There are several metrics that show just how profoundly dreadful Texas Tech's rush defense was in 2011, and perforce, how far it has to go in 2012. The Red Raiders surrendered 259 rushing yards per contest, which was worst among the nation's 120 D-1 programs. But Tech's rush defense wasn't merely the worst. It was a full 12 yards per game worse than the New Mexico Lobo defense, Tech's closest competitor in run defense futility.
Going back to 1997, Tech's second worst run defense performance came in 2003 when the Red Raiders allowed 189 rushing yards per contest. The 2011 defense was a full 70 yards worse than that.
Tech's best run defense over this period was the 1998 stop unit, which held opponents to 119 rushing yards per contest, 140 less than last year's defense.
And the 2011 run defense represented a precipitous drop off. Hence, in 2009, only two years previous, Tech's run defense held opponents to only 127 rushing yards per outing. Two seasons later, the Red Raider rush defense was more than twice as bad.
The 2011 Alabama defense, admittedly one of the greatest ever in college football, allowed only 72 rushing yards per game, almost four times as few as the Tech defense. Heck, the Crimson Tide allowed only 184 yards per game total, in comparison to Tech's 259 on the ground.
But enough with the beating. Past is past, and now is the time to look to the future. And for Texas Tech's football future to be bright, the run defense must improve dramatically.
Over the course of the 17-season period noted above, the Red Raiders allowed an average of 161 rushing yards per contest. That number would have been good for 66th nationally in 2011. This figure is a worthy goal for the 2012 defense.
Will the Red Raiders allow more or less than 161 rushing yards per game in 2012?
Texas Tech's run defense will improve because it realistically cannot deteriorate. Over the course of the last five seasons in college football only two defenses did worse against the run than the Red Raiders: in 2009 San Jose State gave up one more rushing yard than Tech did a year ago, while Eastern Michigan surrendered 277 rushing yards per contest. In other words, the Red Raiders pushed the boundaries of how bad it is realistically possible to be against the run.
Two additions to the Red Raider defense guarantee that improvement will be considerable. The first is new coordinator Art Kaufman. Unlike his predecessor, Kaufman is an experienced defensive coordinator. Whereas Chad Glasgow had no experience as a defensive coordinator prior to his Big 12 baptism, Kaufman has coordinated 15 defenses, including seven in the SEC and ACC, at Ole Miss and North Carolina respectively.
Additionally, new defensive backs coach John Lovett has coordinated 19 defenses with stops at Clemson, Auburn and Miami on his resume'. Between Kaufman and Lovett, Texas Tech has 34 years of defensive coordinator experience.
The 2012 Texas Tech defense may get physically whipped on occasion, but it will not get fooled. Kaufman and Lovett will ensure that the Red Raider defense is properly prepared and that it knows its assignments on the field of play. That is worth gold bullion.
The other key addition is JUCO transfer Will Smith, who will coordinate the defense on the field at this middle linebacker post in the 4-3 alignment. One hesitates to make grand predictions and comparisons based upon one spring camp, but Smith looks to be Tech's linebacker in terms of physical ability and football IQ since Zach Thomas.
Tommy Tuberville and Kaufman sang Smith's praises loudly and proudly this spring. Kaufman stated that Smith, who had never played a down of D-1 football, had a more profound grasp of the defense after only two practices than any other player on the roster. Calling a linebacker The Sponge may sound like an insult, but in Smith's case it is a cognomen signifying the highest esteem.
Texas Tech's rush defense deteriorated with frightening rapidity over the last two seasons. And there's no reason it cannot improve with equal celerity. Indeed, I expect it to make huge strides in 2012. I do not think it will hold opponents to less than 161 rushing yards per contest, but folks may be surprised at how close it comes to that goal.