The Longhorn Defense was bent but never truly broken in Lubbock, allowing an unimpressive 441 yards and 25 first downs, but also forced Texas Tech to kick four red zone field goals (Carrington Byndom blocking the last), never allowed a play longer than 25 yards, and held Texas Tech to 22 points in Lubbock - 18.5 points under the Red Raider season average. I would struggle to call it good defense, but there was a clear plan and a shared unit intent that has been missing since the California Holiday Bowl.
It demonstrated what Texas is capable of when we don't engage in ridiculous run game scheming, players like Kendall Thompson show natural progress (until his special teams concussion), and Carrington Byndom shows up to crush red zone dreams and chew bubble gum. And he ran out of bubble gum in the 2nd quarter.
Texas still didn't tackle all that well, there were two or three strange linebacker miscues (Edmond, primarily) that created seams for Tech runners, our pass coverage was an occasionally maddening bend-but-don't-break, and our blitz was worked over by the Tech screen game when we went to that well too often, but Texas played defense in depth, stunted our DL and LBs about 75% less than our midseason baseline, and consistently kept the ball in front of the defense, even at the expense of allowing some Tech yardage, in exchange for preventing single play scores.
Tech also helped us a lot by erasing some of their better play calls with penalties and not quite grasping our ineptitude on 4th down until late in the game.
In other words, we played defense the way average defenses correctly play - don't give up big plays, make the offense earn it, trust that college offenses can't consistently go 80 yards in 14 plays, and treat field goals as victories. What I've been advocating since Ole Miss. If you'll forgive my Swahili, we fucked up the defense in a number of areas before the season, the install never stuck, so stop the bleeding, create a very basic identity, and build from there.
Tommy Tuberville said it best in the postgame press conference:
Right you are, Tommy.
Most of all, our guys played hard, and though that's an expectation we should have no matter the scheme, in the real world, troops quickly develop morale problems when their general keeps sending them over the top into the teeth of the machine guns. A strategic withdrawal and some attacks on supply lines are appreciated.
A quick word on blitzing:
It did some good early, but as usual, Diaz got a bit too blitz happy, particularly on long downs. Tech caught on in the late 2nd quarter and it nearly swung the game until Carrington Byndom put on his superman cape and Tech helped by firing several rounds into its own feet, Yosemite Sam style.
- Right after Okafor's sack (our only one of the game) in the late 2nd quarter, we put Tech into 3rd and 18. Diaz blitzes a DB off of the wide side of the field again, Tech has numbers outside to the hash, and they throw an easy WR screen/hitch. Tech gains 15 (they may have scored without a great hustle tackle by Tevin Jackson), puts us in 4th and 3, and Tuberville thankfully doesn't understand that he has a 80% likelihood of converting that down and distance at midfield. Tech punts and we live to fight another day. But that blitz on 3rd and a mile was not lost on Tech.
- Next Tech possession, they drive to our 20. An illegal substitution puts them at 1st and 15. As a DC, you should be looking to 2nd and 10+. We blitz. Tech owns it with a screen call to their RB that would have put them inside our 5, but Le'Raven Clark kills them with a stupid chop block (that didn't help the screen). Tech curiously runs twice, Texas rushes only 4 on 3rd and long while dropping into a deep dime zone, and Texas makes the easy 6 yard gain tackle on the checkdown to Kenny Williams. Field goal. I'm not anti-blitz. But when the down and distance favor you, why work against your own game plan?
- Late 3rd quarter, Tech goes for it on 4th and 8 on our 41. Fire zone blitz, bringing primarily DBs and LBs, while dropping a DT and DE into coverage. So clever! Except that it's an inside blitz, Doege stands strong in the pocket, we get no push with our smalls, and he flips it to a wide open Darrin Moore for 24 yards. Closest man in coverage? DE Reggie Wilson. Diggs makes the tackle. Tech scores a TD two plays later. Want to know how we got them to 4th and 8? On 3rd down, we only brought 3 men, dropped into a deep zone blanketing the middle of the field and the average armed Doege triple hops a 15 yard out to the sideline.
This is basic stuff. Fritz Shurmur Coaching Team Defense 101. He's a short QB with an average arm facing 3rd or 4th and long. Why are you giving him easy throws downfield or behind the LOS?
I bring it up not to pick nits, but to point out that we still have room for improvement if this is indeed our new direction.
And given the overall game philosophy contrasted with some individual calls on key long downs, I believe we are running a job share at DC right now with Diaz and Akina. Diaz may be making the calls, but Akina is prompting some of them. And vetoing others. Can't prove it. But that's my sense of things.
We played without Ashton Dorsey, who has been our most consistent interior defender, and stood up fairly well to the Tech running game for the reasons Tuberville cites as well as the fact that Tech's OL isn't very physical. I thought Desmond Jackson was our best guy inside (5 tackles, drew a crucial holding call on Gallington to erase a TD). I like that we played our DEs in a two point stance as it helped a bit in recognition, but we didn't get much pressure. Okafor had an excellent sack, but we needed more from him - particularly when Doege did some intermediate work against our zone. Reed and Wilson are proving better against the run that expected, but were negligible pass rushing forces.
Did Diaz notice that we gave up fewer yards per carry and played our best run defense of the year since Wyoming despite getting half of the tackles for loss to which we're accustomed (Texas average 10 tfl a game, had 5 against Tech). If that surprises you, you ain't been reading Barking Carnival. When the opposing team's longest run is 25 yards instead of 75 or 95, it makes a big difference.
Kendall Thompson had one of his better efforts of the year until his injury. A really nice pressure on Doege early and a sure tackle in space on a check down were his best attaboys. Edmond was responsible for two big Tech runs with puzzling reads (it almost looked as if he was told to run to a gap and ignore the blocking cues), but he tackled better and he showed well again when dropped him into a zone. He doesn't have great range, but he does possess legitimate football instincts there. Demarco Cobbs blitz monkey'd, which is his best current role.
Tevin Jackson had a nice blitz pressure and the great downfield tackle I discussed above. He's more athlete than pure LB and I'd love to see what he'd be capable of as a 3-4 OLB. Dalton Santos played after Thompson went down and isn't ready for primetime.
Carrington Byndom is my Defensive MVP. He singlehandedly cost Tech 5 points by blocking the field goal and swatting a two point conversion playing textbook ball over man. You can probably add another score given his red zone D manned up on Darrin Moore and Eric Ward. He spent 90% of the game on an island and came up huge with 3 big pass break ups and 5 solo tackles.
Quandre Diggs got a lot of help over the top and I thought he can play better, though he did tackle solidly. Gave up a key PI call and also conceded a number of 10-12 yard routes in front of him. I understand some of that is tactical in nature, but he also had Josh Turner covering him on several of those plays. That's the problem with switching some tactical horses late in the season - he's playing cautiously, not quite sure when the scheme does or doesn't have his back.
Turner played another solid game. He's not a physical player yet, but he's willing to mix it up and he won't concede anything over the top.
Duke Thomas got some heavy play and did some good things, but had one notable missed tackle. Stuff you'd expect from a freshman.
Texas finally coached and played defense as it is instead of what it wishes to be. Despite the yardage allowed and six Red Raider trips to the red zone, Texas Tech only managed 22 points. And Texas managed a very nice win in Lubbock.