DALLAS – Some years ago, a joke among media people was that Mike Leach didn’t know the names of his defensive players. Unfair and untrue perhaps, but it spoke to a larger point: Defense was a year-in, year-out sore spot for Texas Tech, so maybe Leach should have held himself more accountable for the shortcomings there.
Make it better or know the reason why, as my daddy would say.
Well, Leach’s successor knows the names of the guys on defense.
Tommy Tuberville also knows he needs to give them some help for the Red Raiders to get anywhere he deems worth going.
Texas Tech beat Northwestern 45-38 here Saturday while getting 552 yards and four touchdown passes and watching Northwestern score a season high. Without All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa, who’s been out for the year since Nov. 13, the Wildcats still gave Tech fits with freshmen QBs Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, the latter an all-purpose player who lined up at just about any skill position you can name.
In other words, the TicketCity Bowl looked not much different than Tech’s other recent bowl wins against the Big Ten. Minnesota (44-41 in overtime) and Michigan State (41-31) were mid-level teams, too, ones that the Red Raiders just outscored but didn’t shut down.
So how much big-picture stuff has changed? The Red Raiders reached the eight-win level for the ninth year in a row, and where do they go from here?
“We’ve got to have more speed,” Tuberville said. “We don’t have enough speed on this team on either side of the ball to win a championship. Obviously, we can win games, but that’s not what I’m here for.”
Yes, Tuberville used the “C” word freely again Saturday, fully aware the Raiders don’t play defense well enough or consistently knock out third-and-2 with enough muscle to win championships. He’s all over that.
The way Tuberville sees it, this team badly needs more defensive backs and linebackers. And being a disciple of Jimmy Johnson, he has to know better defensive linemen are a need, too.
“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to correct,” Tuberville said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re still a few years away from getting the type of personnel here that we need, but that has nothing to do with the effort these guys are giving. We won eight games this year on a lot of effort. They weren’t going to be denied.”
Maybe it’s unfair to hammer the defense for Saturday. The Red Raiders managed to lose all their defensive play callers in short order. Middle linebacker Bront Bird and safeties Brett Dewhurst and Cody Davis all went out with injuries for long stretches.
Bad news for a unit that lost its defensive coordinator six days before. With line coach Sam McElroy taking charge of the overall group, communication seemed OK, but only until early in the second quarter.
“It was good,” Tuberville said. “It wasn’t very good after we lost Bront Bird. That didn’t have anything to do with coaching, when you don’t have your main guy out there to get people lined up.
“We had to ditch about half our game plan, just to be able to get lined up. Then you (lose) Dewhurst and Cody Davis, safeties that are the guys behind you to get people lined up. It was a day of coaching.”
The Raiders got through it and got the win, which sort of mirrors how the season went. Make no mistake, Tuberville wanted the best in 2010 for his seniors’ sake. He didn’t want to shortchange Taylor Potts or Lyle Leong or Baron Batch or Colby Whitlock or Brian Duncan. Still, there was a certain just-get-through-it feel to the whole season.
“There midway through the season, people were wondering if we were going to win three or four games, much less eight,” Tuberville said. “Eight wins is a good start for this group. When we win a championship a few years from now, it’ll be because of what these seniors did in their last year.”
In Year One, the new Tech coaching staff was flying by the seat of the pants, trying to install its systems, implement its organizational structure off the field and still win games on Saturday.
Now that Tuberville has time to catch his breath, some Tech fans remain ever vigilant in the expectation that he will remake the Red Raiders as a run-first outfit. If he does, so be it, as long as they win. It’s a misconception regardless. Why hire Neal Brown if that were the agenda? What Tuberville wants is not to run more, but to run better.
“We still want to be 60 to 70 percent pass,” he said. “The runs that we do have, I want to be a little bit more aggressive, more downhill, get in the pistol (formation) a little bit, have a lead blocker, be more physical in the offensive line.
“We’ve been wanting to do that. You just can’t change it overnight. Going into this spring, we’ll visit some schools, look at some things and see if we can pick up a few things that can help us in the run game.”
It’ll be a busy off-season. Personnel-wise, filling the vacancies at defensive coordinator and quarterback are most pressing. Conceptually, how to improve the run game and the defense will have Tuberville’s full attention.
At least he knows the names of all involved.