After a tremendous start to the 2013 season which saw the Texas Tech defense allow just 111.2 rushing yards per contest through six games, the Red Raiders struggled mightily down the stretch by allowing almost 300 yards on the ground over the final five games -- all losses.
The late-season defensive swoon is nothing new for Texas Tech, but a trend first -year defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt is tasked with fixing. Wallerstedt took time to speak with RaiderPower.com before heading to San Diego for the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl matchup with Arizona State.
First I want to ask you about Arizona State. What jumps out at you about them on film?
Wallerstedt: They are a talented team, they have been in the system for two years now, have a good offensive line, fundamentals are good and a good quarterback (Taylor Kelly). He's running the show there and does a good job of scrambling out of pressure so he can hurt you with his feet to keep plays alive. All those guys at running back are all capable, No. 21 (WR Jaelen Strong) on the perimeter is a good player. I think just collectively with what they do with a lot of different formations is a lot to look at, a lot of unbalanced sets, different personnel groupings, but not give you the traditional look. They'll stress you on the perimeter and have the read-zone series with the quarterback, so you have to be disciplined there. They make you play assignment correct and they have a lot of weapons to go to.
As far as bowl preparation, how different is it to have this much time between games to get ready for an opposing offense? Is it that much of a difference for you or not?
Wallerstedt: Yeah, sure, anytime you get a little more time to look at it. For us trying to get healed up, trying to get healthy, trying to get guys back off the shelf and trying to develop some of our younger guys, maybe the guys who are second or third team guys thrust into those roles where they have to play for us, trying to get those guys better. We're really harping on tackling. That hurt us down the stretch, where guys were in position to make plays and not making plays, guys not getting off blocks. We're working on our pad level, pursuit angles and tackling.
Who has the break helped the most injury-wise? Who are you really expecting to be there, who maybe down the stretch, injury-wise, couldn't get it done?
Wallerstedt: Hopefully we just have everybody 100 percent. We got Dartwan (Bush), who rolled his ankle against Texas on Thanksgiving. He's been rehabbing and supposed to clear in time. You have Terrance Bullitt, you know you hope his shoulder calms down enough where he can play violent like he did early in the season.
I want to ask you about Bullitt real quick, because it seems like during his career here, when he's healthy it's a different defense. How important is a healthy Terrance Bullitt to what you want to do on defense?
Wallerstedt: I tell you, yeah, he was a big piece to some of our issues on the perimeter, obviously. He's really a force on the football and then his leadership and his energy. I think Dartwan and J.J. (Gaines) going out in the Iowa State game shot us in the foot and took some air out of us. Then Terrance playing hurt and not really healthy with a broken hand on one side and a bad shoulder on the other; never quitting, but never quite what he was. Then you have (Tre') Porter, so you have guys hurt at every level of the defense which hurt us chemistry wise, energy wise and the whole thing. It is what it is. Obviously we've had injuries here in the past that continues to bite us, but we have to change the culture here, as far as the mentality, we have to stay healthy and we got to flip it sometime sooner or later in November and start winning some football games.
You brought up the culture here. Now that you've been here for a full regular season, give me an overview what it has been like for you? Obviously, you had the fast start and then the rough end.
Wallerstedt: The expectations with the fan base and everybody went through the roof with the 7-0 start. We were playing really well. Just talking about the defense, in several categories, the team was either the best or in the top of the conference or even nationally. Then just seeing how our team responded to injuries and how we played in November, just almost like a "here we go again" type of mentality.
You did see that for sure?
Wallerstedt: I did see a little bit of that. I have addressed that, I think, coming down the stretch with the media. This is the way it's been in here, I know these guys have seen a lot of faces, trust doesn't just flip overnight. Our guys didn't quit, I think that's the main thing, but I felt like it would be in waves. The defense would play really good, then all of a sudden something bad would happen, whatever it would be, and all of a sudden give up 14 or 21 points before we could settle down. So we were at peaks and valleys down the stretch, where you didn't see what you did in those first seven games. Everybody wants to say competition, but I don't lay it on the competition. We had our chances in the Oklahoma game. In hindsight, you always look at yourself in the mirror. We probably should have gassed Blake Bell up a little more, like we did (Case) McCoy early in the Texas game. We made him make some throws into coverage we didn't think he could make, but he did. I just think if you look at it for us defensively, you strip it all down and you see you played 60 some odd snaps and you allowed 300 yards of total offense, but then you have eight big plays for 210-220 yards, it just doesn't add up. I think it's something we have to continue to work on, the psyche of this program, that's why coach Kingsbury is here, that's why we are here. There's a reason things happen and we're going to get things going.
Have you seen a change in the psyche?
Wallerstedt: I have. I think gradually, I think it goes maybe in spurts. You know I think the voices are growing with the right guys and I don't think we've had bad leadership, I just think anytime you've been down a bad road, multiple times, where you get into adversity, sometimes you revert to bad habits. I think some of that was apparent and pretty evident some of those weekends.
Are you a proponent of bowl games as far as a chance to take momentum into the next season or not? Can you take momentum from one season to the next?
Wallerstedt: I think it's a chance to get better each and every day. The teams that didn't make a bowl game can't be able to progress in practice. It's a chance to get your young guys developed and it's really more practices then what you would get in spring ball. So, this is really another spring ball for overall development. Really the guys we inherited get a chance to hear it again and the guys who came in last summer with the signing class now get a chance to go through the system again before we even get to winter conditioning. I do think it's important that we finish strong, I do think it's important that we get this bad taste out of our mouth. We have to fight through adversity when it hits during the bowl game, which it will, and not let a good performance unravel on us defensively.
Last question coach. Has there been a surprise as far as living here in Lubbock, with Tech, the program or anything else this season?
Wallerstedt: The biggest surprise for me has been kind of what you guys have been saying, you know with the 7-0 start and then you go the other way. I've been at places where you're fighting and struggling to get going, but I think if you looked at it at the beginning of the year and said you guys are going to go to a bowl game with the team we inherited and our first go-around as a staff, we would have been pretty excited about it. But anytime you lose five in-a-row everybody is going to be upset. My family and I love Lubbock. West Texas has been awesome. The people out here are the best and the fan base was as advertised, good, bad or indifferent--they want to win, just like everywhere else. This is major college football. This is a big time school, a big time program and I've really enjoyed being here. I haven't enjoyed the last five games, but if you're asking me about this place?
Wallerstedt: Overall, I love the people here, I've been treated great, my family loves it and it's been really good.
Q&A with Matt Wallerstedt
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