Did Texas Tech Finally Find a Defense?
Texas Tech's defense was inches away from getting off the field three times during Houston's first two offensive drives that led to a 14-0 lead for the Cougars on Saturday. On one other drive, the Red Raiders looked like they were getting dictated down the field.
Those three drives that ended in touchdowns netted Houston 204 yards. The other 11 drives that the Cougars had only added 47 yards to their totals. Six of those drives either lost yards or ended at zero yards gained.
That dominant second-half shutout of Houston by the Red Raiders defense led to Riko Jeffers and Reggie Pearson Jr. both being honored for their efforts. Jeffers was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, and Pearson earned the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week award.
Both Jeffers and Pearson recorded interceptions in the Red Raiders' 38-21 win over the Cougars. Jeffers took his pick back for six, tying the game for the first time since the Cougars' opening drive, while Pearson's interception stopped the bleeding and turned the momentum to the Texas Tech sidelines.
It was the first career interception for either of the two Red Raiders.
The question here is if the Red Raiders' defensive performance was more about Houston being bad, or Texas Tech being good. If you look at the broad numbers here, the Red Raiders only held one team to less than 300 total yards once last season, and that was Kansas to close the year out.
There are a few games for Texas Tech in 2020 where a solid defense poked its head through the ground before retreating again. The first was against Texas, where they held the Longhorns out of the endzone for 22 minutes of game time in the second half. That didn't end well, but the stretch was nice. They also held Baylor to three points over the final 26 minutes of game time during that contest, leading to a win. When Texas Tech beat West Virginia last season, the Mountaineers didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter.
I guess my point here is that while the Red Raiders defense as a whole was lackluster in 2020, there were glimpses of a dominant unit last year. I hesitate to use the word 'dominant' with the Red Raiders defense in 2021, but they certainly fit the bill for a large stretch on Saturday, forcing four turnovers and holding Houston to 21 points.
You can also see how deep this year's defense is compared to recent defensive units at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders linebackers go six deep on dudes who would have started most years before this season. Pearson, Eric Monroe and Muddy Waters are all legitimate defenders. The corners at Texas Tech are as deep as I remember.
I'm stopping just short of saying that this is the defense we've wanted in Lubbock for the past decade plus. There is legit talent and depth. It's a sight to see. The Red Raiders have long since had the offense to compete in the Big 12, even last year when so many things went wrong. If a defense shows up in Lubbock, it could be like when Happy Gilmore learned to putt.
The Red Raiders will have to build on their strong debut Houston this weekend when Texas Tech packs the Jones against FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin. Kickoff from Jones AT&T Stadium is slated for 6 p.m. on September 11th, with coverage provided via Big 12 Now on ESPN+.