Is The 2018 Texas Tech Defense Being Over-Hyped?

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 4: Justin Silmon #32 of the Kansas State Wildcats breaks away for a big gain against the Texas Tech Red Raiders defense during the first half of the game on November 4, 2017 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 4: Justin Silmon #32 of the Kansas State Wildcats breaks away for a big gain against the Texas Tech Red Raiders defense during the first half of the game on November 4, 2017 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2018 season, there is more buzz about the Texas Tech defense than in the past decade which makes one wonder if a defense that was in the bottom third in the nation last year is being over-hyped.

The two biggest narratives surrounding the Texas Tech football team this summer revolve around the idea that Kliff Kingsbury’s job is once again on the line and that if he is to save his job, it will be the defense that will be his saving grace.

While no one can argue the validity of the first narrative, it is fair to wonder whether the 2018 Texas Tech defense will be as good any many are predicting.  Make no mistake, this year’s defense has the pieces in place to be the most talented Red Raider defense since 2008.  In fact, Tech led the Big 12 with three members of the preseason All-Big 12 defense when those selections were announced last month.

And many around the nation are believing the hype. The “Dallas Morning News” predicts that Tech will have a top-5 scoring defense in the Big 12 while many other news outlets are touting the improvements David Gibbs has made  so freely that one could be led to think that the Red Raiders are about to field a defense similar to the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Even the notoriously blunt Texas Tech defensive coordinator seems optimistic has he frequently uses #thingshavechanged  when he tweets about his defense.  But while there is no doubt the defense is far better than the 2015 and 2016 units, which finished last and second-to-last in the nation in total defense, is it foolish for Red Raider fans to believe that this year’s defense will be anything other than mediocre at best?

The harsh reality is that while the 2017 defense improved 25 spots in total defense last year, it was still one of the worst defenses in the country.  Tech ranked just 104th in America in total defense, behind No. 102 Texas State and No. 103 Akron.   But Tech did finish ahead of three Big 12 teams, West Virginia (No. 108), Baylor (No. 111) and Kansas (No. 117).

Where the Texas Tech defense made the most strides was in two areas that have long been weaknesses.  Tech rose from No. 128 in the nation against the run in 2016 to No. 62 last year.  That was an improvement of 118 yards per game in the span of one season.

Additionally, Tech became one of the best teams in the nation at taking the ball away in 2017 ranking tied for No. 6 with 29 takeaways.  But there is no guarantee that turnovers are able to be replicated on a yearly basis as a recent ESPN article explains, there may be more random luck to turnovers than anything else.

In fairness, Gibbs’ defenses almost always rank near the top of the nation in turnovers forced (with the exception of the awful 2016 and 2016 seasons) but a closer look at last year’s results show that a bit of fortune fell Tech’s way.

The Red Raiders recovered 15 fumbles last year, one shy of the school record.  Most of them were not forced by stripping the ball away from the ballcarrier (as Eli Howard did when he sacked Houston QB Kyle Allen) but rather by offensive ineptitude as was the case against Arizona State when the Sun Devils simply botched the snap in their own end of the field.

And while Tech’s defense was better in run defense and in takeaways, it was still very bad in some critical categories.  Tech was one of the worst teams in the country against the pass ranking No. 122 overall by allowing 282.2 yards per game.

Gibbs’ team was also poor on third down.  By allowing opponents to convert on over 42% of their third downs, Tech was in the bottom quarter of the nation ranking No. 92 overall.

Getting to the QB was also a problem.  Tech’s 18 team sacks were only good enough to rank No. 111 overall.  That total was the lowest of any Big 12 team.   Similarly, Tech ranked just No. 124 overall in tackles for loss with 54 on the season.

In other words, there is no reason to believe that this year’s Texas Tech defense is destined to be a top-50 unit in the nation.  Yes, it is exciting to return ten of eleven starters and 19 or 22 players from last year’s two-deep rotation but that group likely isn’t not talented enough to be a dominant force capable of carrying the team all season, especially in the Big 12.

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Fans would be wise to expect the Texas Tech defense to be solid, which two years ago would have seemed miraculous.  But this defense is not going to be able to make up for an ineffective offense.

It will still be imperative for a re-tooled Texas Tech offense, which is replacing last year’s QB and three starting receivers, to be as productive as we have come to expect Kliff Kingsbury offenses to be. While the defense was able to put up a fight last year, it still allowed five opponents to score over 40 points and eight opponents to score at least 30.

Keep in mind that David Gibbs has said since he arrived on campus that his goal was to put together a defense that was able to take the ball away a couple times per game.  Gibbs has never believed that he could build a shut-down defense at Texas Tech, not in the the Big12.

His theory is that if he can get the ball back to his offense a few extra times per game, that should be good enough to win.  That theory could be tested like never before in 2018, especially if the Red Raider offense is not up to par.

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The Red Raider defense should be better but not dominant this year.  Any kind of finish in the top 75 of the country would be another huge step forward.

But be wary of expecting Tech to throw out an SEC or Big 10 caliber defense.  That is not what Gibbs has been trying to assemble and, despite the obvious improvements, that is not what we will see in 2018.