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Owls-Red Raiders: Five Things To Watch

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LUBBOCK - While walking around Jones AT&T Stadium as the Owls conducted their Friday walk-through, it was difficult to avoid day dreaming about what the Owls might one day be.

Towering over the west side of the stadium was a multilevel suite and press box facility that didn't quite blend in with the original structure but certainly added a splash of panache. In the north end zone construction workers went about their business of expanding the seating bowl, and just behind the east stands another set of club seats and luxury boxes were beginning to take shape. All told, Texas Tech plans to bump capacity to 60,000, and while Jones AT&T won't be the largest stadium in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are certainly making the financial commitment to improving the facilities so they are within shouting distance of what UT, A&M and Oklahoma State feature. If appearances can be believed, Tech is all-in on the arms race.

Without the financial backing of a Big 12 affiliation, Rice can never afford facilities as gorgeous as the Raiders'. However, matching what TCU and SMU have constructed in recent years should be a modest goal for Rice athletic director Chris Del Conte. David Bailiff is curt in his assessment of what Rice needs to be competitive in football, and on Friday we all got a peek.

1. Surviving An Air Raid. Anyone remember the classifications of the three Texas defensive backs who played key roles in the Red Raiders' game-clinching drive last season? Blake Gideon, who dropped a sure interception that would have sealed a UT win, was a freshman, as was Earl Thomas who, along with then-sophomore Curtis Brown, allowed Michael Crabtree to catch a deep pass and slip into the end zone for the winning touchdown. Why is this significant? If the Owls utilize a dime package against the Raiders, freshman corner-turned-safety Corey Frazier will be on the field guarding someone in open space. The Owls' corners are a pair of true sophomores - Chris Jammer and Jarrett Ben. Better grow up fast, fellas.

2. Under The Lights. While on the subject of hasty maturation, freshman receiver Derek Clark and freshman tight end Vance McDonald must put last weekend behind them. Both showed flashes of their talent and potential in fall camp, and both dropped passes in Birmingham against UAB. Those first-game jitters were to be expected, but as the Owls continue to sort through their skill players, those with the most skill need to rise to the top of the heap. At worst Clark should be the fourth receiver, and McDonald has as much raw talent as anyone on offense. Both were granted mulligans in the opener; now comes the time to show and prove.

3. Start Of Something New? True freshman linebacker Trey Briggs made the trip, ostensibly to take the roster spot of senior Robert Calhoun, who tore his ACL last week and is lost for the season. Briggs and junior Aaron Williams battled for Calhoun's place in the rotation, and while Williams will likely remain above Briggs in the pecking order, it wouldn't hurt to test Briggs to see what he is capable of. Given the state of flux at linebacker, experimentation is warranted.

4. Easing Into The Fanuzzi Era. Sophomore transfer quarterback Nick Fanuzzi will make his first career start and, if he leads the Owls to early success, can dictate how long he remains in the game. Despite the fact that the coaching staff will stick with some semblance of a quarterback rotation, the skill players have made it obvious that they are ready for one guy to take the snaps. That won't happen this weekend, but what can Fanuzzi do to expedite matters and move closer to securing the title of starter outright before the Owls travel to Stillwater?

5. Ignoring Marsellus Wallace. You recall what the infamous gangster from Pulp Fiction said about pride. Following their embarrassing performance at UAB last weekend, the Owls' defense would be wise to disregard that advice. All they will have is pride against the Raiders, and they should rely on it to fuel their motivation. Do they wish to get shredded a second time in two games, or would they prefer to fight valiantly in the face of superior opposition? The Owls closed their huddle on Friday with an 'Upset!' chant, and if they have any legitimate hope of shocking Tech and winning as a four-touchdown 'dog, they must channel Butch Coolidge.

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns?

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Channel Butch Coolidge? I don't think it's wise to go too far down that metaphorical path. Some really messed up stuff happened after he won that fight. But I digress.

Do you have a sense of the team's mood heading into this game. The couldn't have laid a bigger egg against UAB and now they're facing a much tougher opponent.

Five questions:
1. Can kickoff returns continue to be a strength?
2. Will Bailiff go for the shootout or play the field position game?
3. Can the Owls establish a running game to take some heat off the Raider's pass rush?
4. Has the defensive line learned that a hand in the air can be an effective pass deflection technique?
5. Have tackling drills paid off?

Owl-88: Hey, I'm only worried about the fight itself, not the extracurricular stuff after. As for the mood of the team, it's fine, but who knows what that will yield. I thought the Owls were mentally prepared last weekend, and we saw what that meant. - MK

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