What plays in Lubbock, Texas is the unique, the eccentric, the spooky. It just is one of those places. One of the first UFO “sightings” happened in Lubbock in 1951. Buddy Holly was born there. Mike Leach swung his sword and dispensed dating advice and weather reports there.
And I’ll tell you Tommy Tuberville, the third-year Texas Tech football coach, is a little different, too. Here’s a story: Two years ago I was a beat writer covering Kansas, which was looking for a football coach. Tuberville had expressed interest in the job, and I wanted to talk to him. But these guys are notoriously difficult to reach in situations like this. He wasn’t working anywhere at all, so it wasn’t like I could make an interview request somewhere.
So I started where everybody starts – the white pages. Sure enough, there was a Thomas Tuberville listed in Auburn, Ala. I called the number, a woman answered, I asked for Tommy. She said he wasn’t around at the moment but she gave me his cell phone number. At no point in this conversation had I identified myself.
Thirty minutes later my phone rang.
“Hi, this is Tommy Tuberville.”
“Hi, Tommy. How are you doing?”
“Oh, just another day in Alabama.”
You can probably count the number of former BCS football coaches with listed home phone numbers on one hand. Maybe one finger.
But, for whatever reason, different plays out there in the Permian Basin, in the Llano Estacado, there in the “Hub City,” as it’s called, so Tommy does, too.
The Red Raiders, to much surprise, are ranked 14th. They have one loss, which was to Oklahoma, and have beaten West Virginia and TCU.
They are in full “sticking it to the haters” mode.
“I love it,” linebacker D.J. Johnson said. “People picked us to be 9th in the Big 12 and things like that. We knew we were better than that.”
For the first month of the season, Texas Tech had the best defensive statistics in the country. The Red Raiders owed this, in part, to a schedule that included Northwestern State, Texas State, New Mexico and Iowa State. But it was still something, because last year the Red Raiders could hardly have been worse on defense. Last year, they ranked 114th out of 120 in total defense, allowing 486 yards per game.
“We were one-sided,” Tuberville said. “As you all know, we couldn’t stop anybody.”
So Tuberville fired his defensive coordinator and replaced him with Art Kaufman, a bit of an old-timer who had been a defensive coordinator at Ole Miss and North Carolina.
With mostly the same personnel, the Red Raiders are now seventh in the nation in total defense, allowing 282 yards per game.
“It’s fun to know that everybody is understanding of the good things that are happening and the things that are not working,” Tuberville said. “And that comes from everybody knowing each other.”
This sort of a transformation is not exactly unique. These things happen when you change coaches. Philosophies change. Styles change. Most teams that play great defense orbit their entire philosophy around it. They like to run the ball and control the clock. They play quarterbacks who don’t try to do too much. The games get over more quickly .
This is where Texas Tech under Tuberville is unusual. Tuberville has transformed Texas Tech’s defense without sacrificing its offensive identity. The Red Raiders are 11th in total offense and fourth in passing, averaging 362 yards per game through the air.
Those two things don’t typically go together. Texas Tech, Florida State and Fresno State are the only teams who rank in the Top 25 in both passing offense and total defense.
Tuberville has improved Texas Tech’s biggest weakness while also playing to its strengths.
And one of its biggest strengths is Seth Doege (pronounced DAY-gee), the senior quarterback who went to Lubbock to run Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense and now operates Tuberville’s.
Doege came out of nowhere last year. He had gone five years without playing much football at all. Once one of the top quarterback prospects in Texas, he missed his last two years at Frenship High School in Wolfforth, Texas with injuries. Then redshirted his first season at Texas Tech. Then sat on the bench two more years.
When he finally became a starter again last year, he needed to get comfortable and confident again, and did so by passing for for 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.
No need for Tuberville to change anything there.
“I think that everything that he’s worked for and everything that he’s trying to put into place is finally starting to come together,” Doege said. “Whatever he envisioned for this program when he took his job, I think is finally being put into place. He’s finally gotten the coaches that he wants. He finally has a group of seniors that can take over. I think that’s a huge thing for this program. And I think it’s starting to show.”
Texas Tech faces its biggest challenge of the year in Kansas State this week on FOX. Like Texas Tech, the Wildcats have been excellent on defense this year, but unlike Texas Tech K-State is not much of a passing team. They wear you out with quarterback Collin Klein, a physical runner and efficient (if occasional) passer who is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy at the moment.
The Red Raiders then have three tough games after that, against Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, with a home date against Kansas mixed in.
Not all the Red Raiders are ready to declare Tuberville has stamped the program anew.
Not yet anyway.
“I feel like we’ll make that mark toward the end of the season,” Johnson said. “We still have a lot of games to go. It’s Big 12. It can go either way. What I can guarantee you is he has a group of guys that believe in him and what he stands for and what this team stands for.”
And nobody out there minds if it’s a little different.