Stopping Texas Tech's offense tall task for Virginia

By Aaron Perryman Cavalier Daily

December 6, 2007

Charlottesville, VA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Virginia will meet Texas Tech in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla. in a game that features a tale of two teams that have won in drastically different ways this season.

The Cavaliers (9-3, 6-2 ACC) have won most of their games this year with a gritty defense that has given up only 18.8 points per game, 13th in the nation. Virginia's close wins have been well-publicized as the Cavaliers have won an NCAA-record five games by two or fewer points.

The Cavaliers tied a school record this year with seven consecutive wins and boast the ACC Coach of the Year in Al Groh. Both were attractive reasons for the Gator Bowl selection committee to select the Cavaliers for its game.

"[The selection process has] been very fun, but Virginia was at the top of the list for quite a while now ever since they really started going on their seven-win run," said Scott Keith, Gator Bowl selection committee chairman. "Having the ability to have the ACC Coach of the Year is an incredible honor for us and so we are certainly excited about that and some tremendous players on both offense and defense."

Unlike the Cavaliers, the Red Raiders (8-4, 4-4 Big 12) have won their games on the strength of their offense, which is putting up an incredible 41.8 points per game, good enough for sixth in the nation. For some perspective, Clemson is the ACC's highest-scoring team at 34.2 points per game. Virginia scores 24.1 points per game.

Coach Mike Leach, in his eighth season at Texas Tech, is known as an offensive innovator and has turned the Red Raider offense into one of college football's most dangerous during his tenure.

"As soon as [Leach] got to Texas Tech, they have been in the top five to 10 teams in the country in total offense every year," Groh said.



Texas Tech has won a couple of memorable games the past two seasons with the help of its explosive offense -- the Insight Bowl against Minnesota last season 44-41 in overtime (Virginia defeated Minnesota in its last bowl game, the 2005 Music City Bowl) and this year's Nov. 17 matchup against eventual-Big 12 champion Oklahoma 34-27 to close out its season.

"I watched from an entertainment standpoint last year and saw Texas Tech come back against Minnesota in their bowl game," Groh said. "They were down 35-7 and won the game in overtime ... Just on a Saturday night here recently, I was flipping through the channels and saw the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game was on. It was pretty eye-catching at one point to see the score was at 35-14 or something of that nature. Not too many teams score 35 points on Oklahoma."

The high-octane Red Raider offense is led by the duo of junior quarterback Graham Harrell and redshirt freshman wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Harrell has thrown 45 touchdowns and passes for 441.5 yards per game. Virginia sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell's 11 touchdowns and 174.8 yards per game are meager in comparison. Crabtree has caught 125 passes for 155.1 yards per game and has 21 touchdowns. Virginia senior tight end Tom Santi leads the Cavaliers in touchdown catches with only three.

"We will not have faced anything the likes of those two," Groh said. "Certainly, I would say on a week-to-week basis anybody who plays Texas Tech probably has that to say."

Virginia is very excited to face a well-known team on a national stage. This is the Cavaliers' first New Year's Day bowl game appearance since the 1994 Carquest Bowl.

"To take on a team of this nature on New Year's Day and with what Texas Tech has done offensively in recent years, most college football players are aware of Texas Tech," Groh said. "As opposed to maybe to a team that's won quite a few games but hasn't been as colorful and as high scoring, so it seems like immediately a lot of our players were aware of it."

To be victorious, Virginia will probably have to score well above its average of 24.1 points per game. This is not impossible against the Red Raiders, a team that is 51st in the nation in scoring defense (25.8 points per game) and 78th in the nation in rush defense (171 yards per game). Texas Tech has lost two games this year where it has still scored more than 40 points: 49-45 to Oklahoma State and 59-43 to Texas. Should the Cavaliers get behind early and have to throw downfield a lot, however, they may be in trouble. Virginia has struggled with this aspect of its offense, and Texas Tech's pass defense is ranked 17th in the nation (196.1 yards per game).

"If we hold them to 25 points, it will be one of the lower point totals they have had all year," Groh said. "But that might not be sufficient to win the game ... I think we just have to be ready to get one more [point], whatever it takes. Block a kick, throw a long pass, intercept a pass -- I think we have to be prepared to score in any way possible."

(C) 2007 Cavalier Daily via CSTV U-WIRE