Texas Tech's defense entered Saturday's matchup with a lot of doubters. Were they capable of stopping a top offense? Do they have enough in the middle of the line to shut down Texas' running game? Would the Longhorns' offensive line just be too good for the Red Raiders? All of these questions were asked the entire week leading up to the big game. It took one play to answer them and quiet the critics.
On Texas' first offensive snap from scrimmage, Colby Whitlock busted through the Longhorn's offensive line and recorded the first safety of his career.
"He just had a good game. I think he took the game plan that we gave him and the plan we had of attacking, he took it to heart," said defensive graduate assistant Chris Hudler.
Whitlock totaled eight tackles against Texas, including two for a loss.
"I think he is consistently getting better and fine tuning himself," said Hudler. "Effort is a big thing. At the first of the year with the style of offense we were playing, where they throw the ball a lot it is kind of hard for a nose guard to get noticed."
After having a bit of a slow start to 2008, Whitlock has really come on the last few games. The key for him has been to just keep battling and giving maximum effort.
"He's been consistent. I've told him before if you keep working, the plays will come. Nothing better than what he did on Saturday."
The rest of the defense along with Whitlock will have to regain the same form they had last weekend as they are preparing to face Oklahoma State, who boasts possibly the best offensive line they have seen this year.
"They're big, athletic guys. I think from watching film they are just as good as Texas, if not a little better on the O-line," explained Hudler. "They are good run blockers. We've got a challenge ahead of us this week. We just have to bring our 'A' game."
Cowboys running back Kendall Hunter, the nation's fourth leading rusher, also provides a unique challenge for the defense according to Hudler.
"He runs hard. He's not the biggest guy but he really runs hard and has good vision. If he sees a cutback he takes it, and he breaks a lot of tackles. He's a good back. He leads the Big 12 in rushing. We have to be aware of him and make plays on him."
- Brock Batchko
OKLAHOMA STATE'S DEFENSE A STERN TEST
Oklahoma State knows a thing or two about stopping high-powered offenses. In their two games against ranked teams so far this year (Missouri, Texas), the Cowboys have held their opponents to roughly 20 points below their season average.
"They fly around, they're excited," said Texas Tech inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley. "They're very opportunistic, seems like every time there's a tipped ball or an opportunity to make a play they get there and make the play.
"They've improved from last year; you can tell they're more confident and more comfortable in their scheme."
Oklahoma State has indeed improved under second-year defensive coordinator Tim Beckman. They ended the 2007 season ranked in the bottom fourth of the Big 12 Conference in all major defensive categories. Nine games into the 2008 campaign, the Cowboys are third in the league in total defense, and second in scoring defense.
"They're a pressure team [up front]," explained Tech offensive line coach Matt Moore. "Lots of twists, a lot of blitz. They haven't got a whole lot of sacks, but they get a lot of pressure."
Indeed, while the Red Raider offense will be facing off against a Cowboy defense equally as impressive as that of the Longhorns, the two style of the two units couldn't be more different.
"UT was a lot more power push [up front], with their strong guys inside," explained Moore. "Where [the Cowboys] are bigger, taller, leaner guys who do a lot more movement."
"They've got guys that can run just like we saw last week," added Tech outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons. "They've got some safeties that are probably a little more experienced than what we saw last week in Texas. I think they're every bith as athletic as Texas."
- Aaron Dickens
YOUNG RECEIVERS STEPPING UP
Though three of the Red Raiders' four top receivers are in currently in their third-plus season on the South Plains, first or second year players have accounted for more than 44-percent (116 of 263) of receptions made and more than 42-percent (1,403 of 3,299) of receiving yards gained by wideouts.
"They've done a good a good job," said Riley. "They've stepped up. That's been the best thing about this group throughout the year is that all the receivers have stepped up. You've got different guys making different plays.
"A lot of guys have caught touchdowns. It's just been everyone in the group, not only the young guys. But it is impressive watching the young guys stepping up and making big plays in big games."
Sophomore Detron Lewis is second on the team with 50 receptions and 637 yards, while redshirt freshman Tramain Swindall has been impressive so far with 33 grabs for 422 yards. Adam James, Jacoby Franks and Rashad Hawk have also contributed in their second year in the program.
"It's indicative of the leadership in that locker room," explained Simmons. "Eric Morris and Michael Crabtree. We're marching to the beat of their drum. They're playing well, so it's raising the level of expectations, raising the level of play of everybody."
- Aaron Dickens
TECH HAS PLENTY TO WATCH
Though the Red Raiders may have some idea of what to expect from Tim Beckman's defense from their experience with him last season, Oklahoma State's out-of-conference matchup with Houston earlier this year may provide Mike Leach and the Tech offense a few clues on what they might see out of the Cowboys.
The Cougars, of course, are running an offensive system nearly identical to the Air Raid under first-year coordinator and Leach disciple Dana Holgorsen. Though outclassed from an athlete-to-athlete standpoint, Houston put up a valiant fight and piled up 37 points and nearly 500 yards of offense.
"That's one of the games we've broken down," confirmed Moore. "It doesn't really help me, but it helps the guys that look at the back end to see how their secondary plays."
"We've taken a look at it," added Simmons. "That game, as well as several others, have helped us evaluate and identify what they want to do against us."
- Aaron Dickens
QUOTABLE QUICK HITS
"I felt like we've got some places where we can improve. We've got some technique things that we need to work on and get better at, there were some mistakes that we made that we shouldn't have. I'm never happy when we give up two sacks." – Matt Moore, on the performance of the offensive line against Texas.