Any way you slice it, the Texas Tech defense was anything but pretty last season. Each week it was behind the eight-ball — its lowest points allowed in a game was 21 in a win over Kansas. With most of the defensive starters returning, it would seem it’s the same old Red Raiders defense that’s been at the heel of jokes the past few seasons, but that’s far from the truth according the star defensive end Branden Jackson who called it “chaos” — in the best way possible.
That chaos comes from new defensive coordinator David Gibbs coming over from the Houston Cougars who allowed the 16th-least points per game last season.
What’s been killing the Red Raiders for the better half of a decade is their predictability on defense, never really mixing up their packages. They ran a 3-4 base the past two seasons, which is only one of an infinite amount of looks they’ll be giving offenses.
This season — like the Cougars under Gibbs — they’ll be shifting players all over the field, never having a true nuclear base. I’d liken what he’s doing in Lubbock to Art Briles in Waco, maximizing his athletes on the field with an array of schemes.
As Briles said in his own presser, “It’s called an M.O., and that’s why criminals get caught because they do the same thing over and over again.”
Baylor has shown that it isn’t afraid of changing things up drastically on offense, putting receivers at H-back or moving a lineman over to tight end, and it’s undoubtedly worked. Now it’s time to see if the same can be applied to Tech’s defense.
But with a defense that proved chaotic enough on its own last season by sheer ineptitude, maybe Gibbs is biting off more than he can chew as theory only works if it can be executed. However, even with a historically bad defense last season, there are glimmers on the depth chart that could make the whole defense shine.
At the head of operation will be their two defensive ends in Jackson and Pete Robertson who will be particularly valuable. Robertson spent last season at outside linebacker and did a fine job, leading the conference with 12 sacks. He makes the jump to defensive end with his edge rushing ability, but his experience playing a layer back will allow him to easily shift to other positions when their schemes change as will other players.
They also bring talent inside with four-star defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko who’s in the perfect situation as a fresh face learning this new system at the same time as his peers. He’s athletic enough to play inside in along a front three to bounce Robertson to a standing technique outside, but he can also work in a 4-3 scheme just as easily.
Further down the depth chart, though, are some obvious concern in the secondary that allowed over 255 yards per game through the air. It was on constant rotation last season, with some consistent play coming at safety by way of J.J. Gaines and Keenan Ward who totaled a mere three interceptions and 10 passes defended combined.
Gaines was recruited as a wide receiver out of high school, so he’s already shown flexibility, switching over to defense. He should be a key contributor playing across the field in the secondary, as should cornerback Justis Nelson who led the league with 16 passes defended last season. He’s one of the tallest corners in the conference at 6’2″ and should bounce around to make mismatches in Gibbs’ array of schemes.
Of course, the biggest concern with unpredictable rotating, there’s an ever-present danger of committing penalties — a problem that loomed over the Red Raiders last season under a traditional scheme. In 2014, Tech averaged nearly nine penalties a game, a good portion coming from the secondary giving a little too much contact in coverage.
If they can become a little more disciplined under this new scheme with an ambitious learning curve, expect Lubbock to sport the most improved defense in the nation. That’s a big if, but ambition is something they’ve lacked in the past, and they can only go up from here trying something new.