Eguavoen Expects Focused Defense to Excel caught up with Texas Tech veteran LB Sam Eguavoen during camp to get his take on the defense heading into the season.

Bob Knight used to say that over half of the game of basketball is mental. If that aphorism also holds true for football, then the Texas Tech defense could be parsecs better than it was last season. At least, that’s what senior linebacker Sam Eguavoen believes.

Eguavoen is easily the most experienced player on the defense. He was thrust into meaningful snaps as a true freshman and has played almost constantly ever since. Over the course of three seasons, he has 27 starts. His eyes have seen the miles and his opinion counts for a little extra.

His strongest opinion is simply that the Red Raiders will truly know what they’re doing this season. And over the course of previous years, when literally, there was a new coordinator every season, that wasn’t always the case.

Regarding the return of coordinator Matt Wallerstadt and his staff, Eguavoen states emphatically, “It makes a huge difference. I mean we’re thinking less; there’s less anxiety in the locker room. During all those other seasons we’d be home over the Christmas break wondering who our next defensive coordinator is. Is he gonna like me? What’s he play like? What’s his terminology? But now we know these guys. It’s like they’re our brothers, uncles—you know what I’m sayin’—it’s like a family. Now it’s just time to play football. It’s time to stop thinking and play our style of play."

One might think that the loss of key front-seven defenders such as Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush and Will Smith would be a concern, not only in terms of talent but in terms of experience as well. Not so, says Eguavoen. If anything, just the opposite.

“Real confident about ‘em,” states Eguavoen about this year’s replacements.

“I’m not trying to knock anybody, anybody who left, but I just think we’ll be twice as better as we were last year because these young guys coming in, they’ve already been in the lab studying our playbooks, studying our terminology. And now they’re coming in already knowing the stuff, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s like everything’s doubled. We can just work on our technique now; we’re not focused on the scheme so much no more.”

Clearly, Eguavoen is convinced the busted plays and missed assignments that plagued previous, confused defenses, are a thing of the past. But what about depth? One of the dominant explanations for why the Tech defense collapsed late in seasons past has been that depth was insufficient to overcome the injuries that inevitably stack up over the course of a brutal Big 12 slate. Here again, Eguavoen is more than hopeful.

“I think injuries, we’re gonna have way less this season because we have a whole lot of depth, especially on the defensive line,” Eguavoen points out.

“We’re gonna have guys coming in and out. O-lines are gonna be sick of us because we’re gonna have fresh people on every play, every down. Linebacker, we’ve got a strong three-man linebacker rotation and we’re still waiting for that fourth linebacker to come in, whether it’s Malik Jenkins or Kahlee Woods, we’re still competing. Secondary play, we’re solid back there. I don’t see no flaws in our safeties right now. And on corners, we’re still working on those.”

Football observers often overlook the role depth plays, not just in surviving injuries, but in preventing them. But Eguavoen is undoubtedly correct in noting that deep teams have less fatigued players, and the fresher the player, the less likely he is to get nicked. Hopefully improved depth will work to Tech’s advantage in that manner.

Outside of a lack of depth, perhaps the defense’s greatest weakness last season was an inability to create turnovers. In Eguavoen’s estimation, a lack of hustle was a key reason why the Red Raiders didn’t pilfer the pigskin more often. It is a flaw he promises to remedy.

“We’ve been practicing running to the ball every play,” notes Eguavoen.

“Even myself, I still watch films of myself from last season and I see plays where I just didn’t run to the ball all the way. The ball pops out, the other team gets it and we’ve just got to play another down. But now we’re all running to the ball because you never know what’s gonna happen. We’re raking at the ball. We’re doing stupid-crazy stuff to get that ball out, now matter what.”

Once again, Eguavoen makes sense. The more hustle, the more guys around the ball when it pops loose. And the more Red Raiders around a loose football, the greater the chance the good guys grab it.

So there you have it. A defense that knows its scheme inside and out. A defense that is deep. A defense that hustles to the football in anticipation of getting turnovers. How great of a difference would such a defense have made in years past? Perhaps we will find out in 2014.

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