The No. 7 Texas Tech Red Raiders (11-1, 7-1 Big 12) continued preparing for the 73rd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic with a crisp, two-hour practice in helmets and shorts under sunny, ideal conditions at Texas Stadium. Texas Tech, the first one-loss team to play in the Classic since BYU in 1997, plays the Ole Miss Rebels on Friday, Jan. 2, 2009.
Head coach Mike Leach, 5-3 in bowl games at Texas Tech, was happy with his team's traditional "Wednesday" practice.
"I thought we had a pretty good day. We bounced around pretty good," Leach said. "Hopefully we will polish it a little bit tomorrow. You hope to get better as the week goes on. I'm happy with where we are at this point in the week. You just keep working on things. Consistency is the thing, I think."
The Red Raiders started practice with their "Bull in the Ring" drill, where Leach calls on two players at a time to face off against each other while the team forms a circle at midfield.
"We started doing that a couple of years back," Leach said. "At the padded practices, we open up with three different matches. With today being the last one (for the year), we did more matches than that. We just put them in and they face off and hit one another. If they don't get after it, their teammates make fun of them or we make them go again. It's OK as long as they are hitting something."
Several Texas Tech former players attended today's practice, including former All-American and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Donny Anderson (1963-65), Trey Haverty (2001-04), Kevin Curtis (1998-01), Jonathan Hawkins (1997-01), Tyrone Thurman (1985-88) and Mickey Peters (2000-03).
Also attending practice was former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and numerous high school coaches from the Metroplex.
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.
Texas Tech Head Coach Mike Leach
"We are thrilled to death to be here at the Cotton Bowl. Anybody that has ever watched a bowl game, I think the Cotton Bowl is one of the more memorable ones in the history of America. We are having a great time. We are looking forward to playing Mississippi. Likewise, I have always admired Coach (Houston) Nutt and what he has done. I actually started following him back at Murray State and the rest where he really did some impressive stuff.
"I've never been to a bowl game where I wasn't excited to be at. They are all great. I think we ought to schedule one after this week too. (laughter) We will go ahead and get this one out of the way and see if Rick Baker and his staff have another one after that and go from there. We are thrilled to be here and it's an honor to play Ole Miss."
Since this is the last Cotton Bowl in the Cotton Bowl Stadium, can you share any memories or stories about your experience with the Cotton Bowl?
" "My first experience in the Cotton Bowl was when I was at OU (Oklahoma) and we played the University of Texas. I don't know if I ought to tell all of it. (laughter) We are going down the tunnel and I am thinking of an exchange that took place. This was a story. I didn't see it firsthand. Barry Switzer, Darrell Royal and President Gerald Ford and the fans start screaming `Who are those two guys with (Barry) Switzer?' (laughter), because you come out on the OU side.
"And then, just for the heck of it, we left a script laying around that was a dummy script and we pretended that we just left it on the field. I don't know if they looked at the script or if they actually tried to bird dog us. `Hey we've got their script,' and tried to react to the play or not. What I do know is that Antoine Savage caught a ball across the ball, this is like the second play of the game. Antonie Savage catches a ball. He was a freshman. He goes sprinting down there for a touchdown. He gets excited to score that touchdown he drops the ball and spikes it. I'm not kidding you about two yards on the two-yard line. He thinks he is already in. He drops that ball back from the two-yard line. The ball is just laying there. The refs were as excited as Antoine Savage was so touchdown. To this day that touchdown has never even come close to getting scored. (laughter) They gave it to us never the less. We figured we had our hands full coaching so we weren't going to mess around with officiating too. We took the touchdown and went on from there."
What is your relationship with Michael Crabtree like? What does he mean to you personally?
" "Besides he is a great player, he is a great example of what a player should be. Michael Crabtree has had the ability to adjust and get all of his talents to the surface quickly. One of the reasons he has is just because he is an incredibly dedicated, hard working guy. He is also a real clear minded and focused person. It's funny, when he first got there he would hang out with all the freshmen and act like one of your better seniors as far as his ability to play. He is a great example of how you should focus in your job as far as playing football and probably better than any I have ever had.
"At one point there was a quote and I think it is very accurate that kind of personifies Crabtree. He says `All I see is balls in the air.' I don't think he thinks about much other than that. To give you another example of that, as he started to get on the radar screen over everybody, we would have Sports Illustrated or ESPN standing there to talk to Crabtree. (Leach stands and holds helmet on dais) He would have his helmet after practice and (Sports Information Director) Chris (Cook) would say `Here is ESPN and Sports Illustrated.' He would go - (Leach holds helmet and looks to the ground), he would just kind of look down. And pretty soon he would be gone and he isn't going to answer the phone. He is just a shy person and devotes his time to thinking about football. You could have done all the big names, you could have done the Nobel Prize, all the big names of someone that wants to see him who is somebody, all he sees is balls in the air and off he went. Just the ability to be that focused that quickly at that young of an age has always impressed me. In my view, his priorities were catching footballs instead of doing high-falutin interviews. So I like that too. With all due respect to you guys. And I if ever hear him saying something I will be happy to tell you because he is a little hard to track down."
What has Graham Harrell meant to the Texas Tech program?
" "He is a great player. The ultimate role of a quarterback is to make the players around him better. I think he has done that as good as anyone in the country. I guess that is what impresses me most about him. I think growing up with his father, Sam, who was a football coach, kind of helped lay the foundation for all that. The other quality that he has is he never thinks he is out of anything. He handles that adversity as good as anyone that I have dealt with. He is a great leader and a great player."
How much have you seen the replay of the Michael Crabtree winning catch against Texas? Does it pause and make you slow down and look at it again?
" "Quite a bit, but it is more routine than folks think it is. It is a kind of a deal that you look on some. We work it some everyday. Obviously I'm excited about it. I felt like we should have been ahead by more at the time so that part I wasn't pleased with.
"They overplayed their coverage, he (Graham Harrell) threw it underneath and Crabtree did a good job of turning and going straight up the field. He could have gotten out of bounds if he needed to, but he had the end zone and he got it. I think the timing of it is probably the biggest thing. There are other plays that exist like that but the timing of it, I think, is what makes it memorable. I am glad it is on TV all the time and everybody should take close notice and write a lot of stories about it and just reflect on it fondly for decades to come." (laughter)
How do you deal with game planning for someone like Ole Miss' Dexter McCluster, who can play three of four different positions?
" "I think they (Ole Miss) are a great team overall. I think all that they do is good, offense, defense and all of it. Offensively they've got a diverse offense. They have something that you don't see all the time, in that they get the ball in the hands of all their players. Which I've always thought that is what makes a good offense is that you attack the whole field and everyone gets to touch it. Defensively, their defensive line is, I was going to say famous, but I guess in my case notorious. They have great players. They are fast. They are incredibly physical. They are able to play a lot of guys and able to get a lot out of them. It isn't one of those deals where they put in a new group of guys and there is a big difference or the second group doesn't measure up to the first group. The second group looks just like the first group. I think it is a really impressive group. They have had some great games, several that have could have gone either way. There are a lot of points if things go differently, they don't just beat Florida, but they beat Alabama also. The diversity that they put out there on the field is all part of that."
Where would you rank Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree as far as the all-time pass-catch combinations? What are you going to miss the most about them?
" "They have got to be up there. I'm a little too busy coaching from one game to the next to really give you a lot of thoughts on that. I would rank them the highest, part of that is because I want them to be the highest anyway.
"They have done a tremendous job. Part of it is that they have had the opportunity to play together for two years and both have been incredibly productive. They do have the drama of several comebacks that go along with that and make the storylines exciting."
For most of the season your team was playing for a national championship or maybe higher goals and now they are here. Is that a concern for you?
"Not really. You just go out and do the best you can in each game you play and see where it takes you. I think that we did a lot of good things, but now we have an opportunity to play another game in a great bowl. It is all exciting. To me, there is nothing about it that is not exciting."
Do you have some style challenges in playing Ole Miss?
"Absolutely. They invented the Wild Hog. Guess who we are snapping the ball to? We are in motion while we are doing all of that. That is one thing that I do think both teams have in common is that we do have offenses that not everyone sees all the time. Anytime you have success offensively all of a sudden it is a gimmick. If you have success defensively you just play really hard and you are really tough. If you have success offensively it is a gimmick. Everyone else isn't trying to score points, just you are. (laughter) The thing is their offense is unique. You don't get to see it all the time. Stuff comes at you from different angles. There is nothing gimmicky about it. The most important thing, the best thing they do on offense is block. That is the most important thing on any offense. They use the whole field and they put it in everybody's hands. That is why it is a great offense. That is because of execution. The uniqueness makes it that much tougher.
"Everybody thinks that if you run it between the tackles you should be knighted the saint of offense or something, just because you are really boring and people have seen it a lot. `If we wanted to score 40 points a game we would, but we want to do this.' No, you don't want to do that you just don't have any imagination and you don't utilize all your resources. (laughter) That is just an alibi for your failure to score as many points as somebody who does. Sadly in our case, Mississippi isn't one of those teams. They do put it in everyone's hands and they do attack the whole field and that is why they are problems for everybody."
I know each coach would like to win even if even it is only by one point. Would you like this bowl game to be a little bit more routine than the last two you have played in the Insight and Gator Bowls? What are your memories of those?
"Most of our last two bowl games, I was proud of our players for staying in it. We have historically done a pretty good job of getting our money's worth for the full 60 minutes. I'm proud of them for that. We want to go out there and start fast. I have fond memories of the last two bowls. But each bowl is unique. We just want to make the most of this opportunity here."