“Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” - Les Brown
Texas Tech Red Raiders. The very name in the football world garners chuckles, head-nods for the big plays, and ultimately ends in ambivalence and disregard. If ever you have talked to a non-Tech fan and brought up the idea they could win the conference this year (despite your better judgement) then their response would follow with “something something defense” or a variation of that. This football team’s defensive stigma has plagued the program’s respect and barred serious consideration in pre-season rankings from pundits across the board. Sites like the Star-Telegram, Athlon Sports & Life, and Landgrant Gauntlet have pegged Texas Tech around eighth in the Big 12 in front of Baylor and the always steady Kansas. A major reason for this placement comes from “modest” defensive improvements that are “trending” in the right direction; that and offensive questions - but that’s for another article.
Let’s examine these trends a little more in-depth. Just two season ago when Texas Tech had arguably the most-talented quarterback it has ever had, the defense was indisputably the worst in Texas Tech history. The only team in recent memory to do significantly worse than the 2016 Red Raider defense (6652 yards) was the Kansas Jayhawks in 2015 (6730 yards). There is bad defense and then there was the 554 yards per game, 552 points total scored defense in 2016. Regrettably this has become the personified image of the University as a whole, leaking even into basketball articles with absolutely dismal names like “how to talk to your kids about an elite Texas Tech defense.” You can @alex_kirshner about that one.
But things are changing and sports blogs don’t want to outright admit it; Texas Tech’s defense is an entirely different unit. Yards per game went down from 554 to 434 in one season (ranking 104 nationally) and their NCAA S&P ranking shot up from 125 to 88. It wasn’t as if the Big 12 suddenly forgot how to score; most of the conference’s teams ranked in/around the top 50 for yards and points scored. This 100+ yard differential is important and another one of the defenses biggest achievements was forcing opponents to pass the ball. That’s right, the Red Raider’s revamped defensive line and linebacker squad flipped the script for opponent’s offenses. Multiple times throughout the season we were graced with a defense that stopped opponents on third and fourth down - even a few goal line stands. “Who are these people?” we would question with our guns up and smiles on our faces while offenses would trot off the field with a look of defeat. They were glimpses of a new era in Texas Tech’s identity. Ranked No. 2 nationally in returning defensive production, with nine of the eleven starters coming back, the 806D seems better than ever.
Look, I get it. “Pump the breaks.” It sounds good, it looks good, but how can you tell me this year is going to be different? The simple answer is that I can’t promise you anything. Whenever the whole of college football looks on your program as the down and out it’s always easier to take the wide path and give up. The alternative is gritty, difficult, and sometimes ugly; but at least it has hope. Since the off season began, Texas Tech strength and condition Coach Rusty Whitt has been getting after the foundation of this football team. To many it may seem like the basics of sport, but the weight room is where the important battles are won.
If there’s one thing opposing offenses don’t want - it’s a Texas Tech defensive line that can move their big boys backwards. All spring and all summer long this defense is going to be bringing their best alongside newly contracted defensive coordinator Coach Gibbs. I wrote a piece last December about how Coach Gibbs “wants a Big 12 Championship, and he wants it to come on the pads of the best defense Texas Tech has ever seen.” That statement stands. With Las Vegas setting Tech’s over/under at 5.5 for wins this season you can either shrug your shoulders and say “makes sense,” or you can find hope in what may be the best defense that Texas Tech has ever seen. Join the resistance; #TTVE