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TECH WEEK: looking deeper

Eric Stephens is Texas Tech's only reliable ground threat, when he's healthy.
Eric Stephens is Texas Tech's only reliable ground threat, when he's healthy.

TCU welcomes the Red Raiders back to Fort Worth for the seventh game of the season. Only one Red Raider coach was involved in one of the school's recent games against TCU-- Sonnie Cumbie quarterbacked the '04 Red Raiders who rang the Frogs' bell 70 times.

So the revenge factor simply isn't going to be there this year-- TCU has the scoreboard, but Tech's players and coaches weren't involved.

Tommy Tuberville had a .680 winning percentage at Auburn; he’s one game over .500 at Texas Tech. To help remedy that disparity, Tuberville again looked for a way to improve the defense, which didn’t take to Chad Glasgow’s imported Horned Frog defense at all (it fell into the three digit F/+ ranking last season, and was dead last in rush defense). The head coach hired former North Carolina coordinator Art Kaufman. With him came a new defensive line coach, former Marshall assistant Fred Tate, and a new defensive backs coach, former Miami (Fla.) coordinator John Lovett. This trio of new assistants has a miserable job description: make Tech’s defense work, and do so using other coaches’ recruits and the team’s third new scheme in three years.

The new scheme is a 4-3, and all four linemen are kinda small (that doesn’t even count Pete Robertson, a new end converted—weirdly—from safety). Senior Leon Mackey (265 pounds) moves from end to tackle, behind junior Kerry Hyder (275 pounds) and sophomore Delvin Simmons. The Red Raiders need a big step up from ends Dartwan Bush (282 pounds) and Pete Robertson. Redshirt freshman Branden Jackson (251 pounds), a former linebacker, and sophomores Kindred Evans and Jackson Richards are vying to start on the other side. Richards (548 pounds) made four early starts in September and October. JUCO transfer Lee Adams early enrolled, but did not make the two deep after spring ball. This is a young line, in a new scheme; it is built for next season, not this one.

JUCO transfer Will Smith lit Lubbock’s football fans quite alight in the spring with his prowess in the middle. JUCO transfer Chris Payne played well on the strong side, and competes with converted safety Terrance Bullitt’s (56 tackles, 9.5 for loss) to start. Tech left the spring with sophomore Sam Equavoen (30 tackles) on the weak side.

Behind these guys are four seniors (though one, Cornelius Douglas, converted to corner late last season). They play against a good offense, and may not be the team’s weakness in 2012. Douglas starts until Happiness Osunde (wow!) returns from injury. The safeties are D.J. Johnson (83 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Cody Davis (93 tackles).

That’s the bad news—Tech’s defense is going to require fireworks from its offense. Think Baylor, just with less whining. Unlike Baylor, however, it’s not clear Texas Tech is going to be fine on offense. The gunslinger is good—that much is certain. Senior Seth Doege ("dég-gee," of course) came, seemingly, from nowhere to power a 4,004 yards, 28 TD season last year, third in the Big 12 in completion percentage and yards per game, behind headliners Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III, Landry Jones, James Franklin, and Ryan Tannehill.

Four of those are gone, and suddenly there’s room for another Lubbock signal caller to take top dog honors in the Big 12. Geno Smith, Landry Jones, and Casey Pachall will have something to say about that, but if Seth Doege can avoid lows like he had last season (K-State, Iowa State, OkieLight, for example) then it’s not at all improbable that Doege could be the Big 12’s best.

Last year he needed help on the ground, and only got it, really, from Eric Stephens. Stephens racked up 565 yards in five games before tearing his ACL and MCL against A&M. DeAndre Washington and Aaron Crawford couldn’t work the same magic, and Tech’s attack suffered. Washington again backs up Stephens, joined by sophomore Kenny Williams. It is not clear, yet, that Stephens is back at full steam.

In the air—where Tech is most comfortable—the Red Raiders return three of their top five, including Eric Ward (84 for 800), Alex Torres (51 for 616) and Bradley Marquez (25 for 240) are the ensconced returners. It’s not an all-American set, but these guys will rack up plenty of yards. It’s not clear that any of these receivers is a home-run threat. The tallest would-be returner, Derrin Moore, was kicked off the team this week. Alex Torres is the biggest productive returner, at 6-1, 200 pounds. This is a pretty average returning corps that needs to develop some moxie if Tommy Tubberville’s offense is going to be able to bail out the defense, again.

There has been a lot of turnover on the line. Senior LT LaAdrian Waddle is the best in the group. Senior Deveric Gallington moves from RG to center this year, and senior Terry McDaniel moves from tackle to RG to replace Gallington. That leaves some holes. Sophomore Beau Carpenter playes left guard, and the focus will be on redshirt freshman Le’Raven Clark, playing right tackle. (Clark and McDaniel may swap positions.) A&M transfer Brian Thomas, a senior starter from College Station, has not yet broken into the two-deep, but OC Neal Brown expects him to contribute early and often.

So how much does Tech threaten the Horned Frogs when it comes calling in Fort Worth for the first time since that memorable ’06 defensives slugfest? Again, it seems unwise to expect a low scoring game (especially if TCU hasn’t grown up a linebacking corps by week eight!). TCU seems deeper than Tech, though, at almost every position, especially on offense. If the games turns into a shootout, pick the home team.