Offense – Texas Longhorns
Everything centers around the athletic play of Colt McCoy, but it’s not necessarily all about his passing game. He is a mobile quarterback and with averages of 32 pass attempts per game and 40 runs per game (some of these are McCoy scrambling for yardage), Texas has one of the best balances of run and pass in the nation. And this is the key. As a defense, the only possible way you can beat Texas is to confuse the offensive line with different blitz packages, take away the run early, and contain McCoy when he gets flushed out of the pocket. The phrase, “You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them,” applies here.
Offense – Texas Tech Red Raiders
Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are the most dangerous pair in the entire league, with both players on the Heisman list, and deservedly so. Tech’s offense is 3rd in points per game, 2nd in yards per game, 1st in pass yards per game, and 1st in receptions per game. But Tech fans have seen offensive numbers like this before. What makes this Mike Leach Texas Tech team so special is that even though they only rush 25 times per game (3rd to last in the country), they are still putting up 138 rushing yards per game. It is in this equation that lies the secret to Tech winning this game. In the first half, if Texas Tech can keep the Texas defense honest with just a few good runs, the passing game will remain open long enough to keep the game close. Keep it close, and I truly believe Texas Tech has the upper hand with it’s dominant power-offense.
Defense – Texas Longhorns
The defensive front for the Longhorns may be the best they’ve ever had. Orakpo, Houston, Miller, and Melton (doesn’t that sound like a law firm?) have a combined 25.5 tackles for loss resulting in a total of 118 yards that they have cost opposing teams. Deeper than that, however, if this team has a weakness, it is the secondary. They only have 5 interceptions on the year and have given up 335 passing yards per game. Granted, they play in the pass-happy Big 12, but they have not faced as dominant a duo as Harrell and Crabtree. Pressure on Harrell will definitely be key, but getting through one of the toughest offensive lines in football won’t be easy. If Harrell has time to pass, his wide receivers will find a way to get open and the Texas secondary will finally be exposed for what it is.
Defense – Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech will not be able to stop Texas like Oklahoma State did, but with an offense like the Red Raiders have, it may not matter. A couple of big stops will be key. Since getting Texas to third down may happen seldom, stopping McCoy in these situations is going to be huge. Watch for the Texas Tech secondary to key on Jordan Shipley, Texas’ big-time wide receiver, especially in the Red Zone. If they can contain the receivers, Tech’s spy on McCoy better not lose containment or the coverage won’t matter. The Texas Tech secondary, by the way, has 14 takeaways on the season, good for 3rd in the country. If they can get a couple more against Colt “80% completion percentage” McCoy, they’ll be in pretty good shape.
Texas definitely has the upper-hand in the punt game (if anyone ever punts), but I don’t think punting is going to be a factor in this game at all. Field position will be decided more by the returns than the kicks, and most likely, kick returns rather than punt returns. In the kick return category, the two teams from the Lonestar State are almost dead even with Texas having a better kick return average by four-tenths of a point. And so, short and sweet, unless a punt or field block occurs, special teams really shouldn’t be too much of a factor.
DE Brian Orakpo vs. LT Rylan Reed
This will be THE matchup of the game, as nobody this year has been able to stop Orakpo. But nobody is Texas Tech, either, and Reed is one of the best in the game. This is the kind of battle that you always hear announcers say is won “in the trenches,” which, for those of you who may not get it, is a war metaphor. This will be a mini-war in the midst of a major war.
WR Michael Crabtree vs. The Entire Texas Secondary
It will take the entire secondary, working together, communicating perfectly, and constantly in motion to even begin to contain what is maybe the best talent the wide receiver position has ever seen. An announcer last week compared him to Larry Fitzgerald, which I think is apt…unfortunately for the Longhorns.
QB Colt McCoy vs. QB Graham Harrell
Though they are not directly battling on the field, both of these incredible talents will have a national stage in which to showcase their talents…and the winner may just end up taking home the Heisman. Whichever quarterback wins this game definitely has the upper-hand in the race.
Here we go: two huge Big 12 teams, two great coaches, two powerhouse offenses, and three Heisman candidates. Orakpo and the Texas D-line will have to get pressure on Harrell in order to stop the Red Raider offense and the Tech senior duo of McBath and Charbonnet will need to bring down an interception or two to keep McCoy on his toes. If either quarterback completes over 75% of his passes and finds seams throughout the game, the other team will lose. Though offense is the specialty in this game, defense is the key. As it comes down the stretch into the fourth quarter, I expect Tech to be down by a touchdown or so, but their pass-first persona will serve it’s purpose perfectly as they pass their way to a come-from-behind victory.