When the offense isn't clicking, which is bound to happen, the defense needs to step up and win a game or two for Texas Tech. While the Red Raiders' spread offense is what makes headlines in the newspapers and on the record books, having a solid defense that can hold teams out of the endzone will be necessary for Tech to have the type of season they're hoping for in 2008.
Luckily, Ruffin McNeill's newly reinvigorated defense looks like they are up to the task. The defensive line is stacked, with returning starters Rajon Henley, Colby Whitlock, Jake Ratliff, and Brandon Williams being joined by former All-American Freshman McKinner Dixon, Chris Perry, an extremely talented DT transfer out of Miami, and Brandon Sesay, a four star JUCO DE transfer. The linebackers look solid as well, as Marlon Williams, Brandon Duncan, and Bront Bird all saw the field a lot last season and have improved over the off season.
The main area of concern for the defense is the secondary, where the Red Raiders lost Joe Garcia and Chris Parker. However, with Jamar Wall and Marcus Bunton, they should be fine at corner. If Anthony Hines can take over the vacancy for the strong safety position, the Red Raider defense should have one of their best years next season.
2. #2 & #3 receivers must be good enough to keep defenses honest
After the phenomenal year he had in 2007, Michael Crabtree is obviously going to be the opposing defenses' main focus in 2008. And while Crabtree will put up gaudy numbers despite the double coverage he will likely face in most games, other receivers will need to step up and take some of the pressure off of Crabtree.
Senior Eric Morris and sophomore Detron Lewis will likely be Graham Harrell's #2 and #3 options. Eric Morris has shown that he is solid and has great hands. He was especially impressive against Virginia in the Gator Bowl, finishing the game with 9 receptions and 77 yards. Emo will provide stability for the Texas Tech offense and will have a similar role to the one that Danny Amendola played last season.
During spring workouts, Y receiver Detron Lewis was especially impressive, showing great athleticism and a knack for gaining yards after the catch. Lewis is a very speedy receiver who will punish defenses who overlook him.
3. A running back must emerge as the clear leader
A key to the Air Raid's success in putting up huge numbers through the air is having a running back who can keep defenses honest. Whether he gets those yards by rushing or by making short yardage catches and then heading upfield, a skilled running back is absolutely crucial in giving the quarterback a dump off option and in keeping the offense going when defenses are able to cover the downfield receivers.
Aaron Crawford and Shannon Woods are neck and neck in the competition to take over the starting running back position. Woods has shown how impressive he can be and in 2006 was the Big 12's best all purpose back, rushing for 926 yards and leading all D-I running backs in receptions with 75. However, problems emerged in spring practice when Woods seemed to take a "me over the team" attitude. Things came to a head in the middle of last season, when Woods was demoted to third string and true freshman Aaron Crawford emerged as a viable option for starting back.
With Crawford's combination of toughness, speed, and grittiness, he has the physical skills to be an outstanding running back. His ability to step up and play well last year also bodes well for the sophomore, who has been heralded by Coach Leach as the hardest working player on the team. If he can improve his pass blocking, Crawford will likely beat out Woods for the starting spot and should make a huge impact on the team's success in 2008.
4. No let down games
In years past, the Red Raiders have always come up a game or two short of being in serious contention for the Big 12 South title. Although Texas Tech often plays the spoiler and pulls a major upset during the regular season, they also lose games that they should win easily.
In 2007, it was a loss to a very mediocre Colorado team at home. An 0-6 Colorado also beat Tech is 2006, as did TCU during the non-conference schedule. A loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in 2005 prevented the Red Raiders from recording their first 10 win season since 1976 and possibly getting their first BCS bid ever.
For Texas Tech to be a serious title contender in 2008, they need to avoid any letdowns and head to Lawrence, Kansas to face the Jayhawks with a 7-0 record. Provided that the Red Raiders can win the games they are supposed to win and compete with Kansas, UT, and Oklahoma, a Big 12 championship and BCS bid are definitely within reach in 2008.
5. PK Donny Corona must be ready for immediate playing time
Place kicker Alex Trlica was often overlooked as a key player in Texas Tech's line-up, but his impact was enormous over the course of his career. Trlica never missed an PAT as a Red Raider and holds the NCAA record for extra points at 233. He made crucial field goals for Tech, including hitting a 41 yarder to win the Gator Bowl and sending the game into overtime during the Insight Bowl in 2007 by nailing a 52 yard field goal.
To replace Trlica, Coach Leach recruited Donnie Carona, a talented kicker out of Beaumont. Carona has tons of leg strength and was one of the premier high school kickers in the country, but he has some big shoes to fill in a small amount of time. If Carona can make the adjustment quickly, the Red Raiders will be in a much more comfortable position knowing that they can count on their PK to put points on the board.