Since the preseason, I've held that the aggressiveness and blitz talk about Diaz, while fun for fans, obscures Diaz's basic belief that defense is about preventing long scores, tackling, and getting offenses off of the field when down and distance are in the defense's favor. What we saw against Tech was a reconfirmation of those principles. Some call it bend-but-don't-break. I call it cruise control. We were driving with our knees, drinking a Slurpee, fiddling with the radio, and the road never really threw us for a curve.
Diaz came into the game with the assumption that if Texas Tech couldn't score on a big play, they couldn't put up more than 17-24 points on his defense. Maybe we could have shut Tech down. Maybe we could have run the 46 defense and forced six turnovers. More likely, Seth Doege would have lit us up on some constraint plays for long scores. So why risk it?
After watching the performance of our offense in the 2nd quarter, he knew the conservative assumption was sound enough to win going away. We had additional layers of game planning on defense, but when the score was 31-6 at halftime, Diaz put those extra note cards in his pocket.
When the game mattered, the defense was pretty good. 411 yards and 20 points allowed may not be dominant, but when the other team has to run 82 plays to get there, defense per possession/per play is solid.
I was irritated to see us give up 12 of 19 on 3rd down conversions and force no turnovers. That's part of the reason Tech was able to run 82 plays and it defies what has been one of our defense's consistent strengths. Much of that is attributable to going vanilla in the second half and essentially conceding any 8 yard pass Tech wanted to throw, but catching one of the four interceptions that caromed off of DB's hands would have helped the cause in shortening Red Raider possessions.
This was their best game of the season. I've gotten flack from some readers for predicting we'd have the best front in the league, but if they continue at this level of play, that prediction will bear out. Hint: it's only a three team race and we're definitely in the top two.
Essentially three guys - Jeffcoat, Okafor, Randall - shut down the entire Red Raider running game without our committing numbers (eliminate sacks and Tech still averaged 2.5 yards per run play), while also providing solid pressure on Doege with a predominant four man pass rush. If you can effectively pass rush with four and cover with seven, the only big plays we're going to concede will come from sheer bad luck, a perfect throw and catch, or a coverage bust.
Jeffcoat and Okafor are both learning to cut it loose and disrupt (and they did it against solid OTs) and when your DEs combine for 16 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, then they're consistently imposing their will off of the edge. Beyond the arithmetic, it's also subjectively apparent that Jeffcoat and Okafor are both getting off the ball more cleanly, are trying to turn the corner in earnest, and are moving past the processing stage of Diaz's concepts. Missouri will provide a very different challenge by intermixing zone read, QB contain, and pass rush responsibilities and I want to see if they can handle Defensive End 3.0.
Kheeston Randall had 7 tackles and drew two penalties against a spread team that threw it 55 times. One of his tackles was on a 9 yard stick route to a Red Raider wide receiver. I will grant you that Texas Tech's center was a travesty - arguably the worst single O-Lineman we've seen all year - but the center's quality of play doesn't account for a 300 pounder making tackles downfield. Someone got in Kheeston's ear and reminded him that the NFL reached a collective bargaining agreement.
Ashton Dorsey gave us some nice snaps and though I'd like to give him grief for the personal foul on Doege it's almost irresistible to not take that extra half step and level the guy. Barking Carnival absolves you, Ashton.
Some nice snaps from Cedric Reed late and Dude, What Happened To My Reggie Wilson?
When the DL is playing that well, it must be pretty fun to play LB. We played a lot of nickel, so Acho and Robinson got the bulk of the snaps. Acho was really solid. 13 tackles and cleaned up a lot of garbage. He has been our best and most consistent LB. Robinson was nice and his ability to cover space and take away early options in the passing game is a significant, often uncredited, strength of his. Scratch n sniff stickers all around. Steve Edmond got some late snaps and he continues to be a violent human being.
Texas Tech picked on Quandre Diggs directly and Blake Gideon indirectly on some early drives, but Little Giant kept competing (should've had a pick in the end zone on a beautiful break on the ball) and Gideon kept the Red Raider offense in front of him and racked up double digit tackles. We basically played layered 2 and 3 deep coverage for most of the game and allowed Tech to dink around. When the opposing offense averages 9.5 yards per completion, it's pretty clear what's going on.
To put it another way - Tech dropped back to pass 60+ times. They hit exactly two passes longer than 20 yards, one of them a busted coverage on ESPN hero Adam James. There's your game summary in a nutshell. I could have saved myself 1300 words.
Carrington Byndom's split of a double team on a WR screen to inflict a five yard loss is one of the most impressive defensive plays I've seen in college football all season. Carrington has exceeded my wildest expectations and he's a 1st Team All Big 12 cornerback. I'm fairly certain that the media is dimly unaware of that fact.
Adrian Phillips is back, played well, but I thought we purposefully limited his snaps in order to let him come back from his injury.
If you're not noticing Kenny Vaccaro much, it's because he's locking up the guy he's on and QBs won't test him. It's a good thing. Kenny still racked up 9 tackles supporting the run and he has been such a consistent, reliable player for us.
I saw a lot of late minutes from Thompson and White and it's nice to be able to develop depth in a blowout.
We've moved several guys to kick coverage, most notably Keenan Robinson, and it has made a difference. Our kick coverage was dominant in this game (Tech averaged 18.7 per KO return) and I didn't see Tech start past their 25. Though our kick returns didn't materialize, Fozzy keeps running them with intent and I hope teams are foolish enough to continue kicking to him. Cap'n will truck someone and house it. Through most of the year, we've been heavy on punt block and thus minimized the pressure on our punt returners, but it looks to me as if we're starting to get some confidence in our returner's ability to affect field position. Quandre's 22 yard punt return looked good and I think we'll see some more opportunities. If they start fumbling again, it's back to default punt block mode.
Justin Tucker cooly nailed a 48 yarder like a lay-up and as much as we lament his kickoff depth, he has been nails all season as a field goal kicker. Review the LSU-Bama game and you'll know it's not something to be taken for granted.
We've made a big turnaround in some key metrics and what was a glaring early season weakness is now trending towards a moderate strength. Winning the battle for hidden yards and what that means to field position will be key in our ability to close out at 3-1 or 4-0 down the stretch.
I was pleased with the special teams and generally happy with the defense, particularly given the game context in which we chose to play.
Missouri presents a completely different challenge from Texas Tech. The right side of their OL is good, they have a quality dual threat QB with the physicality to carry it 20-25 times but enough passing ability to hit an open man, the best, most explosive RB in the Big 12, the best TE in the league by a mile, and WRs who, though not spectacular, are good enough to hurt you if you get obsessed with their run game.
And if, after that description, you ask - well, how is it that Mizzou is 4-5 then? - my response is: I was hoping you'd tell me.