Gator Bowl

Gator Bowl

Gator Bowl Preview
Josh Nagel

Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Virginia (9-3)

Spread: Texas Tech -5.5

This game provides a stark contrast between the teams' strengths and it makes for an interesting style matchup that will go in favor of the team that best gets the game to fit into its preferred tempo. The Texas Tech Red Raiders are led by a quarterback you've probably never heard of before this year, and he is putting up unheard of type numbers in the spread offense with a couple of dynamic receivers including freshman All-American and future Heisman candidate Michael Crabtree. The Red Raiders lead the nation in passing offense with 475 yards per game, and their 42 points per game is second best in the country. However, Coach Mike Leach's squads have historically struggled with physical teams that switch up their coverages and play a solid bend-but-don't break defense that avoids big plays, puts pressure on the quarterback and holds the opponents out of the end zone. That's what Tech is getting in Virginia, a team that flew under the radar most of the year but whose stingy defense carried a marginal offense and led to a 9-3 record. The Cavaliers have one of the best defensive players in the country in Chris Long, who won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end. They feature a top-20 rushing and scoring defense, though it will be their 80th-ranked pass defense that gets its biggest test. Virginia won five games by two points or fewer, and if Long and friends can keep Tech quarterback Graham Harrell under pressure and get some stops, the Cavaliers could find themselves in another close game. However, their offense ranks 100th or worse in most statistical categories, and they must make a few big plays and probably score more than their average of 24 points to stand any chance of keeping up with the Red Raiders.

Texas Tech can cover if: the Red Raiders can turn it into their preferred shootout. Harrell threw for 5,298 yards and 45 touchdowns, more in each category than some college quarterbacks compile in a four-year career. Crabtree caught 125 balls for 1,861 yards and 21 touchdowns, and Danny Amendola had 103 catches for 1,177 yards and five touchdowns. In other words, it's all offense all the time. As Tech proved in its win over Oklahoma, it can beat physical teams if it finds a way to the move the ball early and establish a high-scoring affair. The Raiders typically don't play well if they fall behind early, and they must re-adjust their game plan if Virginia successfully pressures Harrell and gets some defensive stops. Texas Tech needs to pressure Virginia by getting a few touchdowns and forcing the Cavaliers to keep pace on the scoreboard, something their ACC opponent is not comfortable doing. If Harrell and friends find the end zone a few times in the first quarter or so, it could be a long day for Virginia.

Virginia can cover if: the Cavaliers can limit Tech's explosive offense, because they have no chance of stopping it completely. If they hold the Raiders to 35 points or fewer, they definitely have a chance. On offense, they need to chew the clock with some time-consuming drives to keep Tech off the field, but they can't get so predictable with a grind-it-out approach that they don't give themselves a chance to score. A few trick plays or some new offensive wrinkles would be a good idea to perhaps catch Tech off-guard, but their usual molasses-type offense will not be enough to get the job done. Virginia would also be well-served to study the defensive tactics of a team like Colorado, which allowed Tech several long drives but was able to hold the Raiders to field goals on several occasions in its 31-26 win over Tech.

General Notes: Virginia is 4-1 ATS in its last five games as an underdog, but just 2-5 ATS in its last seven overall. The Red Raiders are 4-10 ATS against teams with winning records and 2-5 ATS in their last seven bowls as a favorite.

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Re: Gator Bowl

Gator Bowl
Josh Jacobs

Gator Bowl

Virginia (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Texas Tech (8-4 SU, 6-5 ATS)

How they got there:

Turning the page into another New Year, the high flying Texas Tech offense (ranked No. 2 in the nation) will mix like an explosive chemistry set against a Virginia defense that allowed just under 19 points per game this season. Dedicated to a CBS broadcast at 1:00 p.m. EST, the battle that will ensue in Alltel Stadium must compete with a handful of other bowl games taking the national stage.

The Red Raiders where mainly carried on the shoulders of quarterback Graham Harrell and his receiving core. Coach Mike Leach has strategically built this program around the pass. Made clear by averaging 50 points in the final seven games of the regular season, Texas Tech stampeded past its opponents, highlighted by a 75-7 triumph over Northwestern State.

The Raiders are a school marred by inefficient defense but scoring in droves is the name of the game. A 4-4 SU conference record was the biggest disappointment in 2007.

Marching onto the other side of the field is a Virginia program whose main weapons are direct opposites of its foes.

Allowing 332.4 YPG, the Cavaliers have made a living by taking the ‘skin to the house on ‘D’. Forcing opponents into turning the ball over, Virginia has capitalized by scoring 18.8 PPG with its defense on the gridiron.

A seven game winning streak looked to be a major catalyst for the Cavaliers in a bowl game bid, but losing to Wyoming on the road (23-3) in the final contest of the regular season blurred its tremendous run.

However, if you want to analyze the past, both teams should compliment each other with a flammable offense versus a stone cold resistance in Virginia’s pass and run protection.

What to expect:

It should be no surprise that Texas Tech will look to jump on top of ACC Virginia ASAP. Tech's insane offense hasn’t been without hiccups. In back-to-back defeats against Missouri and Colorado (combined score of 72-36 – Texas Tech was held to 18 PPG), opponents proved that stopping the pass resulted in ‘Ls’ for the Red Raiders.

Putting together a scientific hypothesis, one could say that if Virginia plays hard nose football then Texas Tech will struggle to keep up in the defensive department. Remember, the Cavaliers have been highly effective in using its corners and front seven against the pass. Virginia has been able to hold their opponents to a low 198 YPG through the air.

If there’s any aspect of this game that could be flying well below the radar it must be in the ground game. Both squads have struggled this year to keep up with the rest of nation. On the Raiders side, RBs have struggled for a debilitating 61.5 YPG. While the Cavaliers have been a bit more effective, breaking the century mark with 126.2 YPG on the ground, their ranking at 92nd worst in the Nation speaks volumes.

One statistic that looks to be a factor in Virginia’s favor lies within the turnover margin. The Cavs are plus .25 versus a Red Raiders team coughing up more balls then takeaways (at minus-.50). Look for the turnover margin to work in Virginia’s favor.

Make this note (which might or might not have any impact on this game); in the last 20 Gator Bowl games, only three have been decided by seven points or less. Case in point, the Gator Bowl has been shaped by uneventful scores in the publics’ eye.

Players to watch:

Texas Tech – There was little attention given by the Heisman faithful in QB Graham Harrell, but posting an incredible 5,298 passing yards with 45 scores and 14 picks against tough teams should have been the talk of the town. Regardless, Harrell is the key for Texas Tech in posting its fifth bowl game victory in the last six appearances. His 646-yard passing performance with five touchdowns in a loss against Oklahoma State solidified the accuracy and power that Harrell lets loose. Keep an eye out for WRs Michael Crabtree (125 receptions, 1,862 receiving yards with 21 TDs) and Danny Amendola (1,177 receiving yards with five trips into the end zone).

Virginia – Where we want to focus on the Red Raiders volatile offense, the focus on the Cavaliers centers on its playmaking defensive squad. Looking to land a big contract through a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, defensive end Chris Long is a bonafide hustler. Genetically engineered from football great Howie Long, Chris led the Cavs with 14 sacks. His 75 tackles (19 for loses) was incredible, and his tenacity in finishing off players with the rock is next to none in collegiate ball.

While the wide out core on Virginia is nothing spectacular, running back Mikell Simpson stepped in heroically to replace Cedric Peerman about half-way through the season. Simpson turned up the heat for the Cavaliers, putting together 409 rushing yards with seven TDs in the final five games.

Bowl Records:

Texas Tech broke its three-game losing streak when bowling in a 2002 blowout over Clemson by the score of 55-15. In their last eight bowl game appearance, the Red Raiders have gone 4-4 SU and 3-5 ATS. Winning just 37% of its bowl games since 1938 (11-19 SU), Texas Tech placed itself on the national map when it conquered Aurburn (35-13) in the 1954 Gator Bowl. While we are taking a trip back to the past, the moral of this Red Raider’s story is that they’ve never been a clear cut champion when the big game is on the line.

In hindsight, Virginia is relatively new to the whole bowl experience, going 7-9 SU in its history. A 2005 victory over Minnesota (34-31) in the Music City Bowl was the Cavaliers last appearance in a game that went past the regular season. Since 1998, Virginia has gone a skimp 3-4 SU and ATS when hitting the bowling ally. In 1995, the Cavs savored one of its finest moments at the Peach bowl, taking Georgia into the street for a 34-27 beating.

Inside the Line: Texas Tech -6, 59

Most books including Bodog.com have not moved the line up or down since the opening bell rung in early December.

With Texas Tech labeled as a six point favorite, its sky scarping offense has pushed books to set a total of 59 points with a -110 (bet $110 to make $100) price tag. Given the lack of adjustment for any given reason, backers certainly haven’t had a chance to take advantage of a shopping spear in this contest.

Expert Opinion: Jimmy Boyd

Texas Tech is 0-6 ATS in road games versus good rushing defenses allowing less then 120 rushing yards per game over the last three seasons. The Red Raiders are 0-7 ATS in road games after one or more consecutive wins against the spread over the last three seasons and 0-8 ATS in road games off a win against a conference rival over the last three seasons. We can’t argue with a 21-0 ATS situation here.

VI Prediction:

Will this be a war favoring Texas Tech’s air attack or will the defense in the trenches by Virginia take hold in the famed Gator Bowl? That is the million dollar question, but there’s no doubting that these two opposite styles will make for an interesting New Year’s Day extravaganza.

If my opinion holds any weight, I’m putting a lean on Texas Tech to explode from the opening quarter with QB Graham Harrell and company. This laser guided signal caller is top notch and his receiving core can break down defenses with the blink of an eye.

I’m not trying to trash or undermine this tough, in your face Virginia program, but expect its ‘D’ to come to a grinding halt with the continued air attack from the Red Raiders. Either way, this contest should make for an already exciting day in college football.

Final Score: Texas Tech 41, Virginia 31

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Re: Gator Bowl

Gator Bowl: Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Virginia Cavaliers

- The fans at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium will see one of the nation's top offenses against the nation's best lineman as the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Virginia Cavaliers lock horns January 1 for the Gator Bowl. The Raiders averaged nearly 43 PPG, while Chris Long (son of former Raider Pro Bowler Howie) will try to stop them.

Graham Harrell threw for 420 yards to help the Red Raiders upset the Oklahoma Sooners 34-27 last time out, as 7.5-point underdogs. The combined 61 points fell UNDER the posted total of 66.

Harrell completed 47-of-72 pass attempts for two touchdowns, while rushing for another for the Red Raiders.

Virginia failed to advance to the ACC title game in a 33-21 loss last time out to the Virgina Tech Hokies, as 3-point underdogs. The game's combined 54 points sailed OVER the posted total of 39.5.

Jameel Sewell ran for two touchdowns for the Cavaliers, and completed 15-of-24 passes for 120 yards in the loss.

Team records:
Texas Tech: 8-4 SU, 6-5 ATS
Virginia: 9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS

Texas Tech most recently:
When playing in January are 0-1
When playing on grass are 5-5
After outgaining opponent are 7-3
When playing outside the conference are 8-2

Virginia most recently:
When playing on grass are 8-2
After being outgained are 7-3
When playing outside the conference are 6-4
After playing Virginia Tech are 4-6

A few trends to consider:
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Texas Tech's last 7 games
Texas Tech is 10-4 SU in its last 14 games
Virginia is 9-2 SU in its last 11 games
The total has gone UNDER in 15 of Virginia's last 23 games
Virginia is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games

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