Texas Tech has been an afterthought in the national title chase over the last several seasons, but coach Mike Leach’s dynamic offense appears to have helped this year’s Red Raiders make the leap into contention.
SMU is hoping to make similar strides under its own offensive mastermind, June Jones.
Two of the top offensive coaches in college football square off as Leach’s 12th-ranked Red Raiders host Jones’ Mustangs on Saturday night.
Texas Tech (2-0) has ranked in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s top 10 in scrimmage yards per game in six straight seasons, thanks to a prolific offense installed by Leach when he took over the team in 2000.
Though Texas Tech hasn’t finished higher than No. 18 in the country in that stretch, 18 starters - including quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree - are back from last season to help make the Red Raiders contenders in the Big 12 South and perhaps even the BCS.
Though SMU has its sights set a little lower at this point, the Mustangs (1-1) are no doubt excited about Jones’ arrival in Dallas. Jones spent the last nine seasons with Hawaii, which ranked in the top 10 in scrimmage yards per game five times in that stretch, before signing a five-year contract with SMU in January.
After falling 56-27 to Rice in his debut, Jones got his first win last Saturday, when the Mustangs snapped an 11-game losing streak with a 47-36 victory over Texas State. True freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell completed 24 of 37 passes for 370 yards and five touchdowns - second-most in school history.
“I’m glad to get a first one,” said Jones, who took over a program that’s had only one winning season in the last 20 years. “We’ve got a long way to go to be a good football team.”
It might take awhile, but that doesn’t seem to bother the Mustangs.
“This is exactly what I thought would happen,” Emmanuel Sanders said after catching eight passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns last week. “It’s going to be scary when we get better.”
As confident as they are, the Mustangs could have a hard time duplicating their success from last week against the Red Raiders. SMU gave up 465 yards to Texas State, and now faces a ranked team from a BCS conference with a high-scoring offense far more experienced than its own.
“We’re going to have to play better in every phase of the game,” Jones said.
Leach could have said the same thing about his team last Saturday, when Harrell put together an uncharacteristic 19-for-46 performance. He was picked off twice and failed to throw at least two touchdown passes for only the second time in 21 games, but led Texas Tech on three scoring drives in the final 21 minutes of the 35-19 win over Nevada.
“We struggled a little bit but we knew it was only a matter of time before we’d find our rhythm,” said Harrell, who led the FBS in passing yards (5,705) and touchdowns (48) in 2007 while ranking fourth in completion percentage (71.8).
Though his team led by only five points at halftime, Leach said he never lost confidence in his quarterback.
“That’s what makes him what he is, with all of the comebacks in his career he has,” Leach said. “He’s a guy that never gives up. He never gets rattled and just stays in there and tries to make a play.”
Harrell completed 44 of 59 passes for 419 yards and four touchdowns as the Red Raiders routed the Mustangs 49-9 last Sept. 3. Crabtree had 12 receptions, 106 yards and three TDs in that game - Texas Tech’s 12th straight win in the series.
Crabtree has 16 receptions for 231 yards and two touchdowns this season after leading the nation in receiving last season with 134 catches, 1,962 yards and 22 scores.
The Mustangs haven’t beaten the Red Raiders since 1986, and are 16-30 all-time against them.