December 23, 2008

Notebook: Focus not an issue for Raiders

Texas Tech practiced in Lubbock for the final time before the 2009 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic this afternoon, prepping for Ole Miss in mild weather after two days of below-freezing temperatures.

"Oh my goodness," said sophomore inside receiver Detron Lewis. "It was extremely cold, it was terrible. I wanted to go home, but I understand we have to do work to beat Ole Miss."

The Red Raiders' preparation won't end today, though, as they will have five more practices, in Dallas' Texas Stadium, before facing off against the Rebels on January 2. And according to junior defensive end Brandon Williams, so far so good.

"It's high intensity right now so when we go to Dallas and practice it's going to be even higher," he said. "But practice is going really good right now."

Much has been made of Texas Tech's mindset entering this game. After coming oh-so-close to an at-large BCS bid, fans of both teams have questioned whether or not the Red Raiders will be focused come game-time.

"We've been real focused," said junior cornerback Jamar Wall. "With the extra time during the bowl practices, you can pick up on the little things that you couldn't during the game weeks. Doing that, and being prepared for [Ole Miss] to a T, is going to lead to a great feeling when we play them on January 2nd."

Running backs coach Seth Littrell echoes Wall's sentiments.

"I'm not worried about our players being fired up," he said. "These guys have shown all season long, even in the loss, that they were ready to play and were fired up. I think these guys are mature enough that when it's football time they get work done, and focus in meetings and practice.

"Not only that, but they are excited about the Cotton Bowl. It's a very prestigious bowl and it is one of the better bowls out there."

DEFENSE STEPPED UP IN KEY SITUATIONS

Texas Tech's defensive performance in 2008 was statistically, on average, very similar to its 2007 outing. Ruffin McNeill's unit allowed just under six more yards per game this season than it did last, but limited its opponents to approximately 50 less rushing yards per contest. One of the biggest differences, though, was the defense's habit of rising at key times and making big plays.

"It's just coach," said junior linebacker Marlon Williams, attributing the success to McNeill. "He's going to call a guy out or he's going to come to a guy in a time of need and say, 'Hey, I need you to make a play.' You know? And that comes from practice when a pick is thrown or a fumble is on the ground or something, there's a chance to make a big play.

"He says, 'Make the big play. Don't almost get it, don't be one step away; make the big play.'"

And they made several. Wall intercepted a Joe Ganz pass in overtime to seal an overtime victory over Nebraska. Sophomore defensive tackle Colby Whitlock stuffed Chris Ogbonnaya for a safety on Texas' first play from scrimmage. Against Baylor, sophomore linebacker Brian Duncan picked off a fourth-quarter pass from Robert Griffin that put Texas Tech in position to win the game.

"It comes from just doing your assignment," said Brandon Williams. "If the d-line is rushing and the cornerback is where they're supposed to be, then big plays are going to come. All you have to do is your assignment and you'll be good."

REBELS' BOAST IMPRESSIVE DEFENSE

From a statistics standpoint, the Rebels' defense will be the toughest that the Red Raiders will have faced all season. And though junior defensive end Greg Hardy and senior defensive tackle Peria Jerry receive most of the press (and for good reason), the entire group is solid from top to bottom.

"The biggest thing about them is that they are athletic and fast," explained Littrell. "You turn on the film and the first thing you see is team speed, they definitely have speed out there. Up front, they have an All-SEC defensive tackle and they have about an eight man rotation that is pretty stout. We're going to have to be prepared to play.

"They do a lot of the same things that we do on offense with their defense. They don't do anything schematically that is very difficult; it's just the way that they play within that scheme. They are very basic schemes, they put their guys in position to run around and make routine plays and that is what they do very well."

Ole Miss ended the regular season ranking 15th nationally in total defense, and 14th in scoring defense. With numbers like those, Texas Tech will be in for a big challenge.

"They're probably one of the best defenses we've seen," said junior right guard Brandon Carter. "I think they have the looks of Texas' defense, honestly. They're really good. They have a great front, great individual players, and they play hard. We welcome that challenge, we always have fun whenever there's a challenge."

The Rebels' defensive coordinator, Tyrone Nix, is known for his aggressive, blitz-heavy style of defense. Typically, this kind of style lends itself to man-to-man opportunities on the outside for the Red Raiders.

"One thing I know is that they man up, a lot," said Lewis. "And if they man up on us, that will give us a better chance to succeed because I know our receivers do real good against teams that man up."


COTTON BOWL A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR TECH

The 2009 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic will be the last in the actual Cotton Bowl stadium, future Classics will be held in the new Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington. And Texas Tech will have the opportunity to close the stadium out by making history.

"I know, and everyone else knows, that if we win 12 games we'll be a part of Texas Tech history," said Wall. "We have a lot of great athletes who will go to the next level, so we have to just go out and prepare and get this 12th win."

This will be the Red Raiders' fourth appearance in the Cotton Bowl, and the second in four seasons for the program under head coach Mike Leach.

"The Cotton Bowl, I would have to say, is as high a quality of a bowl that I've ever been a part of," said Leach. "It's exciting to go there, exciting to participate in the bowl. The team that we're playing, Ole Miss, is a great team. Nobody has beat them by more than seven, and they beat Florida and only lost to Alabama by two or something like that. They're really a good challenge."

From all accounts, the organizers of the AT&T Cotton Bowl do an unmatched job of taking care of the players, coaches, media and fans. And while there will be plenty of extracurricular activities, like the Lawry's Beef Bowl on Tuesday - Texas Tech will have a singular focus once they arrive in Dallas.

"Our main focus is Ole Miss," nodded Lewis. "We all know what our number one focus is and that is to beat Ole Miss. That's all we're going to worry about when we get to Dallas."

PRACTICE SCHEDULE:

Texas Tech will practice in Dallas at the following times in preparation for the 2009 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. None of the practices are open to the public.

- December 27, 5:00 p.m.

- December 28, 12:00 p.m.

- December 29, 12:00 p.m.

- December 30, 12:00 p.m.

- December 31, 3:00 p.m.

Temple Anderson and Joe Yeager contributed to this report.

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