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03 OCT 2015: Baylor Bears quarterback Seth Russell (17) looks back at Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Jah'Shawn Johnson (7) as he crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the Texas Farm Bureau Shootout between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Baylor Bears at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

Texas Tech defense a liability in pursuit of 9-win season

(Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)

The weakness of Texas Tech’s 2015 defense has been broken down and dissected in countless ways. Whether you count out the yardage amounting to over four miles or some other measurement, giving up over 500 yards per game is bad.

To put a new spin on the matter, how much of a liability was the defense last season for a TTU offense that posted 45 points per game (second in the nation)? How much does that defense need to improve for the Red Raiders to get a better bowl bid?

First, take a look at the recent history of swiss-cheese defenses and their adverse effects on their teams — the last five years should offer a good view of the landscape of modern college football.

With a cutoff of 500 or more yards allowed per game against FBS programs, 36 teams enter the data pool. Over five years — dating back to the 2011 season — Texas Tech accounts for three of those seasons, tied for most in the nation. Of those 36 total seasons, the average win total is just 3.7 wins.

Nine teams have been eligible for a bowl game with six or more wins. Only four teams have marked a season with eight wins. Baylor accounts for half that total. Finally, only 2011 Baylor had a season with over nine wins, winning 10 games.

Not only does this put the Texas Tech defense behind the eight ball; the offense needs to compensate for the team’s inability to defend. The Red Raiders won seven games last season while giving up nearly 540 yards per game, so it is possible that even the slightest improvements could push Tech into rarefied territory with nine wins.

A reminder: Baylor gave up 512 yards per game in 2011 and won 10 games. That’s the current threshold. Can Tech really improve its average total defense by 30 yards per game?

Everyone in Lubbock hoped last season would be a turning point for the Red Raiders’ defense with new coordinator David Gibbs. However, his solid track record with Houston did not carry over to the Big 12 and the resources he had at his disposal. Texas Tech gave up 17 yards more per game.

This season appears to offer more of the same.

The pieces in place haven’t improved in the wake of some big losses. Leading tackler Dakota Allen was dismissed from the team during the offseason. The NFL took in Branden Jackson, Micah Awe, and Peter Robertson. Four pillars of an already crumbling structure are now gone, affecting both run defense and pass coverage.

The loss of those four leaders puts tremendous weight on underclassman free safety Jah’Shawn Johnson and defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko in particular. Fehoko came to Lubbock last season as an ESPN 300 prospect splitting time along the line. He wrapped up 19 tackles, four TFLs, and one sack. Johnson’s production jumps off the page even more with 85 tackles, three passes defended, and two interceptions.

On other rosters, those numbers would represent complementary contributions from second-tier players, but for Tech, that’s the best it has to offer, making it a difficult bridge to cross from seven wins to nine and accordingly increased status in the Big 12. Either great awakening will occur in Gibbs’ second season as the architect of his defense, or the offense will perform at a historic pace to pick up the pieces once again.

The latter scenario seems more likely at this point.

Texas Tech defense a liability in pursuit of 9-win season

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