Does the Texas Tech Defense Still Suck?
The 2017 regular season is over. The Birmingham Bowl is nothing more than extra practice and an exhibition against a quality South Florida team. The meat of the season is done and it leaves us with more questions than answers. Over the next few weeks, I'll be answering my biggest questions moving from 2017 to 2018.
The first question is, "Does the Texas Tech Defense still suck?"
It's a simple question on the surface, and I guess the simplest answer is "Yes."
Nationally, the Red Raiders are ranked 100th in the nation in yards per game. They gave up 434 yards per game and more than 3,000 yards passing. That all works up to more than 5,200 yards total.
But (you had to know a but was coming) digging even just a little bit into the numbers and you find success is relative, and Texas Tech's defense might not suck anymore.
Looking at the numbers
The first number that I want to look at is yards per play.
The Texas Tech offense ran over 900 plays on offense, the 26th most in the nation. Inversely, the Texas Tech defense was on the field 916 plays, 14th most in the nation. Taking that into account, the 5,200 hundred total yards given up turns into 5.7 yards per play. If the nation was judged on yards per play instead of yards per game, Texas Tech would be 71st in the nation.
That's better than 100th, but is it still bad? It's in the bottom half of all teams; there are 130 teams in the FBS.
Looking back to the 100th in the nation, how does that stack up against the rest of the Big 12? In the yards per game column, TCU ranks 19th, and the next Big 12 team doesn't show up until Texas at 42rd. Iowa State (47th), Oklahoma (57th) and Oklahoma State (74th) are in the next tier. The next five start with Kansas State at 98th. The worst three are West Virginia (111th), Baylor (113th) and Kansas (118th).
That puts Texas Tech in the bottom half of the Big 12, but Texas Tech and Oklahoma gave up the same yards per play.
Do the yards really matter though? You can give up 1,000 yards per game, but if you keep the other team out of the end zone you have a good chance to win a game. And 31.8 points per game ranks 94th nationally. In the offensively potent Big 12, 31.8 points per game ranks 8th.
Not good. Better than 2016 when the Red Raiders gave up 43 points per game, but improvement doesn't exactly equal good.
While we're talking about improvement, the 2016 squad was literally the worst defense in the nation. Total yards, yards per play, yards per game -- it was a total disaster.
From the 2016 to the 2017 season, the Texas Tech defense improved 120 yards per game. They held teams to over 1,000 less rushing yards and 400 less passing yards. The 806 D was almost 1.5 yards better per play.
That all adds up to giving up 6,652 total yards in 2016 and 5,208 in 2017.
I would argue that this was the best defensive year in Lubbock since 2009, when the Red Raiders ranked 49th in total defense with 22.5 points surrendered per game and had Ruffin McNeill roaming the sidelines. The 2012 defense was 38th, but still gave up 31 points per game and only forced 11 turnovers.
The 2017 defense gave up 900 more yards, but averaged the same points per game and forced 27 turnovers, which ranks 6th in the nation.
The 2009 defense forced 24. The 27 total is the best since 2008 when the Red Raiders forced 29 turnovers and went 11-1 in the regular season. In 2016, the Texas Tech defense forced 13 turnovers, which ranked 112th. That's an improvement of 14 takeaways and 106 spots in the rankings for 2017.
I guess, after looking at the numbers, my conclusion is that the Texas Tech defense still sucked in 2017. Much improved? Yes. Generally just as good as the rest of the bottom half of the Big 12? Yes.
But, and I think David Gibbs would agree with me, if your benchmark for success is being better than Kansas and Baylor, you won't get very far.
That being said, I think the 2017 season was a successful season for the Red Raiders' defense on their journey to being a credible Big 12 defense. They are definitely on their way to credibility.
I can see enormous encouragement for the future when every starter, except Big Mych Thomas, returns in 2018. With the addition of a piece or two and the development of young stars like Riko Jeffers and Eli Howard, as well as continued success from Dakota Allen and Jordan Brooks, the 2018 defense won't suck. With leaders like Jah'Shawn Johnson and Broderick Washington, it might actually be good.
What do you think?