Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tech Will Provide the Fireworks; but Virginia's Smart Defense Does Concern the Red Raiders' Leach

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Tech Will Provide the Fireworks; but Virginia's Smart Defense Does Concern the Red Raiders' Leach

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

The Konica Minolta Gator Bowl followed one of football's oldest cliches in pitting a nearly unstoppable offense (Texas Tech) against an almost impregnable defense (Virginia) for its Jan. 1 game at the Municipal Stadium.

Virginia coach Al Groh said it's not that easy to categorize the first meeting between the two schools as the Cavaliers' defense (ranked 13th in the nation in fewest points allowed) meets Tech's offense (first in the nation in passing offense and second in total offense), which racked up mind-boggling numbers under coach Mike Leach.

"In this era of spread offenses, the stress is on a defense," Groh said Thursday at the Omni Hotel during a news conference for the two Gator Bowl coaches. "What Mike and his staff have done is very creative and very challenging for any defense."

On his side of the cliche, Leach said that Virginia (9-3) presents the type of defense that concerns him the most. It's not that the Cavaliers rush the passer better than anyone - although they do have the ACC defensive player of the year in end Chris Long (14 sacks) - or cover the pass better (they're 33rd in passing defense in the nation).

It's the fact that the Cavaliers' defense is composed of intelligent, team-oriented players that Leach said presents the biggest challenge.

"I've always felt that the best defense against us is the defense that plays well as a team," Leach said. "Chris Long is a great pass rusher, but Oklahoma had six of those guys. Texas had a few. We've seen that. But Virginia is well-coached, with very smart kids on defense. I think that gives us more problems than a team with an outstanding pass rush or secondary."

Quarterback Graham Harrell passed for 5,298 yards and 45 touchdowns for Tech (8-4), with freshman wide receiver Michael Crabtree, the Biletnikoff Award winner, catching 125 passes for 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The Red Raiders defeated Big 12 champion Oklahoma 34-27 in their final regular-season game and also scored 43 points against Texas (losing 59-43) and beat Texas A&M 35-7.

"I don't understand why Graham Harrell was never in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy," Groh said. …

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