STEVENS: Angry Air Raid Raiders Await Lobos in Lubbock
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/01/2009
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 1, 2009

Lobo Football
Lobos at Texas Tech
When/Where: 1:40 p.m. Saturday, Lubbock
Radio: 770 KKOB-AM, Lobo Radio Network
TV: Fox Sports Network
Online: GameTracker; game story on GoLobos.com

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In a way, Lobo coach Mike Locksley is hoping he is looking into a mirror when the New Mexico Lobos venture into Lubbock to play Mike Leach's Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The Raiders are kind of what Locksley wants his Lobos to look like: A multi-faceted team with quick-strike ability, full of dynamic playmakers.

The trouble for Locksley and his Lobos is that they might not be looking into a reflecting glass on Saturday. The Lobos are a first-year program under Locksley. The Red Raiders are entering their tenth season under Leach.

Maybe the Lobos will be peeking into a window into their future, but UNM is not yet at the same level on the learning curve, or the recruiting curve, as Leach and the Raiders.

And the Tech team the Lobos face has to be an angry Raiders' team looking to make a big splash on the scoreboard. The Raiders have lost two straight: 29-28 at Houston, 34-24 a week earlier at Texas.

Ah, home, sweet, home and the points just waiting to be scored in Jones AT& T Stadium -- like the 55-10 hurt the Raiders put on Rice in Lubbock on Sept. 12.

"They are probably a little disappointed in their tough loss last week," said Locksley. "We are going in to a tough situation versus a team that probably feels like they've got their backs against a wall."

The Raiders' schedule is tough enough where they can't let opportunities to win slip away. Tech is heavily favored to pound on the Lobos and Leach has to be looking at this game as a chance to make a statement about his offense and his team.

Leach and the Raiders like to score points and their preferred attack zone might need an air traffic control officer as much as it needs an offensive coordinator. The Raiders like to throw it up and go get it. They usually do just that better than any other team in the nation. Rumor has it that during a Raiders' home game, low-flying aircraft are forbidden in the vicinity of the stadium.

Leach's offense has grabbed six NCAA passing titles and three total offense titles in his ten-year tenure. His Raiders are a little behind schedule in 2009 and just might not show the Lobos any mercy when it comes to throwing the ball or lighting up the scoreboard. That's just what the Raiders do.

Tech is 2-2, but this is a solid Tech team. Taylor Potts is the Tech Golden Arm of choice in 2009. The 6-foot-5 junior has the tough chore of filling the sleeves of Graham Harrell, who threw for 15,793 yards and 134 touchdowns as a Raider. Those are the type of numbers Leach dreams about.

Potts has done OK this season. He has completed 146 of 212 passes for 13 scores and averages 400.5 yards per game. He completes 68 percent of his throws.

He has a deep list of talented receivers to aim at including Alex Torres (22 grabs), Lyle Leong (21), Detron Lewis (20) and Edward Britton (16). You can bet those Raiders are looking at the Lobos' young secondary and dreaming of big yardage and lots of scores.

The Raiders will line up in a variety of formations and Potts will have several options out of each look. But this Raider thing isn't too fancy. The receivers try to get open. Potts tries to hit them in the numbers. He throws long, medium, short. He throws often.

"They put up chunks of yardage," said Locksley. "They are not a team that beats you up physically. Most of the time they are going to horizontally spread you out and try to create mismatches with linebackers on receivers. But they've got two really good backs."

What had been missing from the Raiders' offense in the first three games is that complementary running attack.

The Raiders are known for their air-raid mentality, but they also are good at using this spread offense to open holes for talented backs. The Raiders don't look for huge chunks of yardage on the ground, but they do like to slip into the 100s behind hefty yards-per-carry numbers.

In 2008, they ran for 100-plus yards in each of their first ten games. In their first three games of 2009, they averaged less than 30 yards. Things looked better at Houston. Baron Batch looked better, too.

Their featured runner of 2008 carried the ball 19 times for 114 yards (career high) and two touchdowns. Tech ended the loss with 163 yards on the ground for a healthy 5.1 average per tote.

Batch is hard-nosed, tough to bring down. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2008. Leach said the improved running in the Houston game came about because Batch hit the holes hard and ran hard. Tech also has more of a speed back in Harrison Jeffers.

The Red Raiders average 36.2 points a game, 413.5 passing yards and 62.2 rushing yards in their four games. They have been a bit undisciplined in penalties (44 for 348 yards), but have been solid in converting 78 percent of their scoring opportunities inside the red zone.

The Raiders have never led the nation in defense, but Tech appears to have made improvements on that side of the ball. "The biggest growth I've seen at Texas Tech over the last couple of years is how they've played defense," said Locksley.

If Tech has a defensive adage, it might be this: Get off the field quickly so Leach's offense can do its thing. And that will be Tech`s plan for the Lobos.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner