1. Greg Davis vs. Ruffin McNeil - Texas - Really the sum product of great play-calling with an offense without a superstar RB/WR vs an up and coming defensive coordinator and defense. Tech's defense has benefitted from the fact that they rely on the offense to help them make their opponents one dimensional. However, in games where its been close, particularly the 1st half of A&M and the 2nd half NU game, the Tech defense has gotten worn down by long, punishing, & balanced drives. Yes, Tech's defense is improved. Still, it has a ways to go.
Long drives have become the staple of the Davis/Applewhite/McCoy offense. When we sustain them our defense becomes dominant (OU, Missou, and 1st half vs OSU). Turn the ball over or go 3 and out and the game tilts in Tech's favor. It falls on the staff to create a game plan that balances the run with pin-point short passing plays and keeps the ball out of Harrel's hands. What I've seen from Tech's defense doesn't frighten me - the defensive line is on par with Missouri's (not OU or OSU), and the linebackers and secondary are not physically imposing. Where it looks like they've excelled is limiting YAC.
Aside from the talent gap at key positions, the Horns have more talent down the line. Kirkendoll, Williams, Collins, McGee, and Fozzy would probably start at for any other team Tech has played this year. If Davis and McCoy use all their weapons, the Horns will be able to match Tech's output.
2. Brian Orakpo vs. Ryan Reed - Texas - If you ask me, we hired Muschamp to ensure we win 2 conference games in '08- OU and Tech. A healthy Orakpo will use his quickness to get through the wide splits. Muschamp will stunt him and send him up the middle to disrupt Harrell's view of the middle of the field.
No single player will slow down Orakpo on his own and I think Leach knows it. However, if he uses an additional blocker to slow Orakpo he'll be playing into the Horn's hands. Thus, I expect Harrell will throw quickly to the flat away from Rak or roll to the opposite side to try to nullify Rak's impact.
3. Brown(s) vs. Crabtree - Even - As long as Chykie is healthy. Crabtree is a stud, but so are the Browns. Crabtree's one weakness is he often telegraphs his routes. On deep routes, he runs right at the CB without any moves at the line of scrimmage. On short routes, he takes a big stride (almost skips) and plants his foot. He can get away with it because of his combination of speed and size - if one doesn't intimidate the corner the other will. Both the Browns can stay with Crabtree and I doubt they'll be intimidated. The key will be if they can disrupt his routes they way they disrupted Maclin's.
I expect Crabtree will have a better line than Dez Bryant did last week, but he won't be the difference maker he was last year.
4. Swindall & Lewis vs. Palmer & Beasley - Tech - This is where the crux of the Tech offense vs Texas defense matchup is. Tech's receiving corp has more depth than previous years, while Texas' secondary arguably has less. Play like they did last week, and Beasley and Palmer will be succeptible to big plays against either of these two receivers. Here's hoping Akina/Muschamp have them ready.
6. Texas LBs vs. Batch & Woods - Tech - Until I see an indication otherwise, Texas is always prone to big games by small RBs. I expect the Horns will be in a nickle most of the game in order to match personnel, but the RB responsiblities will still fall on Bobino/Muckelroy/Norton. Many a third down will come down to how we cover the RBs coming out of the backfield.
7. Tech vs. History - Tech - If anything else, Tech has to break through at some point. They've got the #1 team in the nation coming to their house in primetime. I expect Tech to come out playing like they believe they ought to win.
8. Texas vs. Tech's Previous Opponents - Texas - The Horn's are far superior to any team Tech has played this year. Texas is deep, physically tough, and mentally tested. If nothing else, this is the equalizer - at some point Saturday Tech will encounter something they have yet to encounter - a GAMER at QB, and a team with a SPINE.
9. Lamar Houston & Henry Melton vs. The Radar - Texas - The idea here is that with all the focus on Orakpo it will be these two guys that have the ability to dramatically impact the game. Houston will be critical in the middle of the field on WR and RB screens. If he diagnosis the play quickly (as he did in the 4th quarter vs OSU) he can disrupt the flow. Melton will have to be clutch on the edges. The Horns will likely try to string the RB out the edge and they've been successful up until last week. Melton will have to contain the corner for us to stop the run. Secondly, he needs to recognize the screen pass the edge and shed his blocker quickly.
10. Colt McCoy vs. Darcel McBath - Texas - McBath has enjoyed a string a good games statistically, but he got beat a few times against KU as well. Colt is savvy enough not to make the same passes Gantz and Reesing made vs Tech. Those guys were pressing and trying to make things happen. Colt knowns he can can tuck the ball and run. Colt will have a big game on Saturday thanks in large part to the plays he makes with his feet.
Prediction - The final score suggests a closer game than it actually is. Mack will be diciplined and understand that he has to come away with points on every drive. Leach will be hamstrung by his lack of a kicking game and will be forced into some 4 down attempts he'd rather not try.
Texas sustains the initail onslaught and takes a two score lead before the half. Both teams go tit-for-tat after that. Texas 48 Tech 42