Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Football: Minutemen tackle No. 10 Texas Tech

By Ryan Fleming, Collegian Staff

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When the No. 9 Massachusetts football team travels to Lubbock, Texas this Saturday to play Texas Tech, it’s going to have to start playing as a team from the beginning and not waiting to try and pull off a come-from-behind win.

The Red Raiders, who are No. 11 (USA Today’s Coaches Poll) in the nation, currently boast one of the nation’s most potent offenses, putting up scores of 49, 35 and 43 points in their first three games.

The man behind center for the Red Raiders is senior Graham Harrell. The quarterback had an outstanding 2007 campaign, throwing for over 5,500 yards along with 48 touchdowns. Texas Tech has an overwhelming tendency to throw the ball, but when your quarterback throws that many times with only 14 interceptions, it’s justifiable.

He was also the recipient of the Sammy Baugh Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s top collegiate passer.

Fortunately for Harrell, he is also throwing to one of the nation’s top wide receivers.

Being a redshirt sophomore, you would think that the player is just getting the feel for the collegiate level and not making a huge impact on the field. It’s the exact opposite when you’re talking about Michael Crabtree.

The wide out has already gained national attention. One of collegiate football’s most prolific receivers, was a unanimous first-team All-American and was awarded both the Paul Warfield and Biletnikoff awards last year. Both of are given to the nation’s best wide out.

In 2007, Crabtree gained 1,962 yards on 134 catches and scored 22 touchdowns. This year, the Red Raider already has almost 400 yards receiving and five touchdowns.

“I think [going up against Harrell and Crabtree] is a great challenge for our secondary,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “This is a challenge they have been looking forward to, and as a group we’re going to have to step up and defend him.

“[Texas Tech] likes to put [Crabtree] in different positions, we just have to be ready for that.”

The Red Raiders are coming off an impressive win on both sides of the ball, routing Southern Methodist, 43-7.

The Red Raiders threw for over 500 yards as a team (which included five touchdowns) and ran for almost 180.

Texas Tech isn’t just a one-sided team, its defense is anything but a pushover. In the Red Raiders’ first three games, they have forced nine interceptions while only allowing 50 points.

Brown is sticking to his game plan, despite the strength of the Texas Tech defense. They plan to mix up some of the play calling depending on what style of defense the Red Raiders employ.

UMass will have its hands full.

The Minutemen still sports some of the best defensive backs in the Football Championship Subdivision despite their poor showing the last two games.

Brown knows that pressure on Harrell and adjusting the defensive packages occasionally throughout the game is important.

“Execution against these guys is going to be paramount,” Brown said. “We need to make sure that [Harrell] doesn’t get comfortable with a couple different looks or [he’ll] just start picking us apart.

“We have to mix pressure with coverage and just try to keep them guessing a little bit, kind of like we did with [former Boston College quaterback] Matt Ryan a year ago.”

On offense, the Minutemen have to deal with the uncertainty that starting center Sean Calicchio might not start. Calicchio left last week’s game against James Madison with a sprained ankle. UMass will turn the job over to John Ihne, if Calicchio can’t play.

If UMass hopes to stay in this game, they are going to have to limit the amount of times punter Brett Arnold comes onto the field. That will be running back Tony Nelson and quarterback Liam Coen’s job. In the Minutemen’s last two games, the UMass offense started slowly.

UMass cornerback Courtney Robinson stresses how important it is to shy away from that pattern and to come out strong immediately at kickoff.

“We have to come out focused from the start and just play as a group and just come out with no missed tackles, know our fundamentals and get our techniques down,” Robinson said.

Ryan Fleming can be reached at [email protected]

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