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November 9, 2012To get a closer view from the Texas Tech side we caught up Aaron Dickens from Red Raider Sports.com on Saturday's game
The Texas Tech defense has looked solid. How have they been able to turn it around from a program that use to be known for just offense?
The two biggest factors have been the influence of first-year coordinator Art Kaufman and that a couple of key players have elevated their play from a year ago.
Kaufman, the Red Raiders' fourth defensive coordinator in as many years, really simplified things when he took over after last season. Tech has run a 4-2-5 and a 3-4 in the last two seasons, and Kaufman brought a pretty basic 4-3 and has stressed fundamentals above all else. As a result, the Red Raiders aren't really that flashy on defense in terms of blitzes or exotic coverages, but they are in the right position more often than not and haven't been burned by a lot of missed tackles.
From a player perspective, safeties Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson and defensive tackle Kerry Hyder have really elevated their game from a year ago. Hyder is quietly developing into one of the better interior tackles in the Big 12, and would probably be talked about more if he had more help on the edge. Davis and Johnson have started together for three years and have been a strength this season. Davis deserves special mention as he is a sure tackler, an asset in run support and will be sorely missed next year.
While the defense is significantly improved from 2011 in terms of yards and points allowed, that hasn't translated into more turnovers or sacks. Tech is coming off of a stretch of five-straight games against ranked opponents, and the defense forced just two turnovers and registered three sacks over that stretch.
Talk about the offensive style the Red Raiders run on offense and who are the play-makers?
The Red Raiders run a pass-oriented spread offense that, at this point, emphasizes an accurate and experienced quarterback in Seth Doege and a collection of steady possession receivers, namely Darrin Moore and Eric Ward.
Doege is completing a shade under 70 percent of his passes this season and leads the FBS with 31 touchdown passes. His numbers in terms of yards and touchdowns have fallen off somewhat over the last two weeks, thanks in part to three key injuries at receiver. Doege is a West Texas guy who grew up dreaming of playing for Tech, so I expect an inspired effort in his final home game as a Red Raider.
Moore (50) and Ward (49) have combined to catch 99 passes for 1,191 yards and 18 touchdowns. Their role has increased over the last three weeks, as injuries to tight end Jace Amaro and receivers Javon Bell and Bradley Marquez have tested the team's depth. Jakeem Grant is the only available player with more than 17 receptions (22) on the season.
Kenny Williams is the team's starter at running back -- he's rushed for 575 yards and four scores on 101 carries this season -- but will split time with former starter Eric Stephens and JUCO transfer SaDale Foster. Williams is a physical runner who attacks defenders and fights through tackles.
There have been some injuries on the defensive side. How are the players progressing and are any of them expected back this week?
The three major injuries defensively are to cornerback Cornelius Douglas and nickel backs Tre' Porter and Jarvis Phillips. Douglas has missed the last three games with a knee injury, Porter has missed the last two games with a knee injury and Phillips missed last week's game against Texas with an ankle injury. All three players have practiced this week and Tommy Tuberville said on Monday that expects all three to play against Kansas.
What kind of scheme does the defense play and who are the key players to watch?
I touched on this above. The Red Raiders run a 4-3 and aren't too exotic in terms of blitzes or coverages. They don't try to trick anybody and instead focus on sound tackling, limiting yards after contact and trying to win on third-downs.
Aside from Davis, Hyder and Johnson, look for defensive tackle Delvon Simmons. With Kansas being a run-oriented team, the performances of Simmons and Hyder should go a long way in determining how successful Tech's defense is against KU.
Before the season it appeared Tuberville caught a lot of heat and was even on some of the coaching hot seat lists. Have people calmed down now they see the program on solid ground?
I think so, absolutely. Things kind of flared up last week after the loss to Texas -- the Red Raiders missed a great opportunity to notch a rare win against the Longhorns last week -- but overall I think the vast majority of fans recognize that he has the team exceeding expectations this season.
How do you see the match-up against Kansas and your thoughts on how it plays out?
All of the ingredients are there for a less-than-impressive showing from the home team -- 11 a.m. kickoff, a less-than-capacity crowd that will likely be a bit muted because of the time and last week's result, a post-Texas hangover, an opponent that hasn't beat a current member of the Big 12 since Oct. 2009, etc.
Plus, even though the final scores may indicate otherwise, Tech has really struggled with Kansas over the last decade or so. The Red Raiders, favored by 13, lost in overtime to Kansas in 2001. Taurean Henderson's 70-yard touchdown run in the final minutes allowed Tech to escape Lawrence with a 31-30 win in 2004. KU hung with the Red Raiders in 2005. The Red Raiders trailed the Jayhawks at home in the fourth quarter in 2009 -- ironically enough, that was Doege's first career start -- before reeling off 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
I think the game will be closer than the experts in Las Vegas think. The Red Raiders are the better team, but I kind of expect a slow start on Saturday because of some of the factors I listed above.