December 31, 2007
Gator Bowl: These five questions could be key
The Texas Tech Red Raiders have relatively few seniors to send out with a bang in the 2008 Gator Bowl, but they do have a wealth of young players who could give next year's team an early launch by beating the Virginia Cavaliers.
Tech is a very respectable 8-4, comes off a prime-time dusting of the Oklahoma Sooners, and will land solidly in the final Top 25 by defeating the Cavaliers on a national New Year's Day stage. But this will not be an easy task. Bad teams don't get invited to the Gator Bowl, and the rock-solid Cavaliers will come to play. If, however, the Red Raiders are able to resolve several questions in the affirmative, they should exit the Gator Bowl with a big win and a massive leg up on what could be a dream season in 2008.
Will the Rhythm Section Be on Time? Long layoffs are perennial questions for bowl-bound teams, but they may be even more pressing for Texas Tech, and particularly its passing attack. The passing game, by its very nature, depends heavily on synchronized timing between quarterback and receivers. With practice and game experience, this timing becomes almost second nature. But when there are no games for six weeks that timing is subject to rust and decay. For the sake of the Red Raiders, they had better find their rhythm quickly because Virginia is a first-quarter team, having outscored its opponents by a 116-55 total over the course of the season.
Does Long Get the Short End of the Stick? The Virginia Cavaliers have a Mike Crabtree of their own and his name is Chris Long. Thing is, Long plays defensive end instead of wide receiver. Nevertheless, Long is just as dynamic as Crabtree in his own way and can be every bit as destructive. And there can be no doubt that Long is champing at the bit in anticipation of an opponent that passes 50-plus times per game and whose quarterback is not known for his scrambling acumen. For the Red Raider passing attack to function effectively, Tech will have to hold Long in check. Anything more than two sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced holding penalty will portend evil for Tech. Every Red Raider offensive player will have to do his part to prevent Long from wreaking havoc.
Will the Cavs Be Shocked and Awed? It may be nothing more than coach-speak, and strategic coach-speak at that, but Virginia head man Al Groh has been pretty effusive in his praise of the Red Raider offense. He's spoken of how his team has never seen an offense like Tech's, how he was flabbergasted by Tech's Insight Bowl comeback, and how he was mightily impressed that the Red Raiders hung 34 points on Oklahoma. He's said that his team will have their hands full with the Air Raid. Again, probably nothing more than coach-speak, but players take their cues from their head coach, and if they begin to believe what Groh has been saying, the Cavs could be hopelessly intimidated before the game's first snap.
Can the Virginia Offense Keep Pace? Even though the Cavaliers possess one of the best defenses in the nation, it is probably too much to expect them to hold the Tech offense under 30 points. Only Missouri and Colorado were able to accomplish that feat this year. Conversely, Virginia has scored 30 or more points only twice this season, against Pittsburgh and Miami. The Cavaliers' lone hope may be that the inconsistent Red Raider defense has one of its bad games in the Gator Bowl. Failing that, Tech may just out-horsepower Virginia.
Has the Tech Defense Turned the Corner? We may find out against the Cavaliers. Going toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful offenses in the nation in the Oklahoma Sooners, the Red Raiders exhibited more strut and fire than has been seen in a Tech defense in many a long year. In the process, they controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game, kept the Oklahoma ground game well in check, and actually began to play like a talented unit. That performance should provide the defense with a healthy dose of confidence. And certainly, if they play as they did against the Sooners, Virginia's goose will be cooked. But consistency-aye, there's the rub.
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