CLOSEUP: Baron Batch

(J-MART NOTE: This is a somewhat new feature to add some perspective on Kansas State’s upcoming foe. It might be a star player, an assistant coach, a cheerleader, whatever. If you have suggestions for Texas A&M, next week’s opponent, list them below. Thanks.)

His first reaction is laughter.

Texas Tech sophomore Baron Batch can’t help but be amused when he’s asked about the Red Raiders’ sudden inclination to use their running backs to, well, run the ball.

“People are like, ‘Hey, you have a running game,’” Batch said.

Batch teams with senior Shannon Woods to form a highly productive tandem in the backfield. Tech averages 146.5 yards on the ground, which is 66th in the nation. And with all things considered — mostly the fact that Graham Harrell threw for 5,705 yards in 2007 — that is a significant upgrade from last season, when the Red Raiders were so one-dimensional.

Not anymore.

Already, Tech has 586 rushing yards. In 2007, in 13 games, the Red Raiders finished with 771.

And Batch, who averages 7.5 yards per carry and 60 yards per game, is also a receiving threat. He has caught 12 passes for 160 yards, and Woods isn’t too far behind, either. The team’s rushing leader (69 yards per game, averaging 6.4 yards a carry) also has eight catches for 118 yards.

It’s not quite a position battle, but the tension has made the Red Raiders better.

“We’ve worked hard at it, but the catalyst has been the competition we’ve had,” Batch said. “It’s made us better. You can see it in games. I’m trying to show up Shannon, and he’s trying to show me up. Not to say we don’t get along great because we do, but we’re real competitive and always trying to one-up the other.

“We’re better for it.”

Batch, 5-11 and 200 pounds, was a Rivals three-star recruit from Midland (Texas) High, billed as “an explosive player” in the program’s media guide. He played in 2006 as a true freshman, again backing up Woods, before rupturing his Achilles in October. He redshirted 2007, rehabbing his injury.

The burst appears to be back.

He missed being on the field, and he missed the winning.

That’s what he thinks of when he’s asked about playing for Mike Leach.

“I don’t have much to compare it to,” Batch said. “It’s fun to win, and Coach Leach is a winner. It’s fun, exciting to play for a coach who has a passion for the game. He likes things to be done perfect. Sometimes, you’re like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’ but then later, you’ll look back and say, ‘Yeah, that made sense.’

“It’s the little things… It all makes sense. There is a method to his madness, even when it sometimes does just seem like craziness. There’s always a reason.”

Which, conveniently enough, brings us back to Tech’s running game.

Clearly, this is the next dimension for Leach’s offense, which means Batch (and Woods) are sort of pioneers, even though it’s clear where the emphasis still lies.

“Any great team needs to be able to run the ball when it needs to,” Batch said. “We can pass it 100 times, and Graham can complete a pass whenever he needs to, but there are games where you just can’t do that.

“But it’s something that will help us in the long run, and it’s a new, refreshing twist for defensive coordinators when they come and try to game-plan against us.”