It's been a very long time since the Texas Tech defense was the cock of the walk, the talk of the town. But the defensive mediocrity, and sometimes ineptitude, was not especially noticeable when the offense, too, was nothing to write home about. With the advent of the 21st century, however, and the arrival of a certain Mike Leach, the Red Raider offense caught fire. And it separated itself very sharply from the Tech defense.
Leach was ultimately fired, of course, but to a large degree, the Red Raider offense has continued to click. Neal Brown, operating under less than optimal circumstances, essentially maintained the momentum that Leach created. And still, the defense continued to lag.
Now, with the appointment of Leach protégé Kliff Kingsbury as Tech's head coach, the natural assumption is that the beat will go on. The Red Raider offense will continue to set records and garner national acclaim, while the defense continues to wallow in misery.
But there is a catch. A gentleman by the name of Matt Wallerstedt is now Tech's defensive coordinator, and he has no intention of allowing the defense to remain a scarlet-headed stepchild.
With Wallerstedt at the wheel, it will not be business as usual for the Tech defense. The changes will be comprehensive and profound. A new scheme, naturally, will be a big part of the change, but so will an altered mentality. For Wallerstedt, the mental or psychological side of the equation is as important as any other variable. And for him, job one is inculcating a new identity in his troops.
"Defensive mentality is game with emotion, play with emotion," says Wallerstedt.
"You've gotta be tough, you've gotta be physical, you gotta get off blocks. It all goes down to fundamentals, doing your job, understanding what the overall scheme is, and taking that mentality, especially here with our defense and being kind of the back burner unit, that we're gonna play with an edge. It's an us-against-the-world type deal. We want to do it together and overachieve, so to speak."
The key take-away there is the identity that Wallerstedt wants to create. He's well aware of Tech's football history. He knows all about Tech's offensive success and that the defense has been an afterthought (much as was the case with BYU in the 80s). And Wallerstedt wants to use the past to sow a bit of a grudge in the present.
His unit is the group that nobody comes to see. They are cannon fodder, or at best, might put up just enough resistance to allow the electrifying Red Raider offense to win the day. But they are not the headliners. Never the heroes.
Players don't like to hear that, though. And one gets the sense that Wallerstedt will use this "back burner" history to ignite an unusual intensity and aggression within the defense. He wants them to be an embattled band of brothers who will soldier through and get the job done in the end.
It certainly remains to be seen whether or not Wallerstedt's approach is actually paying dividends. And even if the defense is improving, it's difficult to prove that the new identity is the reason for that improvement. Nevertheless, Wallerstedt is optimistic about the results so far, and what they augur for the future.
"We've been back and forth," Wallerstedt states.
"You guys that have been out to practice every day, it's been a teeter-totter. It's been a typical spring where you may win one battle and the next day the offense gets after you. Same thing in Midland, we started slow then we finished fast. Friday night lights, we started fast and they finished."
"So it's been back and forth. And I think from a guy in my shoes just looking at overview--and it comes from a lot of guys on our staff--just seeing everybody elevate since we've been here, this whole thing is changing in the right direction, and we're excited about it."