Texas Tech has long been revered for explosive, and at times, seemingly unstoppable air raid offenses. But even an offensively-renowned league such as the Big 12, at least some semblance of a respectable defense is required.
The lack thereof is largely while the Kliff Kingsbury era ended on the heels of back-to-back-to-back losing seasons. For Kingsbury’s successor, Matt Wells, who’s entering his first season with the program following an up-and-down seven-season stint with Utah State, which did feature three 10-win campaigns, the key to a turnaround is “to play championship caliber defense,” Wells said at Big 12 Media Days.
Wells added that “there is not a time that is ever more challenging than to play that in the Big 12 than right now,” and provided praise for the league’s talent level at quarterback, receivers, and the minds putting the plays into motion.
Nevertheless, despite the abundance of potent offenses the league boasts, the necessary challenge is to at least bend and not break.
To that end, when discussing the league’s top defensive minds, third-year Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando came to Wells’ mind.
“I think, if you will, in the Big 12 because there are certainly great defensive coaches here. I think at the top is Gary Patterson, TCU has been done it for a long time,” Wells said. “Todd Orlando at Texas, Jon Heacock at Iowa State. There are a lot of great defensive coaches that have major challenges every Saturday and I respect the league and I respect the challenges and I respect what has gone on before me and I’m an offensive guy. I like scoring points more than anybody but I like winning better and I think part of winning is great defense.”
Throughout Orlando’s two years in Austin, Texas capped the 2017 season, Orlando and Tom Herman’s first on the Forty Acres, by securing the program’s first bowl berth since 2014 and first bowl victory since 2013, thanks in large part to a defensive unit that ranked 14th nationally in defensive S&P+. More recently, as Texas enjoyed another significant step forward in 2018 and enjoyed the program’s first 10-win campaign since 2009, Orlando’s defensive remained a top-45 unit in defensive S&P+ and trailed only Iowa State (28th) and TCU (16th) in the Big 12.
For comparison, the Red Raiders ranked 81st and 70th in that regard in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and, of course, the result was back-to-back losing seasons.
Meanwhile, TCU’s 7-6 effort in 2018, which was largely hindered by injuries at quarterback was considered a down season, while Texas has re-emerged as a Big 12 power, and Iowa State — led by a smothering defensive unit — is aiming to join that conversation.
So, as Wells noted, the key to now turning around the Texas Tech program is “to play championship caliber defense.”
Todd Orlando’s ability to do so in Austin has played a fairly significant role in why the Longhorns are once again enjoying the national spotlight.