Texas Tech's 12-season run of bowl appearances ended in 2011, thanks to a defense that charitably can be called awful.
The Red Raiders were 114th nationally in defense overall and were an unsightly 2-7 in the Big 12. Their only league wins came over woeful Kansas and – shockingly – Oklahoma, which was No. 1 in the nation at the time.
The offense was prolific, but it wasn't enough. The offense should be prolific again this season, but the defense remains a question.
Last season: 5-7 overall, 2-7 in Big 12 (9th in league)
Coach: Tommy Tuberville (13-12, 3rd season at Texas Tech; 123-72, 16th season overall)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (7) – QB Seth Doege, WR Cornelius Douglas (moving to CB), G Deveric Gallington (moving to C), T Terry McDaniel (moving to G), WR Alex Torres, T LaAdrian Waddle, WR Eric Ward. Defense (6) – S Terrance Bullitt (moving to LB), E Dartwan Bush, LB Daniel Cobb, FS Cody Davis, T Kerry Hyder, SS D.J. Johnson. Special teams (1) – P Ryan Erxleben.
Fast fact: The Red Raiders were 2-4 at home last season. That's half as many home games as they had lost in the previous eight seasons combined (42-8 from 2003-10).
QB Seth Doege played well last season, his first as the starter. He threw for 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He had nine 300-yard games and reached 400 yards three times. He was masterful in Tech's upset of Oklahoma, throwing for 441 yards and four TDs.
He did all that despite not having much support from a rushing attack. The Red Raiders averaged 125.2 yards per game, which was 87th nationally. That's a low number for a Tuberville-coached team. The good news is that the rushing total should rise this fall. TB Eric Stephens, who played in just five games last season (565 yards, eight TDs) because of a knee injury, is expected to be 100 percent for the opener. The same goes for DeAndre Washington, who took over for Stephens before suffering a knee injury of his own in Game 11.
The backs will run behind a physical, experienced line that could feature as many as four senior starters. T LaAdrian Waddle is the standout, and Deveric Gallington is moving from guard to center and expected to solidify the interior. Another move up front: Terry McDaniel has shifted to guard from tackle. Texas A&M transfer Brian Thomas, a post-grad student with one season of eligibility left, should be a starting guard, as well. He started seven games for A&M last season.
The Red Raiders, as usual, will have a deep receiving corps. The top three receivers return: Eric Ward (84 receptions), Alex Torres (51) and Darrin Moore (47). Moore was bothered by injuries last season and missed three full games; if he is healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him lead the team in receptions and be a contender for all-league honors. There is ample depth at the position, and Stephens and Washington are solid receivers out of the backfield, too. Stephens had 33 catches in 2010.
It has to truly miff Tuberville, who made his bones as a defensive coordinator, that his defenses at Texas Tech have been rancid. The Red Raiders have been 119th in total defense in each of his seasons, and they were last in the nation in rush defense last fall (258.8 ypg).
He is on his third coordinator in as many seasons; the new guy is Art Kauffman, who was North Carolina's coordinator last season. Gone is the 4-2-5 scheme the Red Raiders used last season, and in its place is the more traditional 4-3 look.
The line was awful last season and is a big concern again. Sophomore T Delvon Simmons was a four-star recruit and the No. 80 player nationally in the 2011 signing class, and he needs to begin living up the hype this fall. He and returning starter Kerry Hyder are expected to start at tackle, and they have to prove they can hold up against the run. Depth at tackle is questionable.
Tech didn't have much of a pass rush last season (just 16 sacks – and in a league where the quarterbacks throw the ball a lot), and hopes are high that Pete Robertson – who was converted from safety this spring – can help in that regard. Redshirt freshman Branden Jackson (a high school teammate of Simmons in McKeesport, Pa.) also could end up as a starter, and holdover Dartwan Bush will see time.
JC transfer Will Smith is expected to start at linebacker, as is converted safety Terrance Bullitt. Sophomore Sam Eguavoen likely will be the third starter. Daniel Cobb, the only returning starter at the position, seems likely to lose his starting job.
Tech was 113th nationally in pass defense last season. Ten players started at least one game in the secondary, and nine are back. Cornelius Douglas, who began last season as a starting wide receiver but finished it as a starting cornerback, had a strong spring. Senior Ss Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson were No. 1 and 2, respectively, on the team in tackles last season, and they also combined for two interceptions and eight pass breakups.
The Red Raiders signed three junior college defensive backs, and one of them, most likely Bruce Jones, should start at the other cornerback spot.
Junior Ryan Erxleben is one of the better punters in the Big 12; his dad, Russell, was a kicker for Texas and in the NFL. But the Red Raiders will have a new kicker; it likely will be Ryan Bustin, who transferred in from junior college last season but redshirted.
Tech was solid on punt coverage last season, but the kickoff coverage unit needs an upgrade. The return spots could be up for grabs, though backup WR Ben McRoy was solid as a kick returner last season.
The non-conference games are a joke: FCS member Northwestern State (La.), FBS newcomer Texas State (thought it's on the road) and woebegone New Mexico. (This is the seventh season in a row the Red Raiders have zero non-conference games against Big Six conference opponents.) September ends with a winnable league game at Iowa State.
But then things get dicey. The next five games: Oklahoma, West Virginia, at TCU, at Kansas State and Texas. There's also a November game at Oklahoma State, which is sandwiched between winnable games against Kansas and Baylor.
The offense is good, the defense is … well, no one knows.
Tech will be better on the ground this season, and that, in turn, should make Doege an even more effective passer. But it's not going to matter how potent the offense is unless the defense makes huge strides.
The middle of the schedule is a monster, and the Red Raiders need to win at least once during that tough stretch to ensure that their bowl streak begins again. This looks like a seven-win team, with eight victories a possibility if the run defense toughens up (from 258.8 ypg to somewhere in the 170s or 180s would be nice).
The recruiting side
Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 33rd nationally
The buzz: Texas Tech did something nobody thought possible in the class of 2012 – sign more junior college prospects than even Kansas State. After a 5-7 season, coaches wanted immediate help, especially in the secondary. Tech signed nine junior college players, including three defensive backs. Texas Tech already has two junior college defensive backs committed for the class of 2013 as it looks to rebuild the secondary. – Brian Perroni, Rivals.com
CB Cornelius Douglas. Douglas, who will be a senior this fall, was moved to cornerback from wide receiver late in the 2011 season after injuries in the secondary left the Red Raiders with no other choice. He acquitted himself well in limited action – 18 tackles, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles – but was at that point relying almost exclusively on natural athletic ability. With a full offseason of study under his belt, he impressed during the spring and will enter camp as Texas Tech's No. 1 corner. – Aaron Dickens, RedRaiderSports.com
For more on Texas Tech throughout the season, check out RedRaiderSports.com
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