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Let's Talk About: Texas Tech

Over in the diaries, errr... "fan posts", a debate is taking place over the merits of Texas Tech's lofty preseason internal aspirations and external expectations.  The general consensus seems to be that Tech will probably be better this year than they have been since 2005, they're still Tech: that weird school with the weird coach that upsets a better team every year and loses to inferior team every year.

While this has been true in the past, I don't think that reflects poorly on Mike Leach as a coach, as some seem to.  It's the nature of the beast he has created in Lubbock.  Leach could have been content with Tech being a mediocre team that loses to good teams with better players and beats the teams it's supposed to.  But he instead created a system that allowed his inferior players to beat the best on any given Saturday.  Unfortunately for Leach, however, if his offensive system isn't working, Tech can lose to teams that have even more inferior talent than it.  Why?  In short, no damn defense.

No longer the starting nose tackle.


Some people seem to think that there's something inherent about Leach or his offensive system that ensures a lack of defensive prowess at Tech.  He doesn't coach them well; he doesn't care about that side of the ball; his offensive system doesn't give them enough rest.  While bits and pieces of those explanations might be true, I don't buy them as anything more than small components of why Tech's defense is bad.

I believe it runs much deeper than that.  I have touched on this topic before, but not as it exclusively relates to Tech.  Essentially, the theory goes: (1) offenses can be enginnered to take advantage of inferior athletes much more easily than defenses.  (2) defenses require great athletes to be great.  (3) it's very hard to recruit great athletes to Lubbock, Texas.  (4) therefore, Leach's offenses have outpaced his defenses.  Look around college football at the mid-level programs that have over-achieved in the past 10 years. What do they all have in common?  Explosive offense; spotty defense.  There's nothing inherent to Mike Leach's offense that makes his defenses bad; it's the fact that he coaches at Texas Tech and not Texas.

If any of you have read the Blind Side by Michael Lewis, you'll recall his discussion of Bill Walsh's innovative West Coast offense.  Well, NOW it's called innovative.  Back when it was introduced, it was thought of as gimmicky and voodoo.  Sound familiar?  Then Walsh (who himself said that defensive prowess depends primarily on having great athletes and smart football players, not a scheme) and his 49ers got a defense and won a few Super Bowls and now teams freely use the West Coast Offense as a viable system.

The question is, can Tech get the athletes on defense necessary to be an elite team (even if just for a year or two)?  Well, with success comes better recruiting.  And Texas Tech has been having quite a bit of success the last 8 years.  Not Texas-level success certainly, but a type of success that leads to progressively better recruits who might not choose Tech over Texas, but who would choose Tech over Missouri or Kansas State or Okie State or even perhaps A&M.  And once those recruits succeed, he gets better ones.  He's never going to get the types of athletes that Texas and OU get, but I don't think he has to.

Texas Tech has beaten OU twice and Texas once under Leach and has a 6-2 record vs. A&M.  And he's fairly consistently challenged Texas even in the losses.  And he's doing this with a TERRIBLE defense.  Imagine what his teams could do with even a mediocre defense.  If Tech held Texas to 35 points a game, Tech would win more than half the time, most likely.  If Tech had a good defense, not even a great one, I think they could be a top 10 team every year.  And I tend to think that it's not impossible for that to happen.

Now, does that mean that Tech can compete for the national championship this year?  Probably not.  The defense isn't there yet, but it's a whole lot better than it used to be.  So can they win the Big 12?  Absolutely.  Will they?  Who the hell knows.  The only problem I have with Leach's system is that it's like the knuckleball of offensive systems.  When it's working, it's practically unhittable.  When it's not, well, it just hangs up there waiting to get hit out of the park.

The question I have is whether Harrell and Crabtree, et al. are good enough football players to make the offense more consistent in a way that all those mediocre offensive players before them were not.  That is what's going to make this seson, I think.