October 6, 2007

Five questions heading into the Iowa St. matchup

Last year's game against Iowa State proved the turning point for the Red Raiders' season. A team that was taking on water and about to capsize managed to plug up all the leaks, pump the excess water overboard, and finish the year strongly. The scenario this year is very different. Tech is a confident, happy team that is looking toward a radiant future. Iowa State, on the other hand, is a wounded unit in desperate need of a win. Could the Cyclones turn their season around at the expense of the Red Raiders?

Is the Red Raider Defense For Real? That is obviously the biggest question in the minds of Tech fans-and probably coaches, too-heading into the Iowa State contest. The Red Raider defense, under the oversight of new defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, showed real promise against Northwest Louisiana, but that was Northwest Louisiana. Truth be told, the Cyclone offense may not be a heckuva lot better but they do have Big 12, as opposed to Southland Conference athletes, for what it's worth. Head coach Gene Chizik and his offense are probably also curious about the worthiness of the Tech defense. Expect them to run right at the Red Raiders and make them stop it. Eventually, I think they will.

Will Tech's Offensive Line Continue to Hold up? Through five games and more pass attempts than most offenses make in two seasons, the Red Raider offensive line has yielded an insanely minute four sacks. The number of quarter hurries is not much higher. Still, that line is probably more unsettled than it's been at any point in the season. Center Shawn Byrnes and right guard Brandon Carter have been banged up and both sat out significant portions of the Northwest Louisiana contest. Furthermore, offensive line coach Matt Moore played Marlon Winn in place of Jake Johnson at right tackle a great deal against the Demons. There is real competition at that position. Iowa State has nine sacks on the season, and with an athletic linebacking corps led by Alvin Bowen, is a real threat to pressure Graham Harrell. The health and integrity of Tech's o-line, therefore, will be paramount and well worth keeping an eye on.

What Will King Crab Do? With each passing game, Tech observers are becoming less expectant that freshman receiver Michael Crabtree will come back down to earth. Instead, the expectation is that he will pull down double-digit receptions for multiple touchdowns and over 200 yards. And the records are beginning to fall. School records are rapidly scattering to the wayside under the fearful assault of King Crab; conference records are in grave danger, and national records are coming into peril. At the end of the Cyclone contest it will be interesting to know what other records are in Crabtree's possession.

Will Duncan Delight? Kellen Tillman, senior starter at strongside linebacker, is a starter no more. Indeed, his long-term status with the team is open to serious question. Stepping into the breech will be redshirt freshman Brian Duncan. Although Tillman's extra-legal demise is not anybody's method of choice by which to gain a starting role, Duncan's ascension is a result desired by many who have been impressed by Duncan's play when he's gotten into games. Duncan can be assured that the Cyclones will attack him early and often and that Red Raider observers will be watching with great anticipation to see just how well he responds. For the record, I think he could have a monster debut.

Will Hines Continue to Shine? Much like Brian Duncan, safety Anthony Hines has tantalized one and all when he has gotten into games. He saw his most action of the season against Northwest Louisiana, in part, because starting strong safety Joe Garcia was dinged. But it just so happens that Hines had the best game of any Tech safety so far this season against the Demons. He delivered more hard hits in one game than all of Tech's other safeties combined in the preceding four games, and that is no exaggeration. Hines brought a physical presence that has been sorely lacking on the defensive side of the ball for the Red Raiders. It will be interesting to see whether or not McNeill and Carlos Mainord reward Hines for his performance and if he can further justify the reward.

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