Cavaliers Seeking Respect Against Fast-Attack Texas Tech In Gator Bowl

For the Cavaliers, this is also about respect

Dec. 31, 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The Gator Bowl story line goes like this: Texas Tech and its pass-happy and potent offense against Virginia, with its do-just-enough-to-win approach.

For the Cavaliers, this is also about respect. Somehow, the No. 21 team in the country, which finished 9-3 in a feisty ACC, is about a six-point underdog against unranked Texas Tech (8-4) on Tuesday.

"We certainly feel that the team has earned its way into the game by finding a way to win on a number of occasions through the course of the year," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "If there's an identifying trait of the team, it is that very thing. As much as being identified by speed or height or any particular skill, that's a skill unto itself."

The Cavaliers haven't been flashy. They average 329 yards a game, compared with the Red Raiders' 537, and have actually given up more points (325) than they've put up (289). But Virginia has scored when it counted, rebounding from a season-opening road loss to Wyoming with seven straight wins and a 17-16 victory over Wake Forest in November.

The Cavaliers thumped Miami 48-0 the next week, marking their first win in the state of Florida. But Virginia is still 0-5 in Florida bowls, including a 48-14 loss to Oklahoma in the 1991 Gator Bowl.

All-America defensive end Chris Long, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long, said this season proves how far the school has come.

"This is the best bowl we've been in since '98," Long said. "It shows what coach Groh has been able to do, changing the culture of this program."

On Tuesday, Virginia has a chance to show the rest of the country. But it will be tough to contain coach Mike Leach's spread offense, which ranks first nationally in yards and sixth in points (42 per game). Tech looks particularly strong after its last game, a 34-27 win over Oklahoma that soured the Sooners' national championship hopes.



"It's something we see as being very necessary in the game, to somehow chop some of those 42 off," Groh said. "That's a lot of points in the game to average. That's a lot of points to score in any one game, much less to average 42 points a game."

Tech's offense is annually strong, but junior Graham Harrell has looked especially good running it. Harrell has thrown for 5,298 yards, just the sixth quarterback in NCAA history and second for the Red Raiders to top 5,000.

His favorite target is 6-foot-3 Michael Crabtree, an All-American who leads the country in receiving yards (1,861), receptions (125) and touchdown catches (21). Last month, the redshirt freshman became the first in his class to win the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver.

Harrell will be looking for him - if he has time. Long has 14 of the Cavaliers' 40 sacks. They rank sixth in the nation. Harrell doesn't hold on to the ball very long and Tech allowed only 15 sacks this season, though nine came in its four losses.

Texas Tech is 4-3 in bowls since Leach took over in 2000, tied with Oklahoma for second-most wins in the Big 12. That probably owes, at least in part, to the difficulty of preparing for his electric offensive system.

"Not a lot of teams run our stuff, not a lot of teams have seen our stuff besides the teams we play every year in the Big 12," Harrell said. "It's an advantage that they haven't seen anything like us, but at the same time we don't get to see film on what we want to see. We don't get to really know what they're going to do against us. We just go into the game expecting anything, then go from there."