December 26, 2007

Leach has a formula that works

Under head coach Mike Leach the Texas Tech Red Raiders have won four of their last five bowl games. Never before in Tech's lengthy bowl history has that occurred. Indeed, the previous best record over a five-game stretch was 2-3. That occurred twice. First, over a period from 1942 through 1954, and second, from 1986 through 1995.

Keep in mind, moreover, that were it not for a last second field goal or an early touchdown of dubious validity, Alabama might not have defeated the Red Raiders in the 2005 Cotton Bowl, and Tech would now be on a five-game bowl winning streak.

Obviously, Leach and his staff are doing something right after a rocky start in Lubbock which saw them drop their first two bowl contests, to East Carolina and Iowa respectively. Tech inside receivers coach Dana Holgorsen allows that Leach learned from those early misfires.

"Mike did a great job of evaluating what we did right and what we did wrong the first couple of years here during our bowl preparation and then researching what other teams did as well. We adjusted some things and then have been doing the same thing for the past four or five years, which I think has helped us win a lot of bowl games in the past."

And preparing for bowl games is not an easy thing to get right as Tech's bowl record (5-17-1) prior to Leach's arrival makes clear.

So what is the secret to Leach's success? The exotic nature of his offense is part of the formula. Despite the spread of the spread offense, few teams confront it on anything like a regular basis. And unless you play Hawaii, you will never see a unit that passes from the spread as much as the Red Raiders.

The results against confused and befuddled defenses are somewhat predictable: in their four previous bowl victories, Tech has averaged 46 points per game. You'll win a lot of games when you score 46 points.

There is, however, more to Leach's master plan than just dazzling the opposition with an offense they cannot comprehend. A key ingredient, which is always mentioned in conversations about Tech's bowl preparation, is the proper use of time. According to inside receiver Eric Morris, striking the right balance between work and rest, fatigue and rust, is very important.

"I think he [Leach] does a good job the first couple of weeks of kind of giving the old guys, or the guys who got most of the snaps during the year kind of a little bit of rest, cut down their reps and help them get their legs back under them. And then, as we work back up closer and closer to the game he starts working our reps back in there so we can get our legs ready and prepare mentally to be ready for the game."

Outside linebacker Ty Linder adds, "I think the main thing is Coach Leach makes sure we don't waste any practices. What he tries to do is make sure some of the older guys, guys that have been taking a lot of reps in the games, he makes sure those guys have fresh legs, whereas giving the young guys a bunch of reps preparing them for next season."

One glitch in Tech's recent bowl history was the first two-and-a-half quarters of last year's Insight Bowl. The Red Raiders fell behind the Minnesota Golden Gophers by 31 points before mounting a comeback that ranks as one of the greatest in college football history. There may be some concern that history could repeat itself in this year's Gator Bowl, especially considering that Tech's opponent, the Virginia Cavaliers, have dominated foes in the first quarter of games this season.

Holgorsen, however, does not blame poor preparation for the near disaster in the Insight Bowl. And if he's right, there is no reason to expect a Red Raider malaise to crop up in the Gator Bowl.

"I really think we were ready to play last year, we just didn't get any breaks last year and they got on a roll and played good. Obviously, we regrouped at halftime and came out and played really well and got the breaks we needed to win."

Linder, moreover, does not fear a recurrence of Tech's slow start against Minnesota.

"No, I think we're gonna be ready to play and I think that, you know, Coach Leach is doing a good job of getting us ready to play. So I think we'll be ready to go come first snap of the Gator Bowl."

If Linder is right, and the Red Raiders come out with guns a-blazin', Tech and Coach Leach will likely make it five wins out of six in bowl games.

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