The Texas Tech defense has done little through three games to answer some of the questions many fans were asking about them before the season. Though the good game against SFA and the nightmare against Arizona State were probably both extremes, the defense looks like it will struggle to stop anyone once conference play starts Thursday against Kansas. Stopping teams might not be a legitimate goal, but slowing opponents down enough to let the offense take over is the recipe David Gibbs and his unit will have to use for Tech to have success in Big 12 play. Let’s go through some of the targets they should aim to reach.
1. Force More Turnovers
It isn’t unrealistic to expect the offense to turn it over about once per game given the inherent randomness of tipped passes, fumble luck, etc. To at least break even in the turnover battle, then, the defense will have to do a little bit better than that.
Through three games the defense has just three takeaways and hasn’t created many other clear opportunities. For this to turn around they will have to either start getting luckier or start creating more pressure. It’s foolish to expect fumbles to disproportionately favor the Red Raiders, so interceptions must be the way. If the offense can play with a lead and force certain teams to pass more than they’d like, then anything can happen. We have some defensive backs with the ball skills necessary to make plays, but being in the right spots consistently will be the challenge. If the defense can force 13 or more turnovers over the next nine games, or roughly 1.5 per game, I’ll take it.
2. Slow Down The Run
Last season the Red Raiders were the second worst run defense in the nation, giving up an average of 280 yards per game on the ground. So far this year, they’ve done a little better by giving up *only* 206 rushing yards per game. Part of this improvement has been offset by worse pass defense, but the defensive line still deserves some credit here.
There are more good rushing attacks than quarterbacks in the Big 12, so if the Red Raiders can keep teams under 250 rushing yards per game in conference play, that’s a win. A small win, but a win nonetheless. That number would tell me that teams aren’t able to just pound the ball and run out the clock at will.
3. Get Off The Field
Tech allowed opponents to convert roughly 50% of their 3rd down attempts last season, which was 4th worst in the country. This year they’ve been better, with only about 42% of opponents’ tries successful thus far. First and second downs are obviously a huge part of this stat, but getting off the field is getting off the field, no matter how you do it.
More size up front should help on 3rd and short rushing attempts, but if the cornerbacks don’t put more pressure on wideouts, opposing quarterbacks will abuse the soft coverage Gibbs has shown often this season.
If Tech can win around 55% of the time on 3rd down, roughly five out of nine times, that could be enough to move the needle. Obviously, giving up long plays on first and second down isn’t any better, but when the chance to halt a drive comes, the Red Raiders must take advantage.
Based on the evidence we have, nobody should expect the Red Raider defense to change drastically between now and November. But marginal wins and overall steady growth could give the offense the help they need to vault toward the top of the Big 12 standings. This unit has nowhere to go but up and it’s time to start seeing improvements.