A Talent Deficit on Defense

It has been a problem all year long, and has cost the Red Raiders some crucial wins all season long.

The story not only of Texas Tech's 52-20 loss to Texas, but of its entire season is the astonishing porosity of the defense. The only way the Red Raider defense can get off the field is to allow it to score a touchdown, which it does with clockwork regularity. It has become a question not of will the opponent score a touchdown, but will the Red Raiders actually force them to convert a few third downs along the way. Frankly, the mind reels at how bad Tech is on defense.


In situations of extreme disaster such as the state of Tech's defense, the natural response is to blame the defensive coordinator or even the head coach. And perhaps Chad Glasgow and Tommy Tuberville are indeed blameworthy for the inexcusable performance on that side of the ball. Granted, had I coached the Tech defense against Texas I would have flooded the box more frequently than Glasgow did.


The conventional wisdom was that Tech would need to put eight players in the box on a regular basis to have any hope of containing the Longhorn ground game. Instead, the Red Raiders usually attempted to make do with six, five or even four players near the line of scrimmage.


Glasgow obviously believed that if he sold out against the run the Longhorns would have lacerated Tech through the air, and looking back at Texas receivers running alone through the Red Raider secondary on the few times UT threw the ball, you can see Glasgow's reasoning.


My point, however, is that no matter what Tech did schematically on defense they were doomed to a dismal fate. Buddy Ryan in his prime could have been coaching the Red Raider defense and the result would still have been a debacle. And the simple reason for this fact is that Tech just does not have the hosses on that side of the ball to compete in the Big 12. The talent is just not there.


When one watches the Red Raider defense—and this is a very masochistic thing to do—the most striking phenomenon is how regularly Tech's players get manhandled. When an opposing blocker locks onto a Red Raider the Tech player goes sideways, he goes backwards, or he goes down. That is it. Never does a Red Raider stand a blocker up at the point of attack, disengage and make the tackle. Instead he waves like a helpless tollbooth attendant as a Peterbilt roars by en route to a first down or a touchdown.


At root, Tech's defense is simply not big enough, strong enough and physical enough to play the game effectively at this level. And size, strength and physicality are a big part of what we call "talent" in the game of football.


That weakness alone is sufficient to result in bad defense, but the Red Raiders have others. Take tackling, for instance.


When we think of bad tackling we usually think of arm tackling or attempting to butt a player down with a blow from the helmet or shoulder pads. Indeed, that is bad tackling, but frankly that would be a step up from what Red Raider defenders are doing.


Tech's players often don't even make contact! They have a clear shot at a ball-carrier but nod their heads to the turf and go sailing right by without impeding the runner at all. This is not high school tackling; it is something you'd expect to see at the junior high level.


But whiffing on tackles is not merely a function of being out of position or poor form; it is also a result of fear. Many Red Raider defenders, and particularly those in the secondary, seem to be frightened of tackling. Rather than avidly seeking out runners to belt the way Dwayne Slay did, several current Tech defenders seem to intentionally miss tackles so they won't experience contact. I can honestly say that I don't recall seeing this sort of behavior at the FBS level before.


So there you have the diagnosis of Tech's terminally ill defense: linemen and linebackers who are not physical; linebackers and defensive backs who do not know how to tackle, and defensive backs who actually shrink from contact. Put those three liabilities together and it adds up to a big goose egg in the talent department. And the only solution is to bring in better players and throw them into the trenches. This will take a long time. I'm not sure Tech fans have the necessary patience.

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