When it comes to exploits on the gridiron, Texas Tech football fans have never had more reason to be thankful than they do right now. Despite a nationally televised drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma, the Red Raiders are No. 7 in the current BCS standings and still have an outside shot at playing in the BCS National Championship Game.
Big things were expected of this team before the season began, but Mike Leach's 2008 squad has exceeded those high expectations. So, in addition to expressing gratitude for the things that matter most this Thanksgiving day, let us pause to give thanks for those developments that have helped make this football season a most memorable and happy one for Red Raiders everywhere.
THANKS TO MIKE LEACH FOR GIVING SHANNON WOODS A SECOND CHANCE: Once again, Tech's head football coach knew what was what more than the rest of us. More than me, anyway. After Shannon Woods' latest round of shenanigans, which earned him a bus trip back to McKinney, Texas before last year's Gator Bowl, I was convinced that his days as a Red Raider were done. Moreover, to be honest, I was not emotionally devastated to see him go.
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But much to my surprise, Leach gave Woods the opportunity to earn his way back onto the team, and he did just that. More than that, Woods has been an integral part of Tech's tremendous offensive success in 2008, and by all accounts, he has been a stand-up team player. The Red Raiders would not be 10-1 without Leach's surprising verdict on Woods and Woods' maturation which made that verdict look positively Solomonic.
THANKS TO BARON BATCH'S GOOD HEALTH: Character issues have never been a problem for Woods' backup, Baron Batch, but health sure has. Almost from his arrival in Lubbock, Batch has been beset by ankle injuries and staph infections that have delayed his contributions to the team. Batch, however, has persevered through the tribulations and has been rewarded with a truly outstanding 2008 campaign, both individually and team-wise. Similarly, Batch has rewarded his teammates and Red Raider fans alike with some of the most hard-nosed running ever seen from a Texas Tech back. The future is bright for Batch, and no young man deserves them more than he.
THANKS TO MATT MOORE'S ARRIVAL: It was a crazy if serendipitous set of circumstances that planted offensive line coach Matt Moore in Lubbock, Texas. Mike Stoops , head coach at the University of Arizona, enticed Tech coaches Sonny Dykes and Bill Bedenbaugh to join him in Tucson.
Bedenbaugh's departure left a vacancy at offensive line coach, which was quickly filled by former Louisiana Tech head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell, although highly popular with the fanbase because of his high spirits and charismatic personality, had plans to redesign the Air Raid's blocking schemes. A classic case of "fixing" something that sure was not broke. Fortunately, however, Boston College, Bicknell's alma mater, came calling and the Red Raiders were again left without an offensive line coach. Leach tapped Troy assistant Matt Moore and the progression of Tech's offensive line has since been little short of phenomenal. To the point where it may be the nation's best.
THANKS TO RUFFIN MCNEILL'S PROMOTION: Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill's ascension to his current post is not quite so Byzantine as Moore's, but it has been fairly tortuous. McNeill was a long-time Mike Leach assistant when defensive coordinator Greg McMackin departed for the Seattle Seahawks. McNeill applied for the vacant position but was passed over in favor of Lyle Setencich. Setencich, however, never turned the corner with the Tech defense, and after a particularly dismal defensive performance in Stillwater, was given his marching papers. McNeill was then given the title of interim defensive coordinator, and Leach removed the "interim" going into the 2008 season.
Under McNeill, the Tech defense has shown dramatic improvement. The Big 12 is the most powerful offensive conference in the nation, and because of that, Tech's defensive numbers are not spectacular on a national scale, but they are among the best in the conference. And McNeill's resurgent defense, in combination with the always deadly Air Raid, has vaulted Tech football to heights never before seen. Funny how these things work out.