By J.J. PESAVENTO
Dallas, TX * January 2, 2009 *2:00PM * FOX
In Texas Tech and Ole Miss, you have two teams who experienced very different fortunes in 2008. Texas Tech was among the best teams in the country the entire season and the Red Raiders were making a case for a shot at the national title until Oklahoma pummeled them in week eleven. Ole Miss was 3-4 at one point then ran off five straight wins to get into the Cotton Bowl.
When the Red Raiders have the Ball
Look for an aerial assault by the Red Raiders led by quarterback Graham Harrell with the primary target being Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is far from the sole weapon in the Tech arsenal. Detron Lewis, Eric Morris and Tramain Swindall all had over 500 yards receiving and combined for 13 touchdowns for the Red Raiders. For the Ole Miss defense, it starts with pressure up front from Greg Hardy and All-American Peria Jerry. The Rebels led the SEC with 37 sacks in 2008 and getting to Harrell is key to disrupting the high-powered Tech offense. Obviously, Tech does not run the ball a great deal but when they do, it will be either Baron Batch or Shannon Woods toting the rock. But the going won't be easy against an Ole Miss defense led by Jamarca Sanford and Kendrick Lewis that ranks sixth in the nation against the run.
When the Rebels have the Ball
One player to keep an eye on is wide receiver Dexter McCluster, who does it all for the Rebels. McCluster rushed for 558 yards with five touchdowns and hauled in 38 passes for 542 yards with one score this season. Cordera Eason is the primary back for Ole Miss but McCluster and Brandon Bolden also fit into the mix. The backs will be running behind an offensive line led by All-American tackle Michael Oher. Tech isn't all that bad against the run led by Brandon Williams, McKinner Dixon and Brian Duncan. Quarterback Jevan Snead has had a solid season throwing for 23 touchdowns and rushing for three. When he looks to pass, in addition to McCluster, he'll look for Mike Wallace and Shay Hodge, who combined for 14 touchdowns in 2008. Again, Dixon and McKinner will be the players on defense bringing the heat up front with Darcel McBath, who tied for the Big 12 lead in picks (6) and Dan Charbonnet, who had five interceptions in the secondary.
It goes without saying that the Ole Miss defense will be under fire the entire game and how they handle the pressure will have the biggest impact on the outcome. The Rebels are aggressive and not letting Harrell have the time to pick them apart is paramount. If Texas Tech plays the way they have most of the season, the Rebels cannot stay with them. And the Rebels will also have to put together some offense of their own to keep Harrell on the sidelines where he cannot hurt them. While the Tech defense doesn't rank all that well defending the pass, that can be misleading since most teams were forced into strictly passing after falling behind the Red Raiders. Still, we think Tech just has too much firepower and will outlast the Rebels.
CFI Prediction: Texas Tech 37, Ole Miss 24
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-1, 7-1)
Pass-Graham Harrell (4,747 yards, 41 TDs)
Run--Baron Batch (742 yards, 7 TDs)
Catch--Michael Crabtree (93-1,135 yards, 18 TDs)
Ole Miss Rebels (8-4,5-3)
Pass--Jevan Snead (2,470 yards, 23 TDs)
Run--Cordera Eason (35-644 yards, 3 TDs)
Catch--Mike Wallace (704 yards, 6 TDs)
Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media, College Press Box, Texas Tech Athletics