Remembering 2008: Texas Tech football opens season amid unprecedented hype

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders talks with his defense while playing against the University of Houston at Robertson Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Mike Leach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders talks with his defense while playing against the University of Houston at Robertson Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images) /

Taking a look back at the historic 2008 Texas Tech football season starting with an underwhelming week-one win over Eastern Washington.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the most successful Texas Tech football season of the modern era.  It was a season that has come to define the “Air Raid” era of Red Raider football and one upon which the program is still living in many ways.

Red Raider fans have long felt that the national media do not pay their program enough respect and as proof they often point to preseason polls.  But in 2008, Tech was highly-regarded by virtually every national pundit.

Tech’s No. 14 preseason ranking in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll was its highest to being a season since checking in at No. 8 in 1977.  Likewise, its No. 12 ranking in the Associated Press Poll showed that the nation expected quite a bit from head coach Mike Leach’s ninth season in Lubbock.

And there was good reason for the optimism.  Tech returned 19 starters from the 2007 team that, despite being the youngest team in a B.C.S. conference, finished No. 22 in the nation after a 9-4 season that ended with a Gator Bowl win over No. 21 Virginia.

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Tech returned star quarterback Graham Harrell, record-setting wide receiver Michael Crabtree (the 2007 Biletnikof Award winner) and all five of its offensive linemen.  But questions still remained about the Texas Tech defense.

However, many thought that the promotion of Ruffin McNeil to the role of defensive coordinator would be a huge boost for the defense.  McNeil replaced Lyle Setencich as the interim DC in the middle of the 2007 season following an ugly loss at Oklahoma State.

Under McNeil, the Red Raider defense improved in almost every statistical category prompting his promotion following the season. In fact, after the change, Tech’s defense yielded the fewest points per game in the Big 12 in 2007.

Needless to say, optimism was high surrounding the 2008 Red Raiders as the season opener against Eastern Washington approached.  Many were expecting a massive Texas Tech blowout of a FCS opponent to open the season.

But Tech played a lethargic and sloppy game against EWU.  Tech jumped out to a 21-0 lead sparked by an interception by linebacker Brian Duncan on the first play of the game.

Coincidentally, the next time Texas Tech and Eastern Washington met, a week-one opener in Lubbock last season, another Red Raider linebacker, Dakota Allen, also intercepted EWU’s first pass.

But after the first quarter, the Red Raiders took their foot off the gas allowing the Eagles to cut the gap to just 28-17 at halftime.  Tech would put forth a workman-like effort in the second half en route to a comfortable 49-24 win.

Harrell was 43-58 for 536 yards, two TD’s and an INT.  But Crabtree had one of his more pedestrian games as a collegiate catching nine passes but for just 73 yards and a TD.  But two of his more unheralded teammates picked up the slack.

Senior inside receiver and future Texas Tech offensive coordinator Eric Morris had nine receptions for 164 yards while junior receiver Detron Lewis caught nine passes for 163 yards.  The Red Raiders ran for five touchdowns, including two from Shannon Woods and one each from Baron Batch, Aaron Crawford and Harrell.

On defense, Tech collected three interceptions.  To go along with Duncan’s first-play pick, Tech defensive back Daniel Charbonnet (who later in the season would have one of the biggest interceptions in program history) and defensive tackle Rajon Henley also picked off passes.

But while this was an easy win, the sentiment throughout the Texas Tech fan base was that of frustration.  In recent seasons, Tech had made it a habit of humiliating FCS teams like in 2005 when it put 80 points on Sam Houston and 63 points on Indiana State or in 2006 when it beat SE Louisiana 63-0 and in 2007 when it scored 75 points on Northwestern State,

Though EWU had been in the FCS semifinals in 2007, Texas Tech fans were expecting the most hyped team in program history to make national noise with another historic blow out.  But that did not happen and many quickly began to make knee-jerk claims that the 2008 team was overrated.

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Those sentiments serve as a reminder for Texas Tech football fans to try to be more level-headed regardless of what happens this week in Houston.   The first week of the season is rarely a true indication of a team’s quality and even the best team in program history had to hear complaints about its legitimacy following a 25-point win to open the season.