Different tone of talk about Texas Tech’s defense in Big 12
Kliff Kingsbury knows all about players wanting to go to Texas Tech to be part of a big-play, high-scoring offense. He was one, a quarterback who passed for a lot of yards and touchdowns as a three-year starter long before becoming the Red Raiders coach.
Kingsbury certainly doesn’t expect that mode to change, not for the Red Raiders or any other of the potent offenses in the Big 12.
But there is a lot more talk these days in Lubbock about the defense. And the tone has turned positive, as opposed to the worries in the past of just how many points Texas Tech would give up to opposing teams.
“Just a lot of guys bought into what the coaches were selling, and it made it easy for these young guys to get in here, and just go,” said senior safety Jah’Shawn Johnson, who has 37 career starts. “When I was a freshman, people weren’t taking the next step.”
David Gibbs is going into his fourth season as defensive coordinator, making him the first in two decades to stay in the job that long at Texas Tech. He was the seventh DC in seven seasons when he was hired in 2015.
“Just the experience coming back, a lot of those guys played as true freshmen, true sophomores, they’ve learned growing up in coach Gibbs’ scheme,” Kingsbury said. “Going on Year 4, (Gibbs) has been able to develop a culture, a consistency on that side of the ball which we haven’t had at Texas Tech for long, long time.”
TCU led the league in total defense (331.4 ypg) and scoring defense (19.0 ppg) last season, and has a 51-27 overall record since moving to the Big 12 in 2012. A big reason for that success is the consistent Horned Frogs defense under Gary Patterson, going into his 18th season as head coach and still making defensive calls like he did as their coordinator for three years before getting the top job.
Iowa State is coming off an 8-5 record, its best season since 2000. The defensively improved Cyclones allowed only 21 points a game and had wins over both Oklahoma and TCU, the teams that played in the Big 12 championship game.
Oklahoma State has a new defensive coordinator in veteran coach Jim Knowles, and is switching to an attacking 4-2-5 scheme similar to what TCU uses.
“I think everyone on the defense likes the new defense. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with it,” Cowboys defensive end Jordan Brailford said.
While some Big 12 defenses are clearly getting better, they will still be mostly overshadowed by the offenses they have to try to stop each week when league play starts.
TCU ranked 19th in total defense among the 129 Division I teams last season. That was below five teams from each the SEC and Big 10, and multiple teams from the Pac 12 and ACC, the other Power Five leagues.
Four Big 12 teams ranked in the bottom 26, including the Red Raiders.
“We still have to take big steps,” Kingsbury said. “We weren’t anywhere near where we need to be last year. But we were improved and if we can take another step, hopefully we’ll be right there.”
Texas Tech returns 10 players who started on defense last year, and nine others coming back were two-deep players.
The Red Raiders didn’t allow 50 points in a game last season, significant after losing four times the previous two years when their offense scored at least 52 points.
In 2016, they led the nation with 565 total yards a game while averaging 43.7 points; they gave up 43.5 points per game and finished 5-7. Tech allowed only 32.2 points per game last season while making more progress with another season under Gibbs.
“Your knowledge of the defense is high at all times because you don’t have to worry about changing defenses and what I’m doing, and this and that. It’s been very huge for sure,” Johnson said.
“I feel like when I was here before I left, a lot of the guys on defense weren’t really, I guess, committed to coach Gibbs’ scheme all the way,” said senior linebacker Dakota Allen, the second-leading tackler as a freshman in 2015 before a one-season detour at “Last Chance U” in East Mississippi. “When I returned, it was like a whole different locker room, a whole different mindset. Everybody’s grinding, and everybody really trusted coach Gibbs’ scheme for our defense.”