Early in the season Texas Tech's defensive line was seen as a team strength by virtue of its superabundant depth. By season's end, that assessment lay in smithereens.
There were, of course, numerous reasons for Tech's defensive implosion as the Big 12 campaign wore on, but as football minds are wont to say, it all starts up front. And so it did with the Red Raiders' defensive swan dive.
The problems on the line were multiple, virtually comprehensive. First and foremost, the line simply could not establish the line of scrimmage. As early as the West Virginia game, the opposing offensive lines began blowing Tech linemen off the ball, or locking onto them and shoving them wherever they wanted. Consequently, the center of Tech's line resembled Carlsbad Caverns, and stretch plays to the outside were devastating because cutback lanes were everywhere. As a result, teams rushed for an average of 195 yards per contest, which was good for No. 93 in the land. So much for run defense.
The line's help on pass defense was little better. The Red Raiders, led by linebacker Will Smith, registered a mere 18 sacks on the season, which pegged Tech No. 96 nationally in that category. And the linemen were not much of a factor, even in that anemic pass rush. Kerry Hyder tallied two QB traps. Branden Jackson three. Dartwan Bush recorded two sacks over the course of eight games. And bear in mind that defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstadt dialed up quite a bevy of blitzes in an attempt to heat up the quarterback. Alas, it was all to little avail.
Individually, there was little to remark upon. Kerry Hyder did what he could, but he didn't get much help. In addition to his two sacks, Hyder was in on 60 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, recorded five quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. It wasn't the dominant season many envisioned for Hyder, but it was still pretty darned good. With a couple more Hyders, Tech's defense would have been much better.
But there were no more Hyders. Brandon Jackson was second best on the line in tackles with 42. He also logged eight tackles for loss, three sacks and three passes broken up. Tech needed much more productivity from Jackson.
Dartwan Bush's senior season was a bit of a wash out given that he played in only eight games and suffered an injury in the middle of the season. Had he stayed healthy, Bush would have eased the pain.
Jackson Richards and Demetrious Alston gave indication early on that they would be major contributors, but once Big 12 play started, they disappeared. Interior linemen Dennell Wesley, Donte Phillips and Anthony Smith simply never appeared on the radar screen.
The Future: Given that Tech loses Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush and Dennell Wesley from its defensive line, one might expect the incoming recruiting class to be absolutely loaded with defensive linemen. So far, that's not the case. As of this writing Tech has only three defensive line commitments. They are Coahoma Community College interior lineman Keland McElrath, Highland College defensive tackle Marcus Smith (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) and Munday, Texas defensive end L. J. Collier.
McElrath, a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, is 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds. He's rated a three-star prospect, and garnered offers from Kansas, Kentucky and West Virginia in addition to Texas Tech. Considering Tech's lack of interior linemen, McElrath will play immediately if he has a pulse.
Collier, a high school teammate of current Tech cornerback Dee Paul, is a 6-foot-4 240-pounder. His uncles Terry and Perry Collier signed with Oklahoma a couple of decades ago, so the younger Collier has good bloodlines. He also brings productivity, having recorded 51 tackles for loss and 14 sacks over the course of his high school career. Collier is an athletic defensive end who uses his hands well and has very good balance. To make an immediate impact in the Big 12, however, Collier will need to elevate his effort on each and every play.