LUBBOCK, Texas - Tommy Tuberville earned his chance to be a head coach thanks to his work as a defensive coordinator. While running the programs at Ole Miss and Auburn, his ideas about defense were further ingrained during 14 seasons in the Southeastern Conference.
That's why last season's defensive melt down was particularly painful. As Tuberville goes into his third season at Texas Tech, he knows that the top priority is fielding a defense that can keep the scoreboard from short circuiting.
"For us to go to another level it's not going to be on offense,'' Tuberville said. "It's going to be on defense. Last year at midseason we were moving wide receivers to corner, not as backups, but as starters. You can't do that in college football. We just did not have the numbers."
For the fourth time in the last four seasons, Texas Tech will have a new defensive coordinator. Tuberville hired Art Kaufman, a 30-year coaching veteran, to install a 4-3 scheme. The addition of junior-college recruits like middle linebacker Will Smith should give the Red Raiders enough depth and talent to improve on their ability to slow the Big 12's high-powered attacks.
"We've got three deep now," Tuberville said, "and we haven't been one-deep since we've been here. That's an area that we're much improved, if we can stay healthy."
The defense has adopted a talisman to help bring the players together. A heavy chain is being carried around by the defenders and the unit is calling itself "The Chain Gang."
"Each person is an important link," senior safety D.J. Johnson said. "If one link fails, it doesn't just let down the person to the left of you, but it also lets down the person to the right of you. As a team, as a defense, we're really going to buy into that.
"We just really want to start something and leave a legacy, something the defense can build on, and people can buy into it."
Last season the offense averaged nearly 34 points a game with first-year starter Seth Doege at quarterback. He continued Texas Tech's recent tradition of outstanding quarterback play, throwing for 4,004 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Leading receiver Eric Ward (84 catches, 11 touchdowns) is the top target in a deep and talented group of receivers. Eric Stephens was on pace to gain 1,000 yards last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Tuberville wants to the offense to be more balanced and if Stephens can return to form, the Red Raiders should have no trouble scoring points.
Tuberville says that Doege is that "one of the best quarterbacks in the country, no doubt about it." If the running game is productive and the defense is improved, Texas Tech believes it can be a surprise team.
"The whole thing about being a quarterback is, 'How good is your supporting cast going to be?' " Tuberville said of Doege. "It's better, and I think that's going to help him. "I'd be shocked if he didn't throw for 5,000 (yards). I'm not putting pressure on him, but he has that ability."
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Coach: Tommy Tuberville, third season.
2011: 5-7 overall, 2-7 in Big 12.
Returning starters: 9 on offense, 10 on defense.
Key players: Senior QB Seth Doege, junior WR Eric Ward, senior WR Alex Torres, senior OT LaAdrian Waddle, senior RB Eric Stephens, senior WR Austin Zouzalik, junior LB Will Smith, senior S D.J. Johnson, junior LB Terrance Bullitt.
Information, please: Last year was Texas Tech's first losing season since 1990 and its first season without a bowl game since 1999. ... The Red Raiders were last in the FBS in rushing defense in 2011, allowing nearly 259 yards per game. ... Texas Tech allowed an average of 51 points per game during its five-game losing streak to end the season. ... During nine seasons as an assistant coach at Miami (Fla.) and Texas A&M, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville was part of teams that compiled a 97-9-1 record.
Numbers to note: Texas Tech has gone 13 years without having a running back gain 1,000 yards. That's the longest streak for any current Big 12 team. The Red Raiders' last had a 1,000-yard rusher in 1998 when Ricky Williams gained 1,582 yards.Schedule
|Sept. 1||Northwestern State|
|Sept. 8||at Texas State|
|Sept. 15||New Mexico|
|Sept. 29||at Iowa State*|
|Oct. 13||West Virginia*|
|Oct. 20||at TCU*|
|Oct. 27||at Kansas State*|
|Nov. 17||at Oklahoma State*|
|Nov. 24||Baylor* (at Arlington, Texas)|