The No. 7 Texas Tech Red Raiders continued preparing for the 73rd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic with a 60-minute workout in helmets and shorts under sunny, clear skies at Texas Stadium. Texas Tech plays the Ole Miss Rebels in the Classic on Friday, Jan. 2, 2009.
With the game six days away, Head Coach Mike Leach chose to shorten practice to 60 minutes.
"This is the regular routine that we do," Leach said. "This amounts to a Sunday practice for us. It's the same routine we do during the season. I thought the team looked good."
The squad spent time on special teams and ran 11-on-11 drills against the scout team.
This will be the fifth matchup between Texas Tech and Ole Miss, and the third time in a bowl game. Both schools are 2-2 in the previous four games. The first two meetings were in the 1986 and 1998 Independence Bowls, with the Rebels winning both games. The two schools met during the regular season in 2002 and 2003, with the Red Raiders winning those tussles.
Coach Leach has a great deal of respect for his opponent from the Southeastern Conference.
"They are a really good team," Leach said about Ole Miss. "They played everybody tough and were just a few points away from winning even more games. They are well-coached. Everything about them is good. Their defensive front is what everybody makes a big deal out of."
The Red Raiders' offensive line has played well all year. Leach knows how his offensive line performs against the Rebels may determine the game's outcome.
"There is no question that they (Texas Tech's offensive line) do a good job," Leach said about his front five. "They have a good challenge against Ole Miss. Ole Miss has a good defensive line. We'll have to see how our guys do."
Texas Tech has no reported injuries.
The 73rd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the final one to be played at the Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park, will kick off at 1:15 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 2, 2009. The Classic will be televised for the 11th consecutive year on FOX Sports. Pat Summerall and Brian Baldinger will handle the broadcasting duties, with Jeanne Zelasko and Krista Voda reporting from the sidelines. For the 16th consecutive year, the Westwood One Radio Network will broadcast the Classic, with Brad Sham and Terry Bowden at the microphones. The game is sold out.
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH Matt Moore:
What has been the key to the great play by your offensive line this season? "I am blessed with a lot of really good players. There was a lot of very good recruiting before I got here. I didn't recruit any of these guys. Most of the guys on the staff did recruit them. They are a really talented group. They are a really close-knit group. They play well together. They play together off the field. They hang together. They work together in the weight room. Everything they do is together. That is what you have to have in an offensive line. They have to enjoy each other and work hard for each other."
What are your thoughts on Ole Miss' defensive front? "They are a group that the more you watch them, the better they get. You realize that they have nine players that all nine of them could start. They play so hard. That is one thing I like about them. Their defensive line coach (Tracy Rocker), I know of him. He is an Auburn guy. He played at Auburn. He was a legend at Auburn. When I was at Troy, I coached with a guy that had played with him (Rocker), (Mike) Pelton who was at Iowa State, and they coach their defensive line the same way. They just play hard. I saw a quote from (Texas Tech offensive guard) Brandon Carter about that. I think that is the best compliment you can give a defensive player is saying how hard they play. Are they overly talented? Yes, they are overly talented and they play hard. All nine of those guys, they switch them in and out. And they all get playing time and go as hard as they can when they are in there."
What does Ole Miss do defensively to get pressure up front? "They are good enough that they don't have to blitz a lot to get pressure. They get pressure on people just because their front four play that hard. They don't do a whole lot of sophisticated blitz stuff. Most of the stuff they are doing, they are just getting after it and getting off the ball, pushing up front. You can tell they want to try to play in your backfield. They want to get off the ball, they aren't reading a whole lot. They are just playing full speed and wide open."
When you hear people say that Texas Tech isn't excited to play in this game or they worry there is going to be a letdown, have you seen any of that? "Not at all. We have had great practices. I think once our kids saw them on film, they said hey these guys are really good. They are really good. It is going to be an extreme challenge for us up front to be able to keep them from getting pressure on Graham (Harrell) and let him be able to go through his reads. I think we are up to it. I feel like our kids are up to it. They aren't backing down at all. They are just excited about playing the game.
They are excited being in their hometown. They are excited about all the fan support we will have here. It is going to be fun. This bowl game is just unbelievable the way they take care of you. If there is a better bowl game out there, I would have to go to it to see it.
QB Graham Harrell
What has been the influence of your father and your family in getting you to this point of your football career? "My dad probably has more to do with me being here than anyone else there is. I grew up around the game. I grew up in the locker room around my dad. Once I got into high school, he became my coach, my quarterbacks coach. He taught me most of the things I know about quarterbacking. The family I grew up in and my dad are huge influences on where I am now."
How would you compare your dad to Mike Leach as a coach? "They are very different. The only thing is that similar about the two and the reason they have both have had success, is because they stay pretty even-keeled and level-headed. When things are rolling they try to stay calm and keep doing what they are doing. When things aren't going very well, they keep doing the same thing and just keep calm. They understand that we are going to execute sooner or later. But other than that, they are extremely different. They are both great coaches. I feel like I have played for two of the best coaches there are. My dad in high school, I feel is as good as it gets and Coach Leach in college is as good as it gets. I have been privileged to play for two great coaches. They deserve a lot of the credit for my success."
How excited are you to be here playing in the Cotton Bowl? "We are extremely excited to be here. As far as bowls go and hospitality goes, the Cotton Bowl is as good as it gets. The hospitality is first class. Everything they do is first class. They have treated us so well. We are extremely excited to be here. For me it is kind of coming back home for my final game so that is exciting for me as well."
How key has the play of the offensive line been to the team's success this season? "It has been great. They probably deserve more credit for the team's success than anyone else. As much as we throw the ball and to allow as few sacks as they have is unbelievable. When they give us time to throw the ball, we have talented players out there that make plays. When they are playing well the whole team is playing well. I think the whole team goes on how they play. If they are struggling at the time, the whole team kind of goes in a slump. If they are playing really well, it is almost impossible to stop the offense because they are run blocking well, they are pass blocking well and those skill players are making plays. They are the key to this team, there is no doubt about it."
What type of support from the Red Raider fans are you expecting when you play in the game? "I'm sure there will be plenty of them out there and it will be great. We have a good following and Dallas is a big base for us. We are excited about coming back here. I'm sure we will have lots of fans. For a lot of the guys, it is kind of coming home. A lot of us are from the Dallas area. It will be exciting for us all."
OT Rylan Reed
When did you notice that this team had the confidence and ability that it would take to have the special season you have had this year? "We believed in the off season. I knew this was going to happen when we were sitting there in the summer. I was in crutches and a boot with my injury, not weight bearing, so I had a chance to observe and do a lot more watching than usual. To see these guys work, you could see it. In the past there have been teams that when in the weight room there wasn't a mandatory workout it was pretty much empty. It was different. Everyone was in there when they didn't have to be. It has been one of the most professional teams I have been around that is including my pro baseball years. These guys have worked so hard. It's not very surprising at all."
What are your thoughts when you think about blocking for some of the best offensive players in Texas Tech history? "When you are blocking for someone like Graham (Harrell) you know that if you get him the time, he is going to make special things happen. He has done it all year. That is my goal is to give him whatever time he needs whether it is five seconds or 10 seconds. He is a special player. Then you have (Michael) Crabtree who will catch anything and everything. When you have special players like that it sure helps to block a little bit longer."
How was the offensive line able to protect Graham Harrell as well as it did considering how much you throw the ball? "We have a great coach in Coach (Matt) Moore. He does a great job of preparing us for anything. There is not a blitz or any kind of scheme that we haven't seen. It's been a great year. It has been awesome working with him. He is a coach I will miss greatly. He is one of the best coaches that I have had in any sport. I owe a lot to him."
What are your thoughts on the Ole Miss defensive line? "They are good. They get after it. Their goal is to get to the quarterback and get pressure on him. It isn't going to be any different against us. They are going to try and get to Graham (Harrell) and rattle him. Our job is to make sure it doesn't happen. We have done a great job against good defensive lines and we will have another contest, a nice big challenge, coming up. I'm excited and looking forward to it."
C Stephen Hamby
When did you see this team gain its confidence? "You could see it as soon, I wouldn't say spring, but I would say summer for sure. There was just a different atmosphere. At the workouts, everyone used to be yelling and screaming and everyone just calmed down. Everyone took care of their own business. The biggest thing I saw was in the summer. I knew something was going to be special because me, (Michael) Crabtree and Graham (Harrell) would get out there. I was always having trouble with my snaps, because I was still kind of a guard and so Graham would make me snap, but Crab (Crabtree) would wake us up. He would say wake up we have to go run routes and Graham I need you to throw to me and Hamby I need you to snap. Once the summer happened, you kind of saw players doing stuff on their own. You weren't waiting for someone to tell you to do something."
What was it like for the offense to put together a last-minute drive to beat Texas? "That last series was like practice. It was hilarious. Coach (Matt) Moore actually came up to us and said they are about to score. We are going to need a score. I think we had about 1:40 to drive. There wasn't a nervous person on the offensive side. We just walked out there and no one got overexcited. We just said hey we just need to score right now and we did. I saw the whole play (touchdown play). I was just watching. It was so routine. I had seen it so many times. Then it happened and the offensive line started raising their hands and I looked at the clock. And I realized that we won. You get in such a routine that you don't know when it is exciting, but then it happens and you are really excited."
What is your perspective on Graham Harrell? "He is great guy. He is a completely different person on and off the field. That is what is so funny because that is how we all are. I've known Graham for five years and we've become pretty good friends the last two years. It is kind of a love-hate relationship. We are always ragging on each other no matter what it is. If one of us does something stupid, the other one is ragging on them. I've watched him grow up a lot in the last year and a half. He is a great quarterback."
OG Brandon Carter
How are you different in persona on the field versus off the field? "I am kind of a two-sided guy whenever I am on the football field I am completely nuts. I just go crazy and everything. But off the field I am probably one of the nicest guys that a lot of people know. Everyone really has their character. They really do into that character when they get out onto the field."
Do you have anything planned special for your hair for the Cotton Bowl? "I can't really decide right now. I am kind of in between on what I'm going to do. It will kind of be a surprise I guess.
It has always been tradition after the last regular season game that I cut it. Even during the bowl game, I have the normal haircut.
What would it be like to finish this season with a win in the Cotton Bowl? "It would mean the world to us all. We have had a great season right now. It's not over. Everyone realizes that. We aren't seeing this trip as a vacation as we have in the past. I think we have matured a lot. We are seeing this as a business trip. That is what we are here to do. We are here to win a football game. That is all we are here for."
What have you seen from the Ole Miss defensive line on film? "They are big, strong, fast guys. They play really hard. They never give up on a play, even when the play is 20 yards down the field they will turn around and sprint down the field to go make the tackle and a few times they have. They play really hard. They play really fast. They will find your flaws if you have them. We pride ourselves in being technicians on the field and we have to really work on our technique throughout the whole game through the final play to really go and really show what we can do."
WR Michael Crabtree
Have you had a chance to see your family and friends since you have been back in Dallas? "I have seen all my family. I have had like three get togethers with family members. It has been fun."
How much have you been to the Cotton Bowl? "I went to the Battle of the Bands. That was the biggest thing in Dallas. I went to the State Fair and I would go to the stadium."
What are your thoughts about going against the Ole Miss secondary? "I'm looking forward to seeing what they are going to play. I have been hearing that they are going to play man. I'm looking forward to see if they are really going to do that. If someone plays man, you have to show who is best. That is what I like doing best in football. It is a big challenge. When you play man it is one on one. If he stops you then he got the best of you. If I beat him then I have the best of him. It is pretty different."
What do you think of the Ole Miss cornerbacks? "They have a good group of defensive backs, probably one of the best (groups) we have seen this year. I'm looking forward to seeing what they have on their minds."
What has it been like playing with Graham Harrell? "It is great having Graham. He is a good quarterback and a very smart quarterback. I have just been having fun since I have stepped on the field with him. He helped me make these plays. He has found ways to get me the ball. I think Graham is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. If anyone else doesn't think the same then they've got to be crazy."