LUBBOCK — Inside Texas Tech's 24-14 loss to No. 6 Texas on Saturday was the solid play by the Red Raiders defense and in particular two upcoming stars, defensive lineman Scott Smith and defensive back Jarvis Phillips. The two players helped force all four turnovers in the game and have had a huge impact of the Red Raiders defense the last two weeks.
"Those two guys have really been getting better week-by-week," Tech defensive coordinator James Willis said. "You see it at practice, you see it in the games and the entire team, really, is starting to get it. We're trying to get better every week and I think, as a whole, we are really doing that."
And there may be more validity to Willis' statement than he or head coach Tommy Tuberville realize, despite losing their first game this season that included giving up a key touchdown late in the game as the Longhorns ate up more than eight minutes to take a final 10-point lead.
Tech (2-1, 0-1 Big 12) is second nationally and leads the conference in sacks (12) and interceptions (8). In fact, the Red Raiders are the only defensive unit in the country that can account for 12 sacks or more and at least eight interceptions.
Phillips, a freshman, leads the country in interceptions with four, snagging two against Texas and returning one for an 87-yard touchdown.
"As a whole, I think it shows how much we have learned and improved since coach Willis and coach Tuberville got here," Phillips said. "We can always get better though. We still need to tighten up coverages a little more and just keep being accountable for every play out there. We'll just keep getting better."
Smith, a junior transfer from Butler Community College, was one of the first players Tuberville and his staff tried to make sure would keep to his commitment after Tuberville took over following the firing of Mike Leach. His 6-foot-6 height makes him an unusual suspect on the defensive line that can cause a lot of problems for a quarterback trying to complete passes to the outside or over the middle.
Smith was voted the game's most valuable player on defense against New Mexico two weeks ago and batted two balls on Saturday — one landing in his own hands for the game's first turnover while the other landed in Phillips' hands to give Tech its first score of the game. He then sacked Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert on consecutive plays before forcing a fumble in the second half to keep Tech within three points of the Longhorns. Overall, Smith has eight tackles — including four for a loss — three sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception in the last two games.
"He gives us a pass rush when we don't get penetration because he's so tall," Tuberville said. "Scott does a good job of getting his hands up because of his height and we usually try to put in him in passing lane. He's going to be a heck of a player for us."
The two have Tech on pace to not just make a defensive identity for the team but improve on what was a good season last year. Tech was fourth in the country last season in sacks (40) but 94th in turnovers (24). The Red Raiders already have 11 turnovers through just three games and are two interceptions away from equaling their 2009 total.
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