Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville has forged a defense that, on first glance, looks like one of the best in the nation.
MORGANTOWN - It's fairly easy to make the argument that the Texas Tech defense that West Virginia faces this weekend is not all it's cracked up to be.Dana Holgorsen would beg to differ."Oh, it's legitimate,'' Holgorsen said. "They know what they're doing and they do it well.''Well, OK. The statistics would seem to bear that out.
In total defense, the Red Raiders are No. 2 in the country, allowing just 210 yards per game. Only No. 1 Alabama ranks higher.In pass defense, Tech is even better. Giving up just 117.4 yards per game through the air is almost a silly statistic given the offenses of today. The Red Raiders have surrendered but four touchdown passes and 587 yards. Consider that Geno Smith threw for 490 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. And then he went back out for the fourth quarter.Texas Tech is also seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense, 12th against the rush and 22nd in points allowed.So what's the knock on the Red Raiders' defense? Well, statistics are fine, but it's wise also to look at competition. Tech's first three games were against Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico. It's fourth was at offensively challenged Iowa State.And then its fifth - and its first loss - was a 41-20 setback at home to Oklahoma, which had 259 passing yards (Tech gave up just 382 to its first four foes combined) and 121 on the ground. After giving up 43 points in four games, the Red Raiders gave up 41 in one.In other words, while statistics never lie, they don't always tell the whole truth, either.It's probably fair to say that Tech has not faced an offense as potent as the one it will face Saturday when No. 5 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) visits the Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1) in Lubbock. But that doesn't mean Tech can't play defense."They're not very tricky. They're very, very, very sound and they're never out of position and they're not very tricky,'' Holgorsen said. "They blitz eight percent of the time, so they're not a try-to-trick-you defense. They're not a gimmick defense. They're a sound, effort defense. They play hard and their guys are in position and they're technically sound.''Truth be told, that's not something West Virginia's offense has seen much of this season. The Mountaineers rank among the top five teams in the country in passing, pass efficiency, total offense and scoring and have the leading early candidate for the Heisman Trophy in Smith. Because of that reputation, few teams have tried to simply line up and stop that offense.Tech will do just that. The Red Raiders will still try to mix and disguise coverages and put pressure on Smith from different places, but that's not the main focus of the defensive game plan. Instead, those will be elements of a game plan that relies on good fundamental defense."That poses problems,'' Holgorsen said. "It poses problems when you don't know what they're going to do [as was the case in most of the first five games] and that aggravates you from a game-plan standpoint. Now we know what they're going to do from a game-plan standpoint, but it's just hard to execute against them.''
That's not typical for a Texas Tech defense. The Red Raiders for years have attempted to shore up things on that side of the ball with different schemes and coordinators. Not much worked. During much of the time that Tech has been known for its high-powered offenses - including the eight years Holgorsen was there as an assistant under Mike Leach - it was also either defensively average or inept. Only once in the past 10 years has Tech ranked higher than 45th in the nation in total defense. In each of the last two years the Red Raiders were No. 114 out of 120.Holgorsen faced some of those bad defenses while he was working at Houston and Oklahoma State the three years before he came to West Virginia."The difference now [as opposed to] two or three years ago is now they're sound and they play hard,'' Holgorsen said. "When I was at Oklahoma State and went there they weren't sound and they didn't play hard.''As a result, the last offense Holgorsen took to Lubbock - in 2010 at OSU - rolled up 581 yards.This is a different defense, though, and in truth what Oklahoma did to that Texas Tech defense last week wasn't all that bad. Holding Oklahoma to "only'' 381 yards of total offense was 100 yards less than the Sooners' average. And while OU scored 41 points, two of the scoring drives were 25 and 32 yards (both ending in field goals) and one touchdown came on an intercepted pass.The ultimate test, however, comes Saturday against a West Virginia offense that has yet to be held to what Texas Tech surrenders per game (210 yards) even by halftime (WVU is averaging 320 yards in its five first halves to date, with a low of 213 against Maryland).
Tech coach Tommy Tuberville knows that."This,'' Tuberville said, "is about as good as it gets.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.