New Low in Tradition of Defensive Futility

The Red Raiders set several ignominious records in Saturday's demoralizing loss to the Horned Frogs.

Prior to Texas Tech’s devastating 82-27 loss to TCU, the Red Raider football program was known primarily for its potent and entertaining offensive attack. Following the loss, Tech’s new claim to fame way well be its defensive ineptitude, which may also be entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons.

The 82 points surrendered don’t merely break the school record; they smash it to smithereens. It was also a Big 12 record for most points surrendered in a conference game. The previous worst defensive outing by Tech was 66 points allowed to Oklahoma State in a 66-6 shellacking, which still stands as the worst defeat in school history. That year also saw Tech give up 66 points to Baylor in a 66-42 loss.

But the point total doesn't quite plumb the awfulness that was Tech’s defense. The Red Raiders also gave up 785 total yards, a number that may be even more unimaginable and dreadful than 82 points.

Typically, when we witness point totals above 70 and total yardage above 700, the victor is a national powerhouse from a power conference, and the victim is somebody like Savannah State, New Mexico State or Mary Hardin Baylor. And while TCU certainly qualifies as a national power, Texas Tech is a Big 12 opponent that, a mere six years ago, was flirting with a national championship late in the season. There simply is no excuse for a program of Texas Tech’s caliber collapsing so profoundly.

Naturally, when a team loses as badly as Tech did to TCU, there is more than enough blame to go around. And that is certainly the case here. Texas Tech’s special teams were farcical, and quarterback Davis Webb’s penchant for crushing mistakes again came to the fore.

But by and large, the problems at quarterback and on special teams are not a hallmark of Tech’s program. Sure, Tech has had problems on special teams in the past—the Manny Matsakis experiment springs to mind—but by and large, special teams have been adequate. And quarterback has been an undoubted strength of the program. Webb’s play, however, has doubtless caused many a fan to fantasize about Taylor Potts striding onto the field to take the snap from Jared Kaster.

No, as bad as special teams and Webb were against TCU, it is the legacy of simply awful defense that is by far the gravest concern. And if the Tech football program is going to get back on track, it is this side of the football that requires a complete overhaul.

Aside from the loss to TCU, and the double 66-point fiascos in 2011, we can trace Tech’s ever-worsening defense back to 2003. Aside from those three worst defensive efforts in school history, the two previous worst efforts came in 2008 with a 65-point cratering in Norman against the Sooners, and 62 points surrendered to Brad “Superman” Smith and the Missouri Tigers in 2003. The last dozen seasons have seen Tech’s five worst defensive performances.

Now part of this phenomenon clearly owes to the emergence of high-tempo spread offenses in the college game, and their ability to repeatedly strike for quick touchdowns. The teams of Fielding Yost and Knute Rockne, great though they were, were unlikely to put up 80 points against conference opponents.

But even when we factor in these digital-age offenses, Texas Tech’s defensive ineptitude sticks out as particularly appalling. The 2003 Tech defense was at one point ranked dead last in college football, and the current unit looks like it also is in a mad dash to the bottom.

Thus, barring a miraculous defensive turnaround over the course of the last four games of the season, Kliff Kingsbury will have to clean house on that side of the football, and the football program will have to commit to bringing in an elite defensive staff. Gary Patterson did that very thing with his offense, and the results speak for themselves. A similarly radical reorientation in Tech’s approach to defensive football also appears necessary.

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