By letting Todd Orlando leave for USC and deciding to roll with Keith Patterson as defensive coordinator for at least another year, the Texas Tech football program missed an opportunity to improve.
Defensive coordinator “A” has been in charge of a Power 5 defense for three seasons. His teams have had an average finish in total defense of 68.3 in the nation. Defensive coordinator “B” has led a Power 5 defense for seven seasons with an average total defense finish of 100.3. Texas Tech football fans, who would you rather have at the helm of the 2020 Red Raider defense?
For about a week-and-a-half, both Todd Orlando (coordinator “A”) and Keith Patterson (coordinator “B”) were on the Red Raiders’ coaching staff under Matt Wells. But now that Orlando, who was hired to coach safeties after being fired by Tom Herman and the Texas Longhorns, is reportedly set to become defensive coordinator at USC, it’s fair to believe that Wells kept the wrong coach.
Full disclosure, I despite Keith Patterson’s approach to playing defense. It makes no sense to run a scheme that puts defensive backs on an island as the front seven blitzes down after critical passing down when the safeties and corners one is asking to play man coverage are well below average by college football standards, yet that is what Patterson decided to do this season.
The result was the No. 127 total defense in the nation and a No. 125 finish out of 130 teams against the pass. The simple fact is that in the high-octane offensive wonderland that is the Big 12, the top defensive teams are the ones that try to keep everything in front of the secondary and force teams to drive 10 plays to score. Iowa State, Baylor, and TCU all play a form of the cloud coverage scheme, which has proven to be the best way to slow the spread attacks in this conference.
Playing a high-risk blitz-happy system has never worked in the modern Big 12 and it won’t ever work for Texas Tech because the types of elite pass rushers and coverage players required to run such a scheme are going to Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Columbus, and Norman…not Lubbock.
And spare me the excuse that the talent he was working with was the only problem. While I fully admit that Patterson was somewhat handcuffed by the roster he inherited, with Jordyn Brooks, Riko Jeffers, Broderick Washington, Douglas Coleman, Zech McPhearson, and Eli Howard, he had at least six players that would have been considered among this team’s ten best players when the season began.
You could have also made the case for Adrian Frye to be included in that conversation as he was coming off a 2018 showing that saw him earn Freshman All-American and first-team All-Big 12 honors. But Patterson made the decision to move an all-conference corner to safety and the results were disastrous as Frye was far-and-away the 2019 team’s worst defensive back.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator David Yost had to start his third-string QB for eight games, went through the final three games of the season with only two scholarship running backs (both of whom were playing through injuries), lost his best offensive lineman, Jack Anderson, after four games, and saw his top returning receiver, T.J. Vasher, suspended for two games. Still, he managed to put together the No. 11 offense in the country.
The difference between Yost and Patterson wasn’t the talent available. Neither was playing with a legitimate collection of Power 5 talent.
Rather, what Yost did that Patterson refused to do was change his philosophy to best suit the ability of the players at his disposal. When starting QB Alan Bowman went down, Yost essentially abandoned the lightning-quick tempo approach that he prefers because unlike Bowman, Jett Duffey was not ready to make the necessary reads and calls at the line required to get the ball snapped in the first 10-15 seconds of the play clock.
Instead, Duffey had to get all the calls from the coaches and then relay them to the rest of the offense, which significantly slowed the offense’s pace. Still, it led to the most productive season of his career with 18 touchdown passes and only five picks.
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Patterson repeatedly asked his players to do what they just weren’t able to do, blitz the QB and play one-on-one coverage. That was one reason that the Red Raider defense was atrocious in third-and-long situations.
As for Orlando, he didn’t impress in 2019 either. His defense ranked just 97th in yards allowed but keep in mind that he lost eight starters from the previous season and then suffered numerous injuries to key players with seven members of the two-deep on his side of the ball on the injury report ahead of the 2019 Alamo Bowl.
Some might point out, and rightly so, that Herman had an advantage over Patterson in terms of the talent that he had at his disposal in Austin. There’s no debating that fact.
But keep in mind that in 2014, his Utah State defense ranked 31st nationally in total defense and in 2013, the Aggies were 12th in that regard with Orlando coordinating the scheme. In 2018, his lone season coordinating the defense for Wells at Utah State, Patterson could not match what Orlando did in Logan as his defense, while solid, finished 51st nationally. When coordinating the defenses at the same program, under the same head coach, Orlando had appreciably better results as well.
There’s a reason that Todd Orlando was considered one of the hottest assistant coaches in the nation in 2017 when he followed Herman from Houston to UT. Has Keith Patterson ever been that coveted? Certainly not.
In 2017, Orlando was a candidate for the head coach position at SMU and has had flirtations with Texas A&M and Florida in recent years. That suggests he’s far more highly-coveted than Patterson has ever been.
Many Red Raider fans may be playing the old card of continuity as a reason for keeping Patterson. After seeing this program have seven different defensive coordinators in seven years from 2009-15, it’s understandable why that belief is prevalent.
But Patterson’s consistency as a DC has come in the form of defensives that have routinely finished in the bottom third of the nation. There’s nothing to suggest that he’s magically going to figure out how to field a top-75 defense in Lubbock, where even good defensive coordinators have seen their reputations die (see David Gibbs).
So having an obvious upgrade drop right into Wells’ lap seemed like Tech had finally received a break from the football gods. But of course, this program once again spit the bit when an opportunity to make a defensive improvement.
Is Orlando the second coming of Bill Belichick or Bear Bryant? Of course not. He’s got warts on his resume, especially after this fall.
But the reality is that he’s been a much better defensive coordinator than Keith Patterson. Yet for some reason, he’s the coach Matt Wells let leave for USC. That seems like a missed opportunity to improve what remains the weakest aspect of the Texas Tech football program.