No. 61: Texas Tech
By Paul Myerberg // Jul 9, 2012
Oh, irony. When Texas Tech replaced Mike Leach with Tommy Tuberville, it did so under the presumption that Tuberville’s defensive credentials would lend greater balance to program defined primarily by its pitch-and-catch offensive system – even if the Red Raiders had played surprisingly stout defense over periods of Leach’s decade-long tenure. Instead, Tech has remained strong offensively, averaging at least 33.1 points per game in each of the last two years, while undergoing a meteoric nosedive on defense. In 2010, the Red Raiders allowed 9.5 more points per game than in Leach’s final season; last fall, the Raiders gave up a program-record 39.3 points per game, including 66 points to both Oklahoma State and Baylor. It’s safe to say that things haven’t gone as planned. Perhaps you’re not surprised to hear that Tuberville is on his third defensive coordinator in three years.
18 (9 offense, 9 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 1
- Sept. 8
at Texas St.
- Sept. 15
- Sept. 29
at Iowa St.
- Oct. 6
- Oct. 13
- Oct. 20
- Oct. 27
at Kansas St.
- Nov. 3
- Nov. 10
- Nov. 17
at Oklahoma St.
- Nov. 24
Last year’s prediction
I can’t shake my concerns regarding the defensive side of the ball. I really like Glasgow’s hiring, and appreciate and respect Tuberville’s ability to put together a strong defense, but I look at the depth chart and see some major warning signs: one is the front four, which lacks desirable size inside and has no proven pass rusher – I don’t think we can say that about Fehoko – at end; another is the secondary, which was terrible in 2010 and must adapt to this new system on the fly. Thankfully, the offense should be just fine; better than fine, perhaps, should the emphasis on the running game pay off. Overall, however, I can’t place the Red Raiders in the same conversation as those teams with more well-rounded Big 12 title hopes. This team will be in that mix once Tuberville and Glasgow solve the defensive issues.
In a nutshell I was on board with the hiring of former T.C.U. safeties coach Chad Glasgow, who I thought had learned enough under Gary Patterson to be ready for the daunting task of taking on the Big 12. Not even close. Glasgow, Tech’s second coordinator in as many years under Tuberville – replacing James Willis – will be forever remembered in Lubbock as the architect of the worst defense in program history. Tech did nothing right; while most thought that the defense would struggle early while adapting to Glasgow’s 4-2-5 system, the light never turned on. In fact, the defense was worse late than it was early, allowing 53.8 points per game in November – not that the Raiders were shutting down opponents in October, however. The end result was the program’s first bowl-free finish since 1999, the year prior to Leach’s arrival, and its first losing season since 1990. While Tech has had worse teams, I think last year’s group was the most disappointing in school history.
High point A 41-38 win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 22. The win pushed Tech up to 5-2, 2-2 in the Big 12, after back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and Kansas State. The Red Raiders came out firing against O.U. after a weather delay, opening up a 24-7 halftime lead and a 31-7 third quarter lead before holding on for a three-point win – the team’s last on the year.
Low point Any game in November. Tech gave up 52 points and 595 yards of total offense to a Texas team that struggled moving the ball for most of last season. Oklahoma State and Baylor won by a combined score of 132-48. And Missouri won by four points, 31-27, after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with about two minutes left. It’s hard to think of the Raiders as a bowl team, but they would sneaked into the postseason with six wins if the defense could have held on against the Tigers.
Tidbit Over the year’s final 327 minutes and 56 seconds – from the second following Texas Tech’s first touchdown of the second half against O.U. to the final seconds of the season, five games and change – the Red Raiders were outscored by 287-112. Conversely, Tech held a 294-184 advantage over the year’s first 392 minutes and 4 seconds – from the first kickoff through the 31-7 lead over the Sooners.
Tidbit (winning streaks edition) A season-ending loss to Baylor snapped Tech’s 15-game winning streak over the Bears, which was then the program’s longest winning streak over a single opponent. The program’s longest streak is now over S.M.U., which it has beat 14 straight times. The next-longest? Kansas and Louisiana-Lafayette, at five games apiece.
Tidbit (spring game edition) According to the university, Texas Tech started spring ball the second-earliest of any F.B.S. program. First came Army, which stepped onto the field on Feb. 8 and played its spring game on March 9. The Red Raiders started spring ball on Feb. 17 and played its spring game on March 24.
Former players in the N.F.L.
14 WR Danny Amendola (St. Louis), RB Baron Batch (Pittsburgh), LB Bront Bird (San Diego), WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco), DE Keyunta Dawson (Tennessee), OG Dylan Gandy (Detroit), CB Joselio Hanson (Philadelphia), QB Graham Harrell (Green Bay), S Darcel McBath (Jacksonville), OG Manny Ramirez (Denver), DE Scott Smith (St. Louis), OG Louis Vasquez (San Diego), WR Wes Welker (New England), LB Brandon Williams (Arizona).
Arbitrary top five list
Most disappointing B.C.S. defenses in F.B.S., 2011
1. Texas Tech.
5. Texas A&M.
Tommy Tuberville (Southern Arkansas ’76), 13-12 after two seasons at Texas Tech. Most famously, Tuberville posted an 85-40 mark over a decade at Auburn, where he served through the 2008 season before being relieved of his duties. In that season, his Tigers slipped to 5-7, out of bowl contention, and lost convincingly to in-state rival Alabama. Without question, it was the idea that Auburn had ceded the state to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide that eventually cost Tuberville his job. However, there is also no doubt that his relationship with the university was strained, and had been since the year prior to his greatest success, 2004. From 2000, his second year on the job, through 2008, Auburn tied for the SEC’s best record at 47-17. Tuberville won at least eight games in seven of his 10 seasons with the Tigers, including 11 victories in 2006 and a perfect 13-0 2004 campaign, and led the program to three consecutive January bowl games. Though he was largely underestimated by both fans and his own administration early in his tenure – see the Bobby Petrino fiasco – Tuberville garnered praise for the his high level of success at Auburn, particularly from 2004-7 and, most importantly, against Alabama. Prior to joining Auburn, Tuberville led Mississippi to a 25-20 record from 1995-98, including an 8-4 mark and a trip to the Motor City Bowl in 1997. As an assistant, Tuberville spent eight years at Miami (1986-93, the final season as defensive coordinator), helping the Hurricanes to an 87-9 mark and a pair of national titles. A one-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M — the Agges went 10-0-1 in 1994 — gave Tuberville a 97-9-1 career record as an F.B.S. assistant. It does seem like a good thing, given Tuberville’s defensive background, that Tech’s biggest question marks lie on the defensive side of the ball.
Tidbit (coaching edition) So Glasgow is gone, even if the way he left was nearly as disappointing as the way he led Tech’s defense in 2011. His replacement, former North Carolina coordinator Art Kaufman, likely wasn’t the big-name hire this fan base was looking for; Kaufman is, however, a 4-3 coordinator with strong ties to Tuberville. Both are vital for this defense heading into September. Tuberville also hired a new defensive line coach, former Marshall assistant Fred Tate, and a new defensive backs coach, former Miami (Fla.) coordinator John Lovett. Tate replaced Terry Price, who served as Tech’s line coach for two months – replacing the fired Sam McElroy – before joining Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. The Red Raiders also fired offensive line coach Matt Moore, replacing him with former Abilene Christian head coach Chris Thomsen.
Players to watch
Heal, knee, heal. You can point towards several factors behind last year’s collapse, with heavy emphasis on the defensive side of the ball, but in reality, Tech’s season ran off the rails after Eric Stephens suffered a fairly gruesome knee injury in the third quarter of a loss to Texas A&M. The Red Raiders were 4-0 at that point – though trailing, 38-30, at the time of his injury; once Stephens went down, the offense lost its ability to put forth the sort of balanced attack Tuberville promised heading into September.
If he can return to 100 percent – and it seems as if he will – Stephens will take this offense to another level. He rushed for 565 yards and 8 scores through five games, cracking the 100-yard mark four times, and was a lock to become the program’s first 1,000-yard back in a decade. The Raiders averaged 36.8 carries and 169.0 yards per game in Stephen’s five starts; those totals dipped to 29.6 carries and 93.9 yards per game in the seven games he missed due to injury. Stephens provides balance and old-school production to an offense that is otherwise far too one-dimensional to make waves in the Big 12.
Getting him healthy is the team’s top concern. And Stephens does more than just change the tenor of the running game – he also chips as a receiver, serving as the passing game’s safety valve while showcasing the sort of dual-threat ability that makes him one of the Big 12’s best. Simply put, this offense isn’t the same without Stephens in the backfield. If he’s not ready to go earlier in the year, the Red Raiders will go with sophomores Kenny Williams (135 yards) and DeAndre Washington (366 yards), who tried to keep the running game afloat in Stephen’s absence down the stretch.
For a guy who hadn’t started a game at quarterback since his sophomore year of high school — injury, injury, backup, backup, backup — Seth Doege showed no signs of rust as a junior. That’s an understatement: Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 scores last fall, finishing third in the Big 12 in both completion percentage and yards per game. And with Weeden, Griffin III, Franklin and Tannehill out of the league, you make an easy case for Doege as the second-best passer in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma’s Landry Jones — though Doege got the better of his meeting with Jones last October.
What you like about Doege is that despite bringing little game experience into last fall, it was clear that he had a wall-to-grasp of coordinator Neal Brown’s offense; Brown’s offense isn’t far removed from Leach’s system, after all. Another factor to like about Doege is the fact that he isn’t overly experienced, lending some credence to the idea that he’s due to take another leap forward as a senior. What Doege needs to do is stay under control: he makes mistakes, yes, but every quarterbacks makes mistakes — Doege needs to remain composed when things don’t go his way, which was an issue last fall.
He’s a different quarterback when teamed with a solid running game. Doege had only one high-level game after Stephens was injured against Texas A&M, in the win in Norman, and had more than one sour showing: Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, for example. While always accurate — 13th nationally in completion percentage — Doege and the Red Raiders were far more explosive throwing the football when Stephens was doing his part to keep defenses honest. Doege is an all-Big 12 quarterback; as with the rest of the offense, however, he needs to be balanced out with a running game.
Senior flanker Darrin Moore (47 receptions for 571 yards, 8 touchdowns) will miss some time early, perhaps the first game or two, due to his springtime arrest on D.W.I. charges. When he returns, Moore will team with junior Eric Ward (84 catches for 800 yards, 11 scores) and senior Alex Torres (51 for 616) to form one of the Big 12’s top two receiving trios — West Virginia’s probably leads the way, but it’s close. Tech will call on sophomore Bradley Marquez (25 for 240) while Moore serves his suspension, but Marquez — who can be used in multiple ways on offense — isn’t the only young receiver who could make some noise in 2012.
It’s clear that the passing game will revolve around Moore, Ward and Torres, with some help from seniors Austin Zouzalik (13 for 121) and Marcus Kennard (12 for 182). But in Marquez, transfer Tyson Williams — a transfer from West Texas A&M — and redshirt freshman Derek Edwards and Javares McRoy, Tech has several yet-unproven receivers more than capable of not just moving into the rotation but also, perhaps, pushing the top quintet for increased snaps as the year wears on.
The 3-4 didn’t work. The 4-2-5 sure didn’t work. After two years of tailoring — trying to react to Big 12 offenses by swapping schemes like baseball cards — the Red Raiders are going to get back to basics in Kaufman’s 4-3 base set. For one, the move into a more traditional defense will move Tech’s returning contributors into a situation where thinking becomes secondary; rather than playing back on their toes, working out their pre-snap responsibilities in an unfamiliar scheme, defenders can play faster and looser in a far more comfortable system. Clearly, the defense’s inability to find a comfort level in Glasgow’s system contributed heavily to last season’s decline.
The Red Raiders will benefit from this decision in the long run. In the beginning, however, you need to remember that this defense is playing in its third scheme in as many years. Even if the 4-3 isn’t foreign to many defenders, there is still a learning curve that must be passed before Tech begins playing defense at a level that will allow it to hang around the top half of the Big 12. Another slight issue is the personnel: while there is returning talent, the Raiders will need to shuffle a few returning contributors into new roles.
Start up front, where one of the last year’s starting ends, senior Leon Mackey (28 tackles), will move inside to tackle. Mackey’s not big, coming at about 265 pounds, but that’s just par for the course inside: Tech’s tackles are small nearly across the board. Mackey will be one of the top reserves at tackle, behind junior Kerry Hyder (42 tackles, 5.0 for loss) and sophomore Delvin Simmons, and I doubt that he’ll be asked to do much on first and second down. Instead, Mackey could be a dangerous option either inside or out on clear passing downs; he and Hyder could line up at tackle on third down to give Tech two disruptive interior linemen.
And Mackey could still dabble at end, albeit in a reserve role. The Red Raiders are looking for a big year out of junior Dartwan Bush (28 tackles, 2.0 sacks), who was one of two defenders to post multiple sacks a season ago — Tech lost the other, Scott Smith, to graduation. Bush is a fine starter, but what this defense needs is breakthrough seasons from redshirt freshman Branden Jackson and sophomores Kindred Evans and Jackson Richards, who are battling for the right to replace Smith on the other side.
Jackson came to Lubbock as a linebacker; one year and change later, he’s added enough weight, beefing up to about 255 pounds, to be an every-down lineman. If Jackson has added this size while maintaining his speed, he could be the double-team-demanding edge rusher this defense covets. Evans played in a few games last fall before suffering an injury, while Richards (17 tackles) made four early starts in September and October.
The story up front is one of youth, and you’ll see the growing pains to match. Outside of Mackey, no senior will factor into the rotation. Outside of Mackey, Hyder and Bush — three of the top six, but still — the line is composed entirely of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. More than a few have promise: Jackson, for example, could be a really nice surprise. Nonetheless, the line will need time to develop.
It took JUCO transfer Will Smith less than one week of spring ball to lock down the starting role at middle linebacker. According to reports coming out of Lubbock, there’s nothing Smith can’t do: he can rush the passer, he can knock heads at the line of scrimmage, he can scrape down the line, he can run from sideline to sideline and he can run with receivers in coverage. If Smith is one-half of what he’s been built up to be then he’s an all-conference lock.
While there’s a difference between running against Tech’s second-team offense and the Big 12, Smith does solidify a position of need heading into September; remember that Kaufman’s system will add a third linebacker on the field, so having Smith set the team afire from day one was a great sign for the health of this defense as a whole.
There’s a chance that a second JUCO transfer, Chris Payne, grabs the starting role on the strong side. That doesn’t seem that likely, however, as Tech should feel secure in converted safety Terrance Bullitt’s (56 tackles, 9.5 for loss) ability to make plays on the second level. Bullitt was the fifth defensive back in Glasgow’s scheme, a bit of a hybrid-linebacker, so the transition down to linebacker won’t be overly difficult. Tech left the spring with sophomore Sam Equavoen (30 tackles) on the weak side. Bullitt and Eguavoen have starting experience; Smith looks like a player; depth comes from Payne, Blake Dees and redshirt freshman Jake Cooper. This looks like a pretty solid group.
Right from the start, here’s one thing to like about Tech’s secondary: each of the four projected starters are seniors. You have to appreciate that sort of experience, even if one of the four, cornerback Cornelius Douglas, is a former receiver who only made the move over to defense during the later stages of last season. Despite the recent change, however, Douglas has taken wonderfully to his new role — and it probably helped that he had the opportunity to go up against Ward, Moore and Tech’s other talented receivers in practice. By the time the Red Raiders left spring ball, Douglas was no longer a question mark; he was a stopper at cornerback, and perhaps the most important starter on this entire defense.
Until Happiness Osunde makes a full recovery from last season’s knee injury, Douglas will be joined at cornerback by Patrick Neboh, a former walk-on. Depth at the position includes JUCO transfers Bruce Jones and Olaoluwa Falemi, if both qualify, and juniors Jarvis Phillips and Derrick Mays. Make no mistake: Douglas is the big story at cornerback. If he can carry his spring over to September, Tech’s pass defense moves from spotty to above-average — that’s the difference a strong cover cornerback can make.
The shift to a more traditional defense will be good for senior safeties D.J. Johnson (83 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Cody Davis (93 tackles). Like other members of this defense, Johnson and Davis seemed ill at ease in last year’s scheme; neither felt comfortable, and I think this lack of comfort played a large part in the pair’s poor tackling and angles throughout the year. While neither are outstanding, Johnson and Davis are serviceable Big 12 starters. They won’t win games for the Red Raiders; Kaufman will make sure that they don’t lose games for the Raiders, either.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line Thomsen inherits a bit of a mixed bag in his first season as Tech’s line coach. On one hand, the Raiders can call on four positives: three players with starting experience; the line’s best player is at left tackle; depth should improve, with several players coming off redshirt seasons; and overall, thanks to youth along the second level, there’s reason to think that this line’s best days lie ahead. However, the Red Raiders are still going to rely on a handful of unproven linemen both as starters and leading reserves. In addition, it’s safe to say that trouble spots still exist at right tackle and both guard spots.
At least Thomsen can rest easy with senior LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle. While he hasn’t developed into the all-American talent some thought he’d become earlier in his career, Waddle is absolutely a high-level blind side protector who anchors Tech’s pass protection. He’s also a leader on an otherwise raw and untested front five. The only other position where Thomsen can feel secure is at center; senior Deveric Gallington will move over from right guard to replace Justin Keown, whose final season was stymied by knee injuries. Senior Terry McDaniel will shift inside to right guard after starting the final nine games of last season at tackle.
Hopefully, McDaniel can move piles in the running game at strong side guard. With sophomore Beau Carpenter at left guard, Tech will round out the starting lineup with redshirt freshman Le’Raven Clark – though the two-deep at right tackle is currently listed in pencil, in my opinion. If all goes well, Tech will land steady play from Clark, McDaniel and Carpenter while five or six sophomores and redshirt freshmen round out the rotation. If all goes really well, moving Carpenter and McDaniel – Carpenter played on the right side last fall – pays enormous dividends in the running game. Unfortunately, it’s only fair to look at Tech’s offensive line as a question mark.
Game(s) to watch
There’s no reason why Texas Tech can’t open 4-0 — should open 4-0, in fact. Getting a win over Iowa State might be vital, as that game is followed by Oklahoma, West Virginia, T.C.U. and Kansas State. The Red Raiders close with three home games in November, including one easy win against Kansas and a game with potential bowl ramifications against Baylor. With Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico on the docket, Tech could play walk-ons and true freshmen and still start with three straight wins.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Let’s get this out of the way: Texas Tech is getting back into bowl play in 2012. There’s no question that this an improved team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, even if the Red Raiders do have several questions that must still be addressed. I’m worried about the health of both lines — thanks to the offense’s reliance on several new faces, not to mention the hole at right tackle, and the defense’s dearth of size along the interior and lack of a proven pass rusher. The good news is that each problem is fixable, to a degree; the better news is that if Tech can address each issue, this team can make things exciting in the Big 12. Outside of the line, the offense is ready for business: Doege is an all-conference contender, the receiver corps as deep as they come and Stephens, if healthy, a multiple-use back who provides tremendous overall balance to Tech’s attack. The back seven on defense should be vastly improved upon last year’s wobbling, stumbling, tentative version, which should in turn help Tech take on the Big 12’s pass-first teams. So if the Red Raiders can address line play then this team could make some noise in the Big 12. Even if the offensive and defensive lines remain a concern, I’m confident in Tech’s ability to wins six games and return to the postseason.
Here’s a good question: How good could the Red Raiders be in 2012? If everything falls into place — if the offensive line protects, if Stephens is healthy, if there’s a pass rush, if Douglas is the stopper he showed himself to be in March — then Tech could win nine games in a decidedly rough-and-tumble Big 12. You’re banking on far too many hypotheticals in that scenario, however. It’s far more likely that the offense continues to average 30-plus points per game while the defense makes a substantial but not drastic overall improvement; not jumping from 117th nationally to 17th, but from 117th to 65th, give or take. Such an improvement would be enough for Tech to win at least least six wins with a very strong chance for seven.
Dream season Texas Tech opens with four straight wins before losing at home to Oklahoma. Then the Red Raiders win another two straight before losing at Kansas State. After that loss, Tech closes the regular season with four more wins to finish 10-2, 7-2 in the Big 12. Tied for second in the conference, the Red Raiders are in line for a B.C.S. bowl.
Nightmare season The Raiders start 3-0, as expected, but suffer a heartbreaking loss to Iowa State to open Big 12 play. The loss moves the Raiders into a bit of a tailspin — more than a bit of a tailspin, actually. Tech wins only once during Big 12 play, against Kansas, to finish 4-8, 1-7.
In case you were wondering
Where do Texas Tech fans congregate? The top newspaper coverage can be found at the Web site of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Solid message board chatter: Texas Tech Fans, Red Raider Sports and Raider Power. For a Texas Tech blog, check out Double-T Nation. As always, let me know of any sites I might have missed. If you drop a line in the comment field below, I’ll link to it.
Texas Tech’s all-name nominee CB Happiness Osunde.
Through 64 teams 246,623.
Who is No. 60? A few notes about tomorrow’s university’s fight song: It was composed by a man who shares his last name with a former seventh-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins; lyrics were written by an individual who shares his first name with a city in Iowa; was first performed in a stadium that once showcased both Jim Thorpe and Red Grange — not as the same time, of course; and once included a reference to drinking, though it has since been removed.
Tags: Aaron Torres, Art Kaufman, Big 12, Branden Jackson, Chris Thomsen, Cody Davis, Cornelius Douglas, D.J. Johnson, Darrin Moore, DeAndre Washington, Derek Edwards, Deveric Gallington, Eric Stephens, Eric Ward, Kenny Williams, Kerry Hyder, LaAdrian Waddle, Leon Mackey, Neal Brown, Seth Doege, Terrance Bullitt, Texas Tech, Tommy Tuberville, Tyson Williams, Will Smith
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