Tech's Run Defense Unraveling

The Red Raider defense has given up 741 on the ground the past three games and are 1-2 over that stretch. Texas Tech started the season strong against the run, but it is becoming glaringly obvious that Texas Tech's run defense is no longer a team strength, but rather, has become Tech's primary liability. The question is why has the rush defense fallen off so quickly?

As Texas Tech raced out of the gates to begin the season 7-0, the most surprising factor in the team's rise was run defense. Unusually good run defense. SMU gained only 102 rushing yards against Tech; Stephen F. Austin only 69; TCU a paltry 43; Texas State tallied 107; Kansas managed only 51 yards on the ground against the Red Raiders, and Iowa State 143 yards, which is 10 more yards per game then they currently average.

All in all, then, Tech was playing good run defense, albeit against admittedly modest competition.

But the Red Raider rush defense's performance against West Virginia should have tripped warning klaxons. The Mountaineers, who currently sport the nation's 92nd best rushing attack, managed to gouge out 183 yards on the ground against Tech in their 37-27 loss. For some perspective, an average of 183 rushing yards per contest would put a team No. 51 among the nation's 125 FBS football programs. In other words, 183 rushing yards is pretty good, especially for a team that is one of college football's worst on the ground.

And, indeed (duly noting that hindsight is 20/20) Tech's run defense against West Virginia was a harbinger of things to come. Oklahoma, which currently has America's No. 17 rushing offense, hammered out 277 rushing yards against Tech, and unsurprisingly, won the game. Oklahoma State, currently the nation's No. 55 rushing offense, followed the Sooners' blueprint and bulldozed the Red Raiders for 281 yards on the ground. This was the key factor in an 18-point Cowboy victory that arguably was more lopsided than the final score indicates.

Thus, it is becoming glaringly obvious that Texas Tech's run defense is no longer a team strength, but rather, has become Tech's primary liability. The question is why, but given the lack of enlightenment shining forth from the Red Raider football camp on this subject, the best we can do is conjecture.

Injuries, as Pete Robertson pointed out following the loss to Oklahoma State, could be a partial explanation. Dartwan Bush—although he was never regarded as a run stopper—has missed three straight games, the three games in which Tech's run defense has been poor-to-miserable. Linebacker Terrance Bullitt, arguably more of a pass defender than a run stuffer, has also been far from healthy as of late.

But while those two injuries didn't delete two of Tech's better run defenders, they did remove two veteran players who knew their assignments and were unlikely to blow gap responsibility. It is entirely possible, therefore, that with younger players filling in for Bush and Bullitt, there have been misalignments and blown assignments, which have hurt Tech's run defense severely.

Another possibility is that opposing offensive coordinators have finally deciphered Matt Wallerstedt's schemes. Earlier in the season coaches complimented the Tech defense on the job they did in disguising their intentions. It is just possible that the disguises have been blown and that offenses now know when they'll have a numbers advantage in the ground game. And if you know that fact for certain, you stand an excellent chance of succeeding with your running attack.

But the "why" is arguably less important than the "what." And the what is that over the next three weeks the Red Raiders will face a Kansas State rushing offense that is No. 49 nationally, a Baylor running attack that is No. 8, and a Texas rushing game that is No. 29. Tech's rush defense is currently No. 59 in the nation and dropping like a stone. In 2010 Tech finished the season with the nation's worst run defense. The Red Raiders probably won't plumb those depths in 2013, but if holes aren't plugged immediately, they could come close.

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