Texas Tech football: The biggest myth about the 2019 Red Raiders

TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Quarterback Khalil Tate #14 of the Arizona Wildcats fumbles the football as linebackers Riko Jeffers #6 and Jordyn Brooks #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders recover during the first half of the NCAAF game at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 14: Quarterback Khalil Tate #14 of the Arizona Wildcats fumbles the football as linebackers Riko Jeffers #6 and Jordyn Brooks #1 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders recover during the first half of the NCAAF game at Arizona Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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It was easy to see that the 2019 Texas Tech football team was a poor team but one of the aspects of the game that the coaching staff hung its hat on was actually a myth.

This year’s Texas Tech football team was as frustrating to watch as any in recent memory.  Not bad enough to be blown out on a weekly basis but not good enough to win close games that were there for the taking, the latest version of Red Raider football was yet another that caused fans everywhere to lose sleep, hair, and possibly their religion as we watched a 4-8 dud of a season unfold.

But though we never knew just how this year’s team would let us down, we could usually expect something bad to happen.  On the other hand, when looking for positives, we were all sold a bit of a lie in regards to what this team did well.

We heard each week that this was a defense that could at least hang its hat on forcing turnovers if nothing else.

The reality is that such a notion was nothing more than a myth propagated by a coaching staff searching for answers and an identity.

Matt Wells knew his defense was atrocious.  We all did.  But he had to say something positive about that side of the ball when speaking to the media so he hung on to one of the only positive stats one could find about this year’s defense; that Tech was among the Big 12 leaders in turnover margin.

It isn’t that he was being untruthful.  Entering the final Saturday of the regular season, the Red Raiders were second to Baylor in the Big 12 in turnover margin in conference games at +5.  Overall, the Red Raiders finished with 19 takeaways and 15 giveaways for a respectable +4 margin.

But the myth comes about when this coaching staff tried to use that stat to prove to us that this defense, and more importantly, this defensive scheme is effective.  That’s simply not true.

The problem is that the Red Raiders were not capable of taking the ball away from opponents on a consistent basis.  In fact, nine of the 16 turnovers Tech forced against Big 12 teams came in two games.

That means that outside of the two wins against Oklahoma State and West Virginia in which Tech averaged 4.5 takeaways per game, Tech averaged just one takeaway per game in conference play.  That included forcing no turnovers in two of the final three games (TCU and Texas) and just one in the other game in that stretch, at home against Kansas State.

For the season, there were four games in which Tech did not generate a takeaway.  That’s one-third of the schedule.

Elite defenses take the ball away on a weekly basis.  When the game is on the line, that’s when they seem to make a play.

That’s not what this defense did in 2019, not that anyone thought that it was elite.  But we are being sold on the concept that Keith Patterson’s ultra-aggressive, blitz-happy scheme will generate the volume of takeaways needed to excuse the huge chunks of yards that it yields when the defensive coordinator puts his vulnerable defensive backs in one-on-one coverage.

Asking DBs the caliber of the ones Tech has been relying on this year, which includes a pair of freshman in Alex Hogan and Dadrion Taylor, who were not yet ready for huge roles in the Big 12 and the latter of which is playing corner for the first time in his life after being exclusively a RB in high school, is akin to asking a firefighter to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun.

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Wouldn’t it be nice to have a defense that could come up with stops the old fashioned way, by keeping the offense from going ten yards on any set of four downs?  Thinking that you can build a winning defense based on the premise of taking the ball away just isn’t wise.  We saw David Gibbs come to town with a reputation for doing just that at Houston but in the Big 12, his defenses were never anything better than any those of any other DC that has run through Lubbock and failed over the last 20 years.

In the end, turnovers are more random than other aspects of the game.  Teams can’t force opposing QBs to throw the ball to defensive backs nor can you guarantee that a fumbled ball will bounce your way.  Look no further than the 2017 TCU game in Lubbock when the Frogs fumbled the ball six times but lost only one.

Sure, teams can try to create turnovers and should do as much as possible to take the ball away but to do so at the expense of other aspects of solid defense is a fool’s errand.  Just look at the top defenses in the Big 12.

Three of the top four teams in the league in regard to total defense, OU, TCU, and Iowa State sit 9th, 5th, and 7th respectively in the conference in turnover margin heading into Saturday’s action.  In other words, the best defenses don’t simply rely on taking the ball away.  Rather, the more pragmatic way to play defense is to make teams sustain drives time and time again knowing that eventually, most college players will make a drive-killing mistake somewhere along the way.

So this offseason, when you hear this Red Raider coaching staff talk about the importance of creating turnovers, realize it for being the myth that it is.  That’s not how you build a winning defense.

They will point to the fact that they were among the Big 12 leaders in turnover margin but informed fans will know that the 2019 team was not any better at taking the ball away from opponents than any other Big 12 team outside of two days when two Big 12 QBs had awful games in terms of ball security.

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The average Big 12 team took the ball away 1.3 times per game.  Outside of the OSU and WVU games, Tech averaged 0.8 takeaways per game.   Don’t buy into the myth.  Nothing about this year’s defense was any good, not even the one aspect of the game that is being sold to this fan base.