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July 7, 2009

Over/Under: More than 1,532 rushing yards

In this piece designed to be a treat for stats freaks, we take a look at Tech's running game, its receiving corps and the defense in general. Will these units surpass their immediate predecessors in terms of statistical proficiency, or not?

1.) 1,532 TEAM RUSHING YARDS FOR THE RAIDERS IN 2009

Fifteen-hundred some odd rushing yards is a pretty salty stat for an offense called the Air Raid. Nevertheless look for the 2009 Red Raiders to better that mark from a year ago. But if they do, it won't be because Tech runs the ball appreciably more than a year ago. Mike Leach shows no signs of tweaking his offense to take special advantage of the considerable talent that exists at running back. New Red Raider quarterback Taylor Potts, just like all of his predecessors, will dial up the run whenever the defense invites it, but no more than that.

That said, it has been an extremely long time since the Red Raiders have had a running back tandem like Baron Batch and Harrison Jeffers (I'd have to go back to Robert Lewis and Timmy Smith in the early 80s to find a comparable pair). The current duo probably won't carry the rock much more than Batch and Shannon Woods did last season, but they should do much more with their opportunities.

Batch averaged a fantastic 6.7 yards per carry in 2008. Don't be surprised if he betters that slightly in 2009. Helping Batch out will be redshirt freshman Jeffers who should burst on the college football scene like a fiery meteor arcing across the firmament. The prediction here is that Jeffers will have at least six runs of 40-plus yards in 2009. And the Batch/Jeffers combo should eclipse the 1,600-yard rushing mark with room to spare. Over.

2.) THREE TEXAS TECH RECEIVERS WITH 70-PLUS RECEPTIONS IN 2009

Texas Tech's passing attack under Mike Leach is always special, but last year it was a real champion. The Red Raiders were fortunate enough to have a senior, three-year starter in Graham Harrell under center, a Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver in the person of Michael Crabtree, and a rock-solid senior inside receiver in Eric Morris. Those three scourges are gone.

Replacing Harrell is talented but entirely untested Taylor Potts. In place of Crabtree, the Red Raiders will likely trot out whippet-like possession receiver Lyle Leong. Filling in ably for Morris will be Tramain Swindall. Those are three good players, but it is not reasonable to expect them to be as prolific as Harrell, Crabtree and Morris.

And the likelihood of a drop-off in pass proficiency is compounded by an offensive line that must replace three starters.

Tech's top three receivers from a year ago totaled 228 receptions for an average of 76 catches per receiver. However, without Crabtree around to Hoover 90-plus aerials, the passing attack will be a bit more balanced, but a decline in overall efficiency will prevent any three receivers from reaching 70 receptions. Under.

3.) 27.85 POINTS ALLOWED PER GAME BY RUFFIN MCNEILL'S DEFENSE IN 2009

On paper, the 2009 Red Raider defense looks to be neither appreciably better nor appreciably worse than the 2008 unit. The defensive line, despite the loss of sackmeisters Brandon Williams and McKinner Dixon, figures to be the equivalent of the 2008 line. Maybe not as potent against the pass, but probably a little bit better against the run.

The linebackers should be considerably better than a year ago. All three starters return as well as three very talented backups. This unit should solidify Tech's run-stop even more, and will do a good job in the short passing game.

With the loss of superlative safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet, and their replacement by a group of raw newcomers, Tech's secondary will likely slip a notch or two.

All in all, therefore, this defense should be better against the run but more susceptible to the pass.

This being the case, the quality of the competition will likely determine whether Tech's defense allows fewer yards per game than a year ago. And there is reason for concern here.

In the Big 12 South alone, the Red Raiders will be forced to contend yet again with quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Zac Robinson, as well as improved Robert Griffin and Jerrod Johnson. Tech will also see the North division's best quarterback in Todd Reesing. Furthermore, Houston will throw extremely talented signal caller Case Keenum at the Red Raiders and he will be operating with the words of former Tech receivers coach Dana Holgorsen echoing in his ears.

Those seven quarterbacks are all capable of putting up big numbers and it will be a challenge for Tech's retooled pass rush and safety crew to deal with them. The odds, therefore, suggest that the Red Raider defense will not hold offenses to less than 27.85 points per contest. I'm going with the odds. Over.


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