Texas Tech football struggling with red zone defense

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 11: Jordyn Brooks #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders makes a pass interception against Artayvious Lynn #88 of the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 11, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 11: Jordyn Brooks #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders makes a pass interception against Artayvious Lynn #88 of the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 11, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

In the modern era of college football, red zone defense is more important than ever but that’s one area where the Texas Tech football team has struggled in 2019.

As the game of college football continues to look more and more like a video game with offenses running wild, being able to force opponents to settle field goals or coming up with takeaways in the red zone is more critical than ever.  But in 2019, that’s an area where the Texas Tech football team has struggled through three games.

Thus far, Tech and Kansas State are the only teams in the Big 12 that have failed to keep an opponent off the scoreboard after entering the red zone.   And given that Tech has allowed scores on all five defensive possessions to reach its 20 and Kansas State has had only three such opportunities, one could say that the Red Raiders are the worst in the conference at this critical component of the game.

Now, it is fair to point out that Tech has given up an extremely low number of red zone opportunities.  In fact, KSU is the only team in the league with fewer opponent red zone drives.  Keep that in mind, because we will circle back to that factor in a moment.

Thus far, the average success rate for Big 12 opponents to score inside the 20 is 85.7%.  And 58% of those scores have been touchdowns.  Tech has allowed three touchdowns and two field goals but this week, they may have that many  red zone possessions in one game.

In the first week of the season, Tech allowed Montana State only two snaps in the red zone.  In the third quarter, the Bobcats hit a 37-yard field goal after getting the ball to the Tech 20.

A week later, UTEP also got to the red zone just once.  In the fourth quarter, the Miners reached the Red Raider 13 but were pushed back to 27 on a Thomas Leggett sack.  The result was a successful 45-yard field goal, which must be considered a somewhat successful defensive stand, especially given that Tech was playing its second and third-team defenders at that point in the game.

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But we began to see some struggles form the defense in week three.  That’s when Arizona went 3-3 in the red zone with all three scores being touchdowns.

In the second quarter, Khaili Tate hit Stanley Berryhill III for a 12-yard TD to tie the game at 7-7.  In the third quarter, Gary Brighthill scored from a yard out to put Arizona up 21-14 and in the 4th, Tate ran it in from the two-yard-line for the final score in the 28-14 Wildcat victory.

So what do we make of this?  As with most things in life, it depends on how one perceives the world.  The positive side of the equation shows that Tech is doing a great job of keeping teams from even getting to the red zone.

But that optimism must be tempered by the fact that the first two opponents of the season were offensively inept.  When Tech faced a real offense in Tucson, the action in the red zone picked up.

The pessimist will also note that this defense is giving up some big plays, two of which went for touchdowns meaning that the opponent didn’t even have to worry about playing well inside the 20.

The only touchdown that Montana State scored was a 31-yard TD pass in the second quarter.  On that play, there was a miscommunication between safeties Adrian Frye and Douglas Coleman who allowed a receiver to get beyond them down the middle of the field.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Tate broke off an 84-yard TD run in the second quarter to put his team up 13-7.  On that play, Arizona caught Tech in the wrong defensive call and capitalized.

But there have been other big plays allowed such as a 47-yard pass from Tate to Cedric Peterson to set Arizona up at the Tech 4 or Montana State’s biggest play of the game, a 35-yard pass on 3rd-and-11 two plays before the Bobcat touchdown.

This week, Tech faces the most explosive offense in the nation.  OU leads the country in total offense and is 4th overall in yards per completion at 17.6.

Right now, Tech sits at No. 43 overall by allowing just 11.4 yards per reception but again, that has to be tempered given the lack of creativity and explosiveness of the first two offenses the Red Raiders faced.  Arizona’s Tate averaged 13.2 yards per completion in week three, which would place Tech at No. 95 in the nation.

This area of the game is especially worth monitoring Saturday in Norman.  If Tech has any hope of staying close enough with the Sooners to pull off an upset, the defense must not only keep the OU offense from scoring on tons of explosive plays but it must also force the home team to settle for field goals inside the 20.

Of course, taking the ball away a time or two inside the 20 would be great.  Tech is yet to do that in 2019 but that’s not uncommon among Big 12 teams as only Kansas has forced a red zone turnover this season.  The Jayhawks also lead the conference in red zone defense by allowing no points on 37.5% of opponents drives inside the 20 (they’ve benefitted greatly from their opponents missing 3 of 6 FG tries).

It will be worth keeping tabs on how often Tech forced OU to sustain a long drive in order to score and how often the Sooners have to settle for three.  What’s concerning is that Tech plays a brand of defense that is prone to be beaten deep.

Teams that have had success against the Sooners in years past are teams that have played extreme cloud coverages and kept the receivers from getting past them.  That’s not what Tech’s defense is designed to do as DC Keith Patterson wants to apply pressure and cause havoc.

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But if the Red Raiders can turn this game into a red zone contest by using the last 30 yards of the playing field as the place where it can make a stand, there will be some hope for a competitive game.  This is a time when field position will play a crucial role in more than just special teams and the only way the Red Raiders can survive the nation’s best offense is to make the Sooners earn everything  the hard way.