Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Let the tortillas fly...

By Tiger Fan

This Saturday’s game in Lubbock could be the turning point of the Tigers’ season. Okay, okay… I’ve said this before, but I mean it this time. Seriously. A win against the Red Raiders could propel Mizzou to heights that, well, quite frankly, we never imagined before the season began. A loss would prove to all the prognosticators and so-called experts that Mizzou’s best start since 1981 can be attributed to an easy schedule, not a good team. At that point, we’d be right back where we started. An average team with average expectations.

Frankly, I’m not sure the Tigers can get it done on the road this week, but I don’t see that as the harbinger of doom that some fans seem to. Before the season, few would have predicted a Tiger win against Texas Tech. Now folks are acting like it’s a must-win game. An important game? Yes. A must-win? No way… even if the Tigers lose, they are still ahead of where many predicted at this point in the season.

The Tigers are 3-2 all-time against Tech. The last meeting was the famed 62-31 Mizzou victory in Columbia… the year before that was a 52-38 win for Tech. This year Vegas favors the Red Raiders by 4. Tech is No. 24 in the USA Today poll and Mizzou is No. 25. It doesn’t get much closer than this. Let’s break it down:

Coach

Mike Leach is in his seventh season as head coach. He has a 52-29 overall record, including a 9-3 mark last year, which was good enough for second in the south. There’s no doubt that Leach has turned things around in Lubbock. The bigger enigma in the coaching comparison is Pinkel. Since his arrival in Columbia, he has been known as a tough guy with the media and a coach who fails to make in-game adjustments. We’ve all seen Pinkel get out-coached and we’ve all seen him blow big leads. But so far this year, it’s like Mizzou has a whole new coach. Pinkel is so comfortable with the media that he actually gave FOX his first eight plays last week and brought a cake to a presser earlier this season. Despite sub-par starts against Ohio and Colorado, the team made good adjustments at halftime (particularly on the defensive end) and pulled away in the second half. Is it a new era or the result of mediocre opposition? We’ll find out on Saturday. But let’s remember, last time these two faced off, Pinkel tore the Raiders apart with an awesome game plan on the way to a 62-31 beat down. Until Leach responds, I’m giving the edge to Mizzou.

Advantage: Mizzou

Offense

Anyone who has paid any attention to the Red Raiders since Leach took over seven seasons ago knows that Texas Tech is going to throw the ball early and often. Tech has led the NCAA in passing each of the last four years and is on track to contend for the title again. The Raiders boast the No. 3 passing attack in the nation, led by sophomore QB Graham Harrell in his first year as a starter. Harrell has a solid corps of receivers to throw to, including senior Robert Johnson (who pulled in three TDs against A&M last week), senior Joel Filani (who averages 89.2 receiving yards/game), and senior Jarrett Hicks (a preseason all-conference selection who was recently reinstated by the NCAA). MU has its own talented receiving corps, but the difference could be the Tiger running game. Tech is ranked 104th in rushing offense, while Mizzou brings a more balanced attack to the table: 21st in rushing and 21st in passing. If Tony Temple and Co. can get going, they could have a lot of success against a Tech defense that ranks 77th against the run. I think that is one of the keys to Saturday’s game. So what do all these numbers add up to? Offensive production that has been almost identical: Tech puts up 33.8 points/game as opposed to Mizzou’s 33.4. Looks like the first team to 30 will probably win. I think Tech has the advantage on offense, but here’s something to keep in mind: The Red Raiders have put up the bulk of their yards against defensive units that rank 113th (SMU) 119th (UTEP), 46th (A&M) and 110th (TCU) against the pass.

Advantage: Texas Techbut not by much. If it was in Columbia, I might go with the Tigers. It’s that close.

Defense

The other key to Saturday’s game will be whether the Tiger defense can stand up to its first real test. Mizzou currently ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense, but they have yet to face a team like Tech. If the Tigers can live up to their No. 10 pass ranking, they will win. Mark it down. But that’s a big if. The Red Raider defense has allowed just 15.4 points/game so far and ranks No. 9 nationally against the pass. The unit is led by DE Keyunta Dawson, who led the team last year in sacks and tackles for a loss. Dawson was named a second-team all-conference player before the season. It’s a solid unit, but I think the Tigers are better.

Advantage: Mizzou

Special Teams

Tech has a solid kicker in Alex Trlica, who needs just five points to become the school’s all-time leading scoring leader for a kicker. In all likelihood, he’ll reach that mark Saturday against the Tigers. The Red Raiders also have an experienced punt returner in Danny Amendola, who has 907 career return yards. The Tigers answer with a serviceable kicker in Wolfert and a continuing adventure in the return game. This seems like a no-brainer.

Advantage: Texas Tech

Bottom Line

Even if the Tiger D brings its A-game, expect a high-scoring affair. The over/under is 55, but these two teams have averaged 66.6 points/game in their first five meetings. If Mizzou’s D-line can rattle the young QB and Temple can establish the running game, I like our chances. But I’m going to pick Tech on Homecoming in a shootout, 34-31. I’m also going to hope I’m wrong for the first time this season.

1 comment:

Jamie Wachter said...

I think the important question here is whether or not the Red Raiders are mature enough to talk to the media.

Mizzou 35, Baby Raiders 24