HOUSTON — Before they were the Red Raiders, Texas Tech’s athletic teams were known as the Matadors.
That still might be a good name for their defense.
Texas Tech’s offense is state of the art. Thanks to a slow day at the stadium by Washington State in the snow-filled Sun Bowl on Saturday, the Red Raiders’ passing offense is now ranked No. 1 in the country. Tech is No. 2 nationally in scoring offense and No. 2 in total offense.
Texas Tech’s defense is a state of disarray. The Red Raiders rank 124th or worse out of 128 FBS teams in scoring, rushing and total defense but only 114th in passing yards allowed — a silver lining if there ever was one, right?
Texas Tech’s defensive deficiencies led coach and former Red Raiders quarterback Kliff Kingsbury to jettison three defensive assistants who were also former Red Raiders at the end of the regular season: co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith, secondary coach Kevin Curtis and outside linebackers coach Trey Haverty. Kingsbury has since promoted two quality-control assistants — members of the coaching staff who aren’t allowed by NCAA rules to have on-field coaching roles — and a graduate assistant to interim assistant roles.
It isn’t exactly what you’d call an ideal situation going into a bowl game. It is what you’d call a mess. Especially when your bowl opponent, LSU, owns one of the nation’s most devastating rushing offenses, led by a consensus All-America running back in Leonard Fournette.
“They have one of the best running backs you’ll ever see in your life,” Kingsbury said after practice Sunday.
Since we’re in Texas, something about trying to defend the Alamo comes to mind. No truth to the rumor, though, that Fournette is going to borrow the horse from Texas Tech’s Masked Rider and come galloping into NRG Stadium like Santa Anna leading the Mexican Army.
Texas Tech senior linebacker Micah Awe (pronounced Ah-way) doesn’t like it, but he can sort of understand that his team’s defense has become something of a punch line. Especially when it comes to stopping Fournette, Derrius Guice and the rest of LSU’s thundering herd.
“I don’t blame anyone who says Tech is going to get run through, because it’s like, ‘Well, you’re 125th (against the run) and you have no coaches on defense,’ ” Awe said. “But that’s just life. That’s what we put on paper.”
The good thing for Texas Tech’s defense, if that can be said in this context, is that there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises when it comes to LSU’s offense. Make that any surprises.
The Tigers are going to run, run, run and run some more. Coming off the bus, in the game, maybe even a jog all the way back to Baton Rouge on Wednesday.
Like everyone else who plays LSU, the Red Raiders will align their defensive weaponry to stop what the Tigers do and like to do best. They’ve spent the past three weeks since the bowl paring was announced doing just that.
“Right now we just need to focus on stopping the run, because you know it’s coming,” strongside linebacker Malik Jenkins said. “But it’s not going to be easy.”
No, Malik, it’s not. Alabama made it look easy, but upon further review I think the Crimson Tide sneaked some of those big metal security bollards people keep wrecking their cars into outside the state Capitol into their alignments.
Kingsbury was positive when asked about the difficult transition his new interim coaches have been asked to make.
“I think it’s been good,” he said. “A lot of those guys are veteran players in those position groups, so they know how to handle themselves. The guys we’ve promoted are some of the hardest workers on our staff. They know the terminology and what we expect, so it’s been fairly smooth so far.”
Led by Defensive Coaching Staff 2.0, the fellas from West Texas understandably haven’t spent their bowl prep time trying to reinvent the wagon wheel. They’ve been focused on the fundamentals: pad level, alignment, being gap sound, every man to the ball as opposed to every man for himself, which might be a good motto when Fournette gets up a head of steam.
“Hopefully we listen to (defensive coordinator David Gibbs),” Awe said. “At the end of the day, we have to wrap and tackle, because they’re really good.”
Tech’s defenders believe, as they should, that they will be really good, too, on Tuesday night, primed for one of their best defensive efforts of the season. For confidence, they do have an early 35-24 victory over Arkansas to draw on, a team not dissimilar to LSU in many respects.
Still, the Red Raiders might want to have a couple of old Matador capes on hand. Just in case.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.