Texas Tech defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt put the Red Raiders in a 3-4 defense last year, because it’s an alignment he’d successfully run before and it offered flexibility to defend the Big 12’s wide-open passing offenses.
But when the Red Raiders tanked down the stretch with a five-game Big 12 losing streak last season, passing’s not the main thing that killed them. It was yielding nearly 300 rushing yards a game during the losing streak.
Helped by the arrival of four junior-college defensive linemen, Wallerstedt has talked about using more heavy four-man fronts to address the problem.
“That’d basically depend on what the opponent is trying to do, healthy bodies, that type of stuff,” defensive line coach John Scott Jr. said Tuesday. “I could definitely see us doing that. That’d be a help for us.”
The Red Raiders might not use heavy four-man fronts most often or even every week. But maybe now they have the personnel to put it into their bag.
Of the new juco defensive linemen, Rika Levi pushes 350 pounds, Keland McElrath and Marcus Smith top 300 and Brandon Thorpe is listed at 277. Mix them in with returning veterans Branden Jackson, Jackson Richards and Demetrius Alston — all of whom are in the 275 range — and the Red Raiders have the option of going big across the front with four at a time.
“We did just a little bit (last year),” Scott said. “We experimented with it just a little bit. As you know, we kind of ran out bodies. Particularly at times last year when we had the bodies available, we would work that some.”
The ability to tinker extends through the front seven to the linebackers.
The Red Raiders have outside linebackers with defensive back builds and backgrounds such as Austin Stewart and Dorian Crawford. Stewart was a staple of Tech’s third-and-long defense last season for his blitzing ability. The Red Raiders also have a bigger-bodied outside linebacker in Kris Williams whom Wallerstedt and co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith view as a potential run stopper.
“If we’re seeing Kansas State or Oklahoma, or a run attack like Oklahoma State where they say, ‘We’re going to try to just jam the ball down your throat, is that (an opportunity to use) a Kris Williams?” Wallerstedt said. “Is that (outside linebacker) Pete Robertson with four defensive linemen in the game?
“We should be deep enough where we can move some guys around to solve our issues.”
During the spring, Wallerstedt laid out a run defense scenario in which he could incorporate four true down linemen and play Robertson on the strong side. He also mentioned the possibility of using Jackson as a stand-up rusher.
“The thing that getting some size does, it allows us to match up a little bit more depending on what we’re seeing,” Scott said. “That helps us if we can do that from time to time. We’ll pick a spot when we need to do that, but if you’re able to do that, you can only help yourself.”
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