The beginning of the college football season comes with every team and fan base having hope that this year will be a great year.
Unfortunately, for a good amount of teams, there comes a moment early in the season when you realize the upcoming year may not be as good as we all hoped. For me, that moment came last year while I was in Denver at a restaurant and forced the manager to change the channel to the Tech-ASU game. Tech offense was clicking as usual and we had a lead at the end of he first quarter.
I was feeling pretty good about this early test, but to start the second quarter, ASU went on a 3-minute drive ending in a Ballage touchdown. Quickly after our amazing offense scored to take the lead again just two plays later. How did the defense reward this effort? Giving up three more touchdowns in that quarter alone and letting the running back score seven touchdowns himself as we lost the game in a shootout.
Later in the season, the Red Raiders made a trip to Fort Worth to take on the hated Horned Frogs. Everyone looked at this game as another high scoring affair beforehand but it was the defense that saved the day. Pat Mahomes and the Tech offense struggled the entire day however the defense held firm holding TCU to 33% on 3rd downs and only giving up TWO touchdowns in 60 minutes.
That defensive prowess was so strong it forced Gary Patterson to bench Kenny Hill in favor of Foster Sawyer who also could not get it done as Tech won on the backs of the defense in double overtime. This game showed me a different side of what our team could be.
In 2016, the defense didn’t show up like that much more as Tech defense was dead last in the nation averaging 554 yards per game, that was 30 more yards per game than the second worst team, Arizona State. The Red Raiders have let up more than 500 yards per game each of the last three seasons and it has led many to wonder if it will ever change under this coaching staff. After the ASU game, all I found myself wondering was “Why does this defense give up so much?!”
Before Gibbs was hired, Tech was going through a revolving door of defensive coordinators. Seven Coordinators in seven years is an anomaly, and Kingsbury hitching himself to Gibbs had to happen for stability on the defensive side of the ball. The problem with Gibbs is that since he’s been here the bend but don’t break defense has broken much more than it should. His multi scheme defense has not been able to provide pressure to opposing quarterbacks and we still have not seen the speed needed to keep up with the high power Big 12 offenses.
Continuity is something this defense hasn’t had in a long time and that is not to be taken for granted. Even with the struggles in his first two seasons it is important for the program and fan base not to turn our backs on Gibbs now. He has shown to be successful in his previous stints and has a long history working with different talent.
One of his signature coaching styles at Houston was instilling swagger into the “3rd Ward D.” During the Spring, it looked like the defense finally embodied the swagger that Gibbs has been trying to ingrain into the “806 D” as players were creating turnovers and causing havoc for the QB.
Gibbs is also going to see players that he personally recruited get significant playing time. From the JuCo transfers to Jordyn Brooks to Houston Miller, Gibbs will start to get players made to fit his system onto the field and using his attack.
Over the years Texas Tech has never had a problem getting talented QBs, WRs, and OLs to come, but it hasn’t always been the same on the other side of the ball. In the past five years we have recruited only 11 defensive players with a 247 rating above .85 compared to 25 offensive players. This void of talent has transferred to the football field as missed tackles and blown coverage has been the Achilles heel of this team.
Lack of Turnovers
This might be where Gibbs’ defense struggled the most last year. After his initial season that showed promise, the defense took a major step back ranking last in the Big 12 in turnovers the following year. On a team that had an experienced secondary, there was only 5 interceptions in 2016. This just isn’t going to cut it on a weekly basis especially in a pass happy league.
Watching the team last year came with cheers followed by immediate despair because of this defense. With all these issues, it initially seems like the defense is doomed to suffer a similar fate in this upcoming year. However there are reasons to believe that the defense will improve.
If the spring practices showed us anything, it’s that the Junior College transfers that have come into the program this off-season are going to make immediate impacts. Jaylon Lane, Vaughnte Dorsey, Octavious Morgan and Tony Jones all received major minutes during the spring games with the 1s and 2s.
With these players getting opportunities they can fill the void we had in places last year. One of the brightest spots is the re-addition of Dakota Allen who was once a young promising starting LB before getting kicked off the team. He’s now back and has seems to picked up right where he left off.
This defensive unit is full of Juniors and Seniors that have been in the program for many years and have spent time with this defensive staff. From Jah’shawn Johnson to Noah Jones, there has been countless players on this team that have been receiving major playing minutes for multiple years. This leadership has already shown itself in the spring as the defense won the Spring Scrimmage Series and showed great promise throughout the off-season.
There’s no reason to believe that this defense can’t make strides and improve greatly. Everything we have seen shows that the arrow is pointing up for Gibbs and his staff. If this season is going to have any success we are going to need the defense to play like they did against TCU and not like they did against Arizona State.