December 19, 2008

Notebook: Learning lessons from 2004

Four years ago, Texas Tech defeated No. 4 California in the Holiday Bowl in what
was then hailed as one of the biggest wins of Mike Leach's tenure in Lubbock.
The Bears, who had been passed over for a bid to the Rose Bowl in favor of
Texas, entered the contest as 11-point favorites, but were pasted by Sonny
Cumbie and the Red Raiders in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 45-31
final score may indicate. Cal head coach Jeff Tedford admitted much later that
his team never really got over the perceived snub, and let those feelings affect
their play that day.

Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss
Approaching a milestone:

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell just needs 253 yards to become the only
player in NCAA history to throw for 5,000 yards in multiple seasons.
Heisman achievement:

With Harrell and WR Michael Crabtree finishing fourth and fifth in
Heisman voting, Texas Tech became only the 16th team in NCAA history to
have two players in the vote's top five.
Program first for Harrell:

Harrell was named to the AFCA All-America team, making him the first
QB in program history to earn first-team honors.
Last time against UM:

Texas Tech defeated Ole Miss 49-45 in 2003
thanks to a six TD and 661 yard performance by quarterback B.J. Symons.
All-time series record:

Tied at 2-2.
"Being a participant in that game, and seeing it from our standpoint, we were
very appreciative, very excited to go to the bowl game," said Cumbie earlier
this month. "I think [Cal] definitely had their eyes set on a higher BCS game."

Fast forward to today, and Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach finds himself and
his team in a similar situation as their 2004 Holiday Bowl opponents, but you
won't see or hear of any Red Raider feeling sorry for themselves.

"It's very similar," confirmed Cumbie. "I think Coach Leach, being on the side
of it that he was on, can use that experience to make sure that an 11-1, sitting
just outside of the BCS, Texas Tech team won't feel sorry for itself,
appreciative of where they're at and to let them know that Ole Miss is in this
bowl game for a reason. They're a very good football team."

Though there isn't anyone on the roster who played against Cal, there are
several players who made the trip during their redshirt season.

"I guess I'm the only receiver that was there at the Holiday Bowl, but I
remember how excited everybody was and how focused we were during practices that
week," said senior inside receiver
Eric Morris. "We really went there
with one goal, and that was to win the football game."

"We were excited in the Holiday Bowl in '04," added senior quarterback
Graham Harrell, who was also in Qualcomm Stadium that day. "California
wasn't as excited and we beat'em because of that. You've got to match their
excitement and match their intensity level. Ole Miss is going to be excited to
play, be excited to be there, and we've got to match that. The Cal game is an
example of that, but hopefully we can learn from that and play well."


Who knows how it first got onto the Internet, but what started as an invitation
to an "ugly sweater party" quickly made the rounds of message boards before it
went viral and hit all of the mainstream sports blogs.

It, of course, is the picture of Harrell, Morris, walk-on receiver
Landon Hoeffer and Harrell's roommate sitting on a mall Santa's lap and dressed in
Christmas sweaters. Amazingly, ridiculously, ugly Christmas sweaters.

"We just had some time off and decided to have a little Christmas party,"
explained Morris. "The theme was an 'ugly Christmas sweater party,' so we kind
of just wanted to make a little invitation to give to people before the party
and so we thought it'd be appropriate to put on our sweaters and get that card

Funny as it was, none of them expected it to go viral.

"We didn't mean for it to go worldwide like it has," said Harrell. "I've heard
it was in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and they're having a tacky sweater
contest and the winner gets three free tickets to the Cotton Bowl. So it's
getting a lot of love, I guess, or a lot of hate. It was just something we did
to be dumb.

"It was just something out of fun, and we had a good time with it. I guess
everyone else is having a good time with it now, too."


At this point, the story of Texas Tech placekicker Matt Williams is well-known among
college football fans (in case you missed it),
and has been relayed by family members and coaches alike. What fans haven't
heard, though, is Williams himself commenting on his amazing journey.

Until now.

"It's still a fantasy," said Williams. "I mean, this is all so crazy to me.
Definitely it's gotten more relaxed after the first game. After the first game,
it's just me doing my job, kicking the ball like I know how to do it. It's still
so crazy to me, though, that all this has happened. All I can do is thank God
for this opportunity."

Williams' first opportunity to kick came in the Red Raiders' eighth game of the
season, on the road at Kansas. And though it had been rumored that he would get
a shot, Williams didn't find out anything for sure until the last minute.

"I think it was either that Monday or Tuesday, I really don't remember," he
said. "Leach just called me into his office and talked to me and said, 'We'll
see how it goes in practice this week. We'll just look at you and see how
everything goes.'

"And I got up to Kansas and they were like, 'Alright, you're kicking extra
points.' It was pretty much a game-time decision."

And that first kick?

"It was nerve-wracking," said Williams. "I was really nervous. I mean, being in
front of that many people for my first game, and it's a big game against what
was then the 14th team in the nation. A lot of the guys encouraged me. Leach
gave me a pat on the back and stuff. He was like, 'This is nothing. The biggest
kick you had was for Lynwood. The whole team is behind you, so just remember
that.' There was a lot of encouragement going on, so that helped a lot with the

Williams was a perfect 9-of-9 on the day on PATs, and was recognized the next
week as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week and the AT&T All-America
Player of the Week.

"I was kind of shocked, to be honest," grinned Williams. "I didn't think
anything like that would ever happen. Never thought I'd be on a list with Graham
Harrell and Javon Ringer and those other guys, so it was a shock. I'm very proud
to be able to get that, but I was kind of surprised and I know I had a lot of
people from home voting for me, but it's just a big honor for me."

Williams ended the season 29-of-29 on PATs and 2-of-3 on field goal attempts.


While this will be the first bowl game for all but one Ole Miss player, everyone
on the Texas Tech roster (excluding first-year players) has prior postseason
experience. Indeed, a handful of Red Raiders even played in the program's last
appearance in the Cotton Bowl, a 13-10 loss to Alabama in 2006.

"I feel like we should have played better offensively that day," said Harrell.
"Cody [Hodges] went down and I got in, and that was a blast. You know, my first
steps for my career were at the Cotton Bowl. So I've got good memories of it. I
hit [Jarrett] Hicks on one play, but only got a couple of snaps."

The fact that Texas Tech has never won a Cotton Bowl is something that is
definitely on the players' minds.

"I kind of have a bittersweet feeling about the Cotton Bowl," commented Morris.
"Ultimately, we lost that game to Alabama. That's something we've never done,
won a Cotton Bowl in Tech history. So we're really focused on changing that. We
want to prove a point here at the end of the year and prove to the nation that
we are for real and deserved to be ranked this high.

"We kind of went through a little tough stretch there at the end of the year but
we're looking to bounce back strong and have a great showing in the Cotton

Joe Yeager contributed to this report.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!