Last year’s season finale against Baylor was one of the darker days in Texas Tech history. The defense surrendered 66 points, but that performance was nothing new for a unit that ranked 117th in scoring defense.
What made the loss so painful was that it gave the Red Raiders a 5-7 record, marking the first losing season for the school since 1992.
The loss instantly put head coach Tommy Tuberville on the hot seat. Tuberville, who had tried to overhaul the offense after taking over for pass-happy Mike Leach, was experiencing some growing pains, to put it mildly.
What a difference a year makes.
The Red Raiders are 5-1 this season and Tuberville is in the discussion for national Coach of the Year. Not only has the offense come full circle, but his team’s success has been due to in large part to another complete transformation — this time with the defense.
After last year’s debacle, Tuberville scrapped the 4-2-5 defense that yielded more than 485 yards a game, replacing it with a conventional 4-3 scheme. The result has been nothing short of miraculous.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith received a nasty welcome to the new defense during Saturday’s 49-14 thrashing in Lubbock. Smith, who came into the game as the Heisman front-runner, was harassed all day by Tech’s front seven. The Mountaineers were able to drive past midfield on eight occasions, but Tuberville’s defense came alive when it needed to, forcing WVU to just 2 of 7 on fourth downs conversions.
With Saturday’s performance, the Texas Tech defense — which was so bad last year it led to coordinator Chad Glasgow’s resignation — rose to fourth in the country.
The defense is hardly alone in Tech’s turnaround. Tuberville’s ground game has finally started to take off, which is opening things up for quarterback Seth Doege. In years past, opposing defenses would focus almost entirely on stopping the pass, but with a legitimate rushing attack to mix things up, Doege had a field day against the Mountaineer defense. The senior had all day to throw each pass, and responded with a career-high 499 yards and six touchdowns.
“The offensive line was outstanding,” Tuberville said after the game. “(Doege) had been getting pressured the last couple of weeks. We worked hard on keeping them off of him, giving him one extra second to throw the football, and he absolutely played perfect.”
Let’s be clear — the passing game is still Texas Tech’s bread and butter — but a balanced offense has the Red Raiders aiming for the first BCS bowl in school history. Perhaps the clearest example of this balance came with 52 seconds left in the first half, after Doege had already passed for 336 yards. The Red Raiders were at their 27-yard line, and instead of airing it out, Tuberville called for a draw play.
The result? An enormous hole for Jakeem Grant as he rushed for 19 yards. On the following play, SaDale Foster had an even bigger gap as he scooted in for a 53-yard touchdown. There were still 35 seconds remaining in the first half, but the 35-7 lead was safe for the rest of the game.
To point out how dynamic this transformation has been, the team had over twice as many passing attempts as rushes in Leach’s final year at the helm. This season, the Red Raiders have rushed the ball 205 times, compared to 267 passing attempts.
The fans stormed the field Saturday and deservedly so, but if Tuberville’s club continues its level of play, it may not be that big of an upset after all. The Red Raiders’ next two games — on the road against TCU and Kansas State — will tell a lot about this club. But if they manage to come out of that stretch unscathed, this team will have its sights on a BCS game in January.