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Big 12 preview: Texas Tech needs defensive improvement

Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

If Texas Tech was analogous to a baseball player, the scouting report would be “good hit, no field.” With a bat, it’s all line drives and extra bases; with the glove, every approaching ball is treated like a live grenade.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury understands that for the Red Raiders to move up in the college football world, the defense needs to show vast improvement. He hopes that starts with coordinator David Gibbs, who goes into his second season in Lubbock – the first time Texas Tech has had the same defensive boss in consecutive seasons since the Mike Leach Era.

“I think you look at the Big 12 and who has won the Big 12 the last four, five, six years – they’ve all had a defensive coordinator in place and built some continuity at that position and that’s what we have to do,” Kingsbury said.

With three of the most dynamic playmakers in the Big 12 – quarterback Patrick Mahomes, running back DeAndre Washington and wide receiver Jakeem Grant — the Red Raiders treated the scoreboard like a pinball wizard last season. The problem was opposing offenses also lit it up. Texas Tech twice scored 50 points – and lost. In their six losses, the Red Raiders gave up an average of 56.3 points.

Gibbs says that as a coordinator, his alignments can dictate whether the opponent throws it or runs it. If it’s a running play, Gibbs tries to funnel the ball carrier to where there are tacklers. The problem with that strategy last season?

“We’ve got to tackle better,” Gibbs said. “It was embarrassing.”

Gibbs is hoping for improvement based on experience and improved depth, particularly on the defensive line. Stopping or at least limiting opposing ground games would be a start. Texas Tech was last in the Big 12, getting ground-gashed for 280 yards per game and 6.2 yards per attempt.

Everyone knows the defense has to rebound, but everyone also knows it’s a work in progress. The extent of the program’s stability lies with its offense, where performers such as running back Justin Stockton and wide receiver Cameron Batson will keep the Red Raiders as potent as ever. They need to step in as top producers in replacing Washington and Grant.

“(Stockton) has been great ever since he stepped on campus, and if it wasn’t for DeAndre everyone would be talking about him already,” Kingsbury said. “(Batson) has had an exceptional spring and he is another guy who has been waiting in the wings because he had an incredible player in front of him.”

The 37-year-old Kingsbury is still growing into the job of head coach. A 7-0 start in his rookie season belied how tough it is to be a consistent winner in the Big 12. He had continued to tweak and adjust.

Known for hiring coaches near his own age, Kingsbury broke that mold by hiring 55-year-old Joe Robinson to run the team’s special teams unit. He also hired Rusty Whitt, a U.S. Army veteran with two tours to Iraq as a no-nonsense strength and conditioning coach.

“I like where our program’s at,” Kingsbury said earlier this month. “I think we’ve changed some things for the better. Year one, you’re just putting (the program) in place, and by year four your spin is pretty much on everything.”

Texas Tech at a glance

2015: 7-6 overall, 4-5 in the Big 12, tied for fifth

Coach: Kliff Kingsbury

Returning starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense

Impact players: Jr. QB Patrick Mahomes, Jr. RB Justin Stockton, Sr. WR Reginald Davis, Jr. WR Cameron Batson, Sr. WR Devin Lauderdale, Sr. OT Baylen Brown, Soph. DT Breiden Fehoko, Soph. S Jah’Shawn Johnson

3 reasons to hope

  • Texas Tech finished second in the FBS in points and total yards. With junior Patrick Mahomes back at quarterback, the offense should again be prolific – as long as the Red Raiders can find capable replacements for leading rusher DeAndre Washington and leading receiver Jakeem Grant.
  • With the defensive line replacing six seniors from last year’s unit, there are two transfers who are now eligible who could contribute: Kolin Hill, a sophomore who transferred from Notre Dame, and Ondre Pipkins, a senior who transferred from Michigan.
  • There might not be a No. 1 receiver as effective as Grant was last season, but Mahomes should have multiple targets from which to choose. Senior Reginald Davis, junior Cameron Batson and junior Ian Sadler are all familiar with the system. Don’t be surprised if Derrick Willies, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior-college transfer, has a breakout season.

3 reasons to worry

  • During his first three seasons, Kliff Kingsbury actually had too many quarterbacks and has supplied transfer starters at Oklahoma and Cal. This season, Patrick Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation but his backup is inexperienced junior Nic Shimonek.
  • Keeping the kinetic Mahomes healthy is the top priority, but the offensive line returns just one starter. Last season’s unit allowed 27 sacks. That’s not terrible, considering the Red Raiders attempted 620 passes, but that number needs to regress more toward the 13 sacks allowed in 2014.
  • Not only was Jakeem Grant the Big 12’s leading receiver last season; he was also a dangerous kick returner, averaging 26 yards per return and taking two to the house. Replicating that production will be a challenge.
Icon Sportswire

Icon Sportswire

Difference maker on offense: Patrick Mahomes. He skipped playing baseball last spring to concentrate on football. His dedication in the weight room has established his leadership role, and he has improved his fundamentals.

Difference maker on defense: Jah’Shawn Johnson. The secondary is the most-experienced defensive unit on the team, but Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore, might be the key player. He started every game as a freshman and finished second on the team with 85 tackles.

It’s a fact: Texas Tech led the FBS by converting 51.7 percent of its third-down attempts. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the Big 12 by converting 20 third downs as a runner.

Projected final record: 7-5. It’s a leap of faith to believe that Texas Tech’s defense will improve enough to provide the needed resistance. The bottom line is that the Red Raiders will be fun to watch if you like four-hour games where the teams combine to score 90 or more points.

2016 Schedule

Date Opponent
Sept. 3 Stephen F. Austin
Sept. 10 at Arizona State
Sept. 17 vs. Louisiana Tech
Sept. 29 Kansas*
Oct. 8 at Kansas State*
Oct. 15 West Virginia*
Oct. 22 Oklahoma*
Oct . 29 at TCU*
Nov. 5 Texas*
Nov. 12 at Oklahoma State*
Nov. 19 at Iowa State*
Nov. 25 Baylor* (at Arlington, Texas)
* – Conference game
Big 12 preview: Texas Tech needs defensive improvement

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