The Texas Tech Defense could dominate against Oklahoma

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Willie Sykes
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Willie Sykes /

The Texas Tech defense is emerging this season as a certified asset, and against Oklahoma on Saturday, expect business as usual.

The Texas Tech defense has been earning high praises this season, even from fans of teams outside the conference. It’s hands-down the most improved component of the Kliff Kingsbury era, and even surpasses defenses of Texas Tech teams in the past.

Although most fans can’t see it, Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek’s production in the passing game is stride-by-stride comparable to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. Penalties, turnovers, and complacency while leading are why Texas Tech isn’t sitting at 6-0, but for the Sooners–tonight’s opponent–its offense has been its 6-1 meal ticket.

This puts the Texas Tech defense in an advantageous position, because Tech finally has the tools to stop a shootout. In last year’s loss, Oklahoma and Texas Tech amassed 1,708 yards of total offense, and 125 combined points. Each team had 854 yards of offense, and Texas Tech lost by just a single point.

Last season, both defenses struggled, but Oklahoma registered nine quarterback hurries, compared to Tech, which had just a single hurried pass. While the Sooners have a good offensive line, Texas Tech ranks 38th in the nation in rushing defense, so Oklahoma running backs will face their toughest challenge this season against the Red Raider defense. To put it into perspective, Iowa State defeated Oklahoma 38-31 back on Oct. 7., where the Cyclones shut the Sooners out in the second-half, minus a single rushing touchdown by Dimitri Flowers. In Texas Tech’s 31-13 loss against Iowa State a few weeks ago, the Texas Tech defense shut the Cyclones out in the second-half, minus a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

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If the “806D” can keep the Sooners off the field, it gives the offense an opportunity to make moves happen. While the passing production this season has gone down slightly, Shimonek is still stride-by-stride as productive in the passing game as Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield has completed 149 passes out of 207 attempts, for 2,347 yards, 19 touchdowns, two interceptions, for a 73.8 percent quarterback rating. Shimonek has completed 195 passes of 275 attempts, for 2,341 yards, 18 touchdowns, five interceptions, for a 70.9 percent passer rating.

While the decision on running back Justin Stockton’s availability against Oklahoma is still to be determined, he leads Texas Tech in the rushing category, averaging 6.9 yards-per-carry, which is more than Oklahoma Sooners’ leading rusher Trey Sermon, who is averaging, at 5.7 yards-per-carry.

In terms of receiving, Keke Coutee is Texas Tech’s leading player, with 53 receptions over 744 yards, and six touchdowns, averaging 106.3 yards-per-game in the air. Oklahoma’s leading receiver, Mark Andrews, has just 30 catches, for 520 yards, three touchdowns, and is averaging 74.3 yards-per-game.

With the key matchup on offense already discussed, look for both offenses to approach the game plan with a balanced playbook. The coaching ties between Tech and Oklahoma run deep, but this is the first time Texas Tech’s defense has overshadowed the offense in terms of production, so there’s a possibility we could see the end of the “defense optional” shootout, but the question remains, which defense strikes first?

The Texas Tech defense has allowed just 134.9 rushing yards-per-game in 2017, which is a significant improvement from the 230-plus rushing yards it allowed per game in 2016. Texas Tech ranks among the national leaders in turnover margin, where they currently rank No. 15 nationally in turnovers, and second in the Big 12. Texas Tech also ranks No. 12 in the nation in forced turnovers, at 16, which includes nine interceptions, and seven fumbles. In the same category, the Sooners rank 86th in the nation, with just four fumbles recovered, and three interceptions.

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Texas Tech’s offensive line has a big test in Norman this evening, but if it can find a rhythm, Shimonek will have time to go through his reads and make plays. Given how soft the Oklahoma secondary has been this season, it could make for a return of the Air Raid, but it will be largely dependent on how often the defense gets Baker Mayfield & Co. off the football field.