by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

Texas Tech pulled one of the more righteous upsets of the 2011 season, stunning then top-ranked Oklahoma 41-38 in Norman. The Red Raiders were a 29 ½-point underdog! But it was then all downhill for HC Tommy Tuberville's Tech, which lost its last five games to miss the bowls, finishing 5-7, ending the campaign as one of the nation’s most injured and most defenseless teams.

All told, 24 Tech players missed all or significant parts of the 2011 season, including 18 who had surgery. Some teams—such as Oklahoma with the loss of All-America WR Ryan Broyles and starting RB Dominique Whaley—might have lost players who were of a higher profile. But it can be argued that no team had to cope with the depth and breath of TT’s injuries. Not particularly deep or strong to begin with, the Raiders ended the season ranked dead last among the 120 FBS teams vs. the run (259 ypg) and 117th in points allowed (39.3). The TT front was too small, too-short-handed, and too banged up to handle the many high-powered, relentless offenses of the Big 12, with lowly Kansas being the Raiders’ only other victim in conference play. Tech defenders collected only 16 sacks and a paltry 5 interceptions all season! TT’s own run-and-shoot attack generated 33.8 ppg and was seventh in the nation in passing. Thus, it was the defense that was the main focus of the offseason.

Incoming is Art Kaufman, defensive coordinator at North Carolina last season, who is changing the Raiders back to a 4-3 base. Not only is Kaufman the fourth d.c. for TT in the last four years, he brings the fourth change in scheme (Ruffin McNeil a 4-3 in 2009; James Willis a 3-4 in 2010; and Chad Glasgow a 4-2-5 in 2011). However, with his defensive unit so much in a state of flux anyway, Tommy Tuberville says the change from last year’s TCU-style 4-2-5 isn’t that significant. “We’re pretty much running our same things. We just changed a little of our philosophy and some of our techniques that we’re playing in the secondary and at linebacker.”

Whatever. Coaches know that it’s good players, not the scheme, that mainly make for good defenses. So Tuberville has spent much of the offseason seeking to find more good players to help the likes of stalwart safeties Cody Davis (93 tackles last season) & D.J. Johnson (83 Ts, 2 ints.), S/OLB Terrence Bullitt (56 Ts), LB Daniel Cobb (70 Ts), and DE/DT Kerry Hyder. Of Tuberville’s nine junior college transfers this season, the majority are on defense. The brightest light in the spring was speedy 6-3, 228 juco Will Smith, an the early enrollee who appeared to have locked up the MLB job. Juco DE Lee Adams was another early enrollee, a part of a top-30 recruiting class that emphasized help up front. However, freshman DT J.J. Lollar will miss the season due to eye surgery. Meanwhile, Tuberville has moved receivers Cornelius Douglas (29 recs. in 2011) and Shawn Clark to defense. Douglas might end up starting opposite Tre Porter, who missed the last four games of 2011 due to injury. In another move, Kaufman has converted 6-3, 220 soph safety Pete Robertson to DE, where Robertson showed potential as a speed pass rusher.

Trying to find impact players doesn’t appear to be a problem for the offense, which has plenty of them, starting with sr. A-A QB candidate Seth Doege, who should only improve on his impressive 2011 numbers of 4004 yards passing, 68.5% completions, and 28 TDs vs. only 10 interceptions. In the third game last season, Doege hit 40 of 44 aerials vs. New Mexico, an impressive stat even in some 7-on-7 practice drills. Doege will operate behind a veteran OL that is expected to start four seniors, including NFL prospect LT LaAdrian Waddle and senior leader Deveric Gallington, who is moving from G to C this season. T Brian Thomas arrives from A&M as a grad student and therefore doesn’t have to sit out a year.

At RB, Tuberville hasn’t been able to come up with the workhorse types he frequently recruited while in the SEC. However, the Red Raiders’ 87th-ranked rush offense should be improved this season, as both sr. Eric Stephens (565 yards rushing prior to a knee injury last year) and soph DeAndre Washington (336; torn ACL late in the year) are both reportedly on track to return. Soph Kenny Williams provides depth, while early-enrolling 5-8 juco SaDale Foster (an excellent return man in JC) flashed ability in spring to help either RB or at inside receiver in the fall.

At receiver, TT has both talent and depth. It is the orchestration and option reads of the inside receivers and outside receivers and that makes the Red Raider passing attack so prolific, and Doege has his top three targets back from 2011 in Eric Ward (84 recs., 11 TDs), Alex Torres (51 recs.), and Darrin Moore (47 recs., 8 TDs; missed three games). Sr. Austin Zouzalik is another proven veteran, while 6-3 sr. Marcus Kennard (a JC transfer last season) demonstrated great improvement in the spring. 6-0 JCAA Javon Bell enrolled early and impressed greatly.

Jr. punter Ryan Erxleben dropped 17 of his 43 boots last season inside the opposing 20. Soph Ryan Bustin is slated to take over at kicker this season, and he booted with authority in spring.

Summary...Although Tuberville has added those nine jucos to provide immediate help for a Red Raider team that was too thin last season, it was not through total desperation, as is often the case for many low-ranking Division I programs. Tuberville has landed back-to-back top-30 recruiting classes to Lubbock. Plus, he’ll be welcoming back more than a dozen players from last year’s surgeries. He’s got a highly-productive senior triggering what has been one of the most prolific aerial offenses in the nation. Rarely has a season gone by in recent years without the Raiders notching a major upset. That should be the case once again in 2012, as Tech easily has enough scoring on offense and added bodies on defense to snag a nice bowl trip in the burgeoning postseason. Making a major run at the Big 12 title seems at least a season away, however.


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