At the beginning of each college football season, when the media talks about Texas Tech, all that is mentioned is Mike Leach’s aerial spread attack offense.
The Red Raider defense may get a mention, but it’s hardly on the talking points when discussing Tech’s success.
That has a realistic chance to change this upcoming offseason. Could Tech actually be known more for its defense than its offense?
One game in particular should stick out for Tech followers who are still not sold on defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil’s group. It was one week after their visit to Austin, when the Raiders took on the Houston Cougars in the Bayou City.
The dynamic Cougar offense was held to just 29 points at home, the lowest scoring output of the year for Houston, which is averaging over 42 points per game. The second lowest output for the Cougars was 31 points to Mississippi State in Starkville, MS.
Equally impressive is keeping three Big XII teams to their second lowest scoring games of the year. The Raider defense kept Texas to 34 points in Austin, Kansas State to 14 points, and Nebraska to only 10 points in Lincoln.
Tech’s defense also kept three of their four non-conference opponents to their lowest or second to lowest scoring outputs of the season. Houston was stopped for only 29 points, North Dakota was kept to 13 points, and Rice was kept to 10 points.
The only game the Tech defense failed to show up for—and the most important as far as Tech fans are concerned—was the battle with Texas A&M a few weeks ago. The defense was not able to stop the Aggie offense, and it resulted in 52 points scored for the A&M offense and a 22-point loss.
It should be said that with the offense struggling to field a healthy QB and averaging 38 points, it is crucial that the Raider defense continue to play at a high level and keep the opponents to their average of 23 points.
McNeil has this defense ranked as the 57th total defense in the country. One of the reasons for this improvement in defense is his ability to develop great pass rushers.
This year is no different, as he has two defensive ends playing a high level. Brandon Sharpe is second in the conference in sacks, and Daniel Howard is sixth. Sharpe has accumulated 10-and-a-half sacks, while Howard has 30 tackles and five-and-a-half sacks of his own.
This ability to get after the QB with the front four allows Tech to play a Cover 2 defense. This means safeties are over top of the cornerbacks, giving them extra help on the outside WRs.
This puts less pressure on the linebackers, who only have to be concerned with crossing routes and the RB coming out of the backfield. The development of the front line has helped relieve the defense of doing too much, which makes them faster in the middle of the field.
This improvement on defense is responsible for McNeil’s ability to get pressure on the opposing QB and take away run gaps with defensive linemen Colby Whitlock and Richard Jones.
The next couple of weeks will determine what bowl game Tech will attend this year with games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With those two opponents looming on the schedule, it would be beneficial for the defense to continue its trend of keeping Big XII teams to lower scores than their season average.
If Tech can split the next two games and win an easier battle against Robert Griffin-less Baylor in the season finale, then Tech could find itself playing in a mid-tier bowl game around the beginning of 2010.
If that happens, then it will be the Red Raider defense that gets all the attention in the offseason, instead of the pirate and who will captain the offense for a Big XII South title run.