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November 18, 2008

Yeager: Tech has been here before

For the second time in seven seasons the Texas Tech Red Raiders are headed to Norman, Oklahoma with an opportunity to clinch a Big 12 South championship and a spot in the Big 12 championship game. And there are some similarities between this year's scenario and the one that prevailed in 2002.

The 2002 Red Raiders were led by a senior three-year starter at quarterback in Kliff Kingsbury. The current Tech team is piloted by senior three-year starter, Graham Harrell.

The 2002 Red Raiders were coming off a scintillating home victory over a top-five Texas Longhorn squad. That was Tech's last victory over the Horns until this year when the Red Raiders kayoed then top-ranked Texas 39-33

But the stakes, the locale, the seniority of the quarterbacks, and wins over the Longhorns are where the similarities end and the differences begin.

To start with, the 2002 Red Raiders entered the game with Oklahoma a decided underdog, and with four blots on their escutcheon in the form of losses to Maurice Clarett and the Ohio State Buckeyes, North Carolina State in Lubbock where Tech surrendered 51 points, to Iowa State, and to Colorado by a wide margin.

The Red Raiders were 8-4 entering the contest with OU, and despite impressive wins over Texas, Mississippi, Texas A&M and Missouri, were a team that had demonstrated many frailties.

The current Tech team could scarcely be more different. The Red Raiders are ranked No. 2 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history, and are a perfect 10-0. In addition to taking out No. 1 Texas, Tech crushed No. 9 Oklahoma State, and demolished a top-25 Kansas team on the road.

Yes, the Red Raiders still enter the game with Oklahoma as underdogs (by a touchdown), but the difference in confidence between the present Tech team and its fan-base, and those of 2002 is palpable.

While the 2002 team entered the OU game excited by the prospect of a possible Big 12 South championship, the current Red Raiders are zeroing in on the Sooners with a deadly focus, and a steely resolve to win the football game. There are no emotions. There is no looking ahead to the possibilities a victory would present. Instead, there is the quiet sense of purpose one associates with championship football teams. The mentality going into this battle is thus dramatically at odds with the run-up to the 2002 contest.

And for the sake of the Red Raiders the outcome had better be different as well.

By way of a grisly refresher, the Sooners pummeled the Red Raiders early in the 2002 game and never really let up. Oklahoma led 16-0 at the end of the first quarter and scored on a 62-yard touchdown run by Quentin Griffin.

(The current Red Raider defense has not surrendered a run of anything close to 62 yards all season.)

The Oklahoma defense went on to record not one but two safeties against the Red Raiders, and sacked Kliff Kingsbury seven times.

(The current Red Raider offensive line has allowed a grand total of five sacks on the entire season thus far.)

At the end of the first half, the Sooners led the Red Raiders 25-0. At one point in the third quarter Oklahoma was up 46-0. The final score was 60-15. It was, simply put, one of the worst beatings in Tech football history.

The key to Oklahoma's success was utter dominance by their defensive front seven over Tech's offensive line. In addition to sacking the Red Raider quarterback seven times, and harassing Kingsbury into a 15-35 night with two interceptions, the Sooners allowed Tech 12 total rushing yards.

Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin, conversely, ran for 207 yards.

The Red Raider offensive line was not a bad one. It featured the likes of Cody Campbell, Toby Cecil, Dylan Gandy, Casey Keck, Daniel Loper and Rex Richards, but it was also young. And it was no match for Dusty Dvoracek, Dan Cody, Jimmie Wilkerson and Teddy Lehman.

The worm has now turned, and make no mistake.

Mike Leach is the man with the hosses up front in the form of Rylan Reed, Louis Vasquez, Stephen Hamby, Brandon Carter, Marlon Winn and a slew of quality depth.

The Sooners have an impressive 34 sacks this season, but Auston English, one of OU's best pass rushers, is likely out for the Tech game. And in any event, the Texas Longhorns entered the Tech game as perhaps the best pass-rushing team in the nation, but only got to Graham Harrell twice early on, and were then stalemated by Tech's pass protection.

Oklahoma will not sack Graham Harrell seven times. It's highly unlikely they'll get to him thrice. And if the Sooners cannot control the line of scrimmage against the Air Raid then they will need 60 points one more time to win this football game.

A mighty transformation has overtaken the Texas Tech football program in the years intervening since 2002. This coming Saturday the Sooners will experience that transformation full force.


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