Texas Tech Football: Defense Keys Route Of Eastern Washington

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 31: Dakota Allen
LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 31: Dakota Allen /

The Texas Tech defense stole the show in Saturday’s 56-10 season opening victory over Eastern Washington.

Fight the urge to downplay what we saw yesterday to Jones Stadium.  Leave that to those that did not watch the game.  Those who will look at the fact that the Texas Tech football team held an FCS opponent to 10 points and shrug their shoulders will not understand the level of dominance David Gibbs’ defense displayed.

Against a program that has hung at least 40 points on Washington State, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State in the not too distant past, the Red Raider defense made a statement.  The unit that features as many as ten newcomers to the rotation allowed just 301 yards to an offense that averaged 529 per game a season ago and took the first step towards letting the nation know that defense is once again part of the Red Raider way.

Sure, Texas Tech has made a habit of thrashing FCS opponents in season openers but this performance felt and looked different.  In 2015, Tech gave up 637 yards and 45 points to Sam Houston while last year and a year ago it surrendered 370 yards and 17 points to Stephen F. Austin.

But against an EWU program that has knocked off Washington State and Oregon State in the past five years, Texas Tech looked more dominant than it has in any season opener in the Kliff Kingsbury era.

Tech allowed the Eagles just 19 first downs and held QB Gage Gubrud to 207 yards passing.  Last season, he threw for over 5,000 yards and was held below 207 yards just once.  Against Washington State, which won 10 games last year, he amassed 474 yards in an upset in Pullman, Washington.

Gibbs had to be pleased with the fact that his defense forced three turnovers along the way.  Since taking over as Texas Tech defensive coordinator in 2015, Gibbs has preached the importance of taking the ball away but has seen little in the way of results.

However, it took only one play for his 2017 defense to record its first takeaway.  Following a three-and-out by the Red Raider offense to open the game, Texas Tech recovered a fumble by EWU receiver Nic Sblendorio on the Eagles’ first play.

Though the offense did not capitalize on the takeaway, the play seemed to set the tone for the entire game.  The Texas Tech defense was locked in and ready to redeem itself after finishing 2016 as the worst statistical defense in America.

Later interceptions by defensive back Willie Sykes and defensive end Tony Jones gave Tech a 3-0 win in the all-important turnover battle and helped the Red Raiders overcome a sluggish start on the other side of the ball.

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Tech scored just once in the opening quarter, on a Justin Stockton touchdown run, and punted on its first three possessions (two of which ended in sacks of QB Nick Shimonek).  However, unlike in years past, the defense gave the offense some time to find its rhythm.

Three veterans, junior safety Ja’Shawn Johnson, junior linebacker Dakota Allen and sophomore linebacker Jordyn Brooks led the defensive attack.  Johnson and Brooks each finished with a team-high seven tackles while Allen recorded six.

Newcomer Tony Jones was also a force.  The 2017 JUCO transfer had a sack to go along with his interception and provided hope that he could help the historically poor Texas Tech pass rush.

Meanwhile, the revamped secondary also impressed.  Safety Vaughnte Dorsey and corners Octavius Morgan and Jaylon Lane bullied the EWU receiving corps all afternoon.  Along with Johnson and sophomore corners Douglas Coleman and Desmon Smith, the three JUCO additions to the secondary were all over the Eagles’ pass-catchers often causing them to drop passes with bone-jarring hits.

Not to be forgotten is the work of the Texas Tech defensive line.  The group that gave up 238 yards per game on the ground last season yielded virtually nothing to the Eagles.

Tech allowed just 81 yards on 36 carries, good for 2.3 yards per rush.  Last season, Tech allowed opponents to gain 5.7 yards per carry.

In all fairness, one dominating performance against an outmanned opponent does not signal a defensive renaissance on the South Plains.  There will be tougher challenges ahead for the Red Raider defense and the skeptics are justified in their pessimism.

However, the 2017 Texas Tech defense is a new unit filled with players that were not part of the problem over the last two years.  Gone are the woe-is-me attitudes that seemed to plague so many over the years.  Gone too are the entitled and under-performing former blue-chip recruits who are were interested in their social media following than in developing into solid players.

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They have been replaced by hungry and talented defenders that are ready to forge their own identity.  So Texas Tech fans must judge this defense by what we see on the field and not look at it through the jaded lens of years past.  And for at least one week, what we have seen is a big and physical defensive group that is exciting and cause for optimism in 2017.