretty confident that he knows what will work.
Reason #2:The Strength of Texas Tech's Lines
Dedfischer has already gone into great detail about the matchups along the lines, but I think I'd be completely remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this team is powered by it's strong line play. This offense struggles if the quarterback is under pressure and to date, that just hasn't happened. There's been very little pressure on Harrell in conference play against 3 of the top 5 Big 12 defenses, Texas Nebraska and Oklahoma State. And that's where all of this starts. Leach's vision, along with Matt Moore, was to establish this offensive line early last year, but getting those guys to play, and replacing absolutely no one has paid huge dividends this year. Cohesiveness is a factor that is easily forgotten sometimes with an offensive line, but that's not the case with me. Despite the struggles of Marlon Winn last year, the early injury of Vasquez, and the late season injury of Rylan Reed, this unit is poised to do something that's never been done. The same thing can be said about the defensive line. The starters return from last year's line and the only thing different was that guys matured and talent was added. In fact, it wasn't just talent that was added, it was talent that was ready to contribute immediately (Sesay and Dixon). The long and short of the defensive line is that Colby Whitlock wore down last year and by the time the OU game rolled along, I think he was absolutely gassed, but that was Whitlock's true freshman year. A year conditioning and you have what may be one of the more dominating defensive linemen in the Big 12, possibly in the country -- and he's only a sophomore. The emergence of Richard Jones, Rajon Henley, the aforementioned Sesay and Dixon and you've got one hell of a recipe of success. Continuity + Talent = Success.
Reason #3: A Healthy Crabtree and Batch
Michael Crabtree hasn't been quite right since he injured his ankle against Kansas and Baron Batch hasn't been 100% with a turf toe problem. But these two guys, perhaps Texas Tech's best playmakers, have had two weeks to get healthy or healthier. At the very least, I think we can expect a 100% Michael Crabtree, which is scary, just ask Texas, and possibly a much improved Baron Batch, although he's going to need an entire offseason to cure what ails him, could be an absolutely huge spark for the Red Raiders. Not enough has been said about the job that Batch has done thus far on that injured toe, but I get the feeling that you will have to drag him from the field and he is savoring every freaking moment. I would imagine that some players take for granted the gifts that they have to play this game, but I believe the reason that Batch runs so hard and with so much passion is because he loves this game.
Reason #4: The Completion of Graham Harrell
It's taken almost 3 years, but I feel like Graham Harrell may be Captain Leach's greatest accomplishment to date. Leach has molded a quarterback known to be inconsistent for entire games during a season has become the complete quarterback that we've always thought he could be and now is. Harrell did revert to his bad and old self against Nevada, completing only 41.3% of his passes, a dismal 295 yards and 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown, but that's been the only hiccup. And it was only 2 months ago that we were all scratching our heads and wondering why Harrell was under-throwing long passes with little to no success. But things have changed. In fact, you might say that as the competition has gotten tougher, so has Harrell, and that may have been his biggest knock as a player thus far. I'm not real sure what Leach has done to put Harrell on the track that he's currently on, but it's working.
Reason #5: Because It Is Texas Tech's Destiny
I know, it's a little much, but I believe in this team. It seems hoakey to say it out loud, but it's true. What are the odds that Matt Williams' name gets picked out of some hopper to have the opportunity to kick for free rent? Is it 1 out of 500 or is it 1 out of 1,000? In any event, it's a longshot, in the truest sense of the word. Any 100 untold events could have prevented Williams' name being THE NAME to kick for free rent. But it wasn't. His name was called, and right now, I feel like that Texas Tech's name is being called and the football is firmly on that tee. Free rent is waiting for you, all you got to do is knock down a 30-yard field goal. It's easy. Hell, even a student could do it without even warming up. This is about opportunity and it's staring your Red Raiders right in the face. I don't think this one is going wide right.
Check back tomorrow for "5 Reasons Why Texas Tech Will Lose: Oklahoma Edition".