The Red Raiders just suffered their second loss of the season, one that was somehow nearly as demoralizing as the first.
In Week 4, the Longhorns made Texas Tech’s defense look like Swiss cheese. Texas scored 70 points, averaged 6.5 yards per play and ran for 336 yards. The Red Raiders seemed to have shaken the dust off their feet, putting together an impressive win over West Virginia the next week.
But Saturday’s performance against TCU showed that the weaknesses this Texas Tech defense has are far from gone.
The Horned Frogs had 394 rushing yards against Texas Tech, the most the Red Raiders have allowed since 2016. The talented Zach Evans quickly rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns before getting rested for the whole second half. In his place, Kendre Miller picked up 185 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Texas Tech has now allowed more than 300 rushing yards in two of their six games.
While plenty of missed tackles and injuries have factored into the gross numbers, there’s one repeated scheme that’s costing Texas Tech even a chance at victory: the three-man rush.
Dropping eight defenders into coverage is a strategy that’s typically implemented with the hope of preventing a big play. It protects the middle of the field and allows your defenders to hopefully make a play in pass coverage. It’s a strategy that — on paper — would make sense for Texas Tech. The secondary is a weak point in this defense, and it’s especially banged up due to injuries right now. The linebackers are talented and undoubtedly the centerpiece of this defense. But as good as it may look on paper, it’s a scheme that has led Texas Tech into constant trouble this season.
The clearest flaw has been preventing the big plays. One of the most obvious effects of the three-man rush is the amount of time the quarterback has to throw the ball. To put eight defenders into pass coverage is to trust your secondary enough to prevent the opponent’s receivers from creating space. When your corners and safeties can’t cover the receivers and you fail to put any pressure on the opposing quarterback, it’s a big play every time for the opponent.
If your defense is rushing three in a game where your opponent is averaging over 8 yards per carry and you’re still giving up plays like this, it’s probably time to try something else. pic.twitter.com/9uF0D63GXQ
— Ryan Mainville (@RMainvilleLBK) October 10, 2021
Another benefit of the three-man rush can be the prevention of easy first downs on curls or flats. Keeping your opponent in front of the sticks can be an easy way to get your defense off the field quickly. In the play below, Texas runs an out route and the defense actually doesn’t break all the way. The Longhorns will still pick up about 12 yards on the completion, but the Red Raiders still should be able to get a stop. But a missed tackle with no other defenders in coverage turns a simple out route into a big gain.
Giving a good quarterback this much time in the pocket and then missing tackles downfield doesn’t exactly seem like a recipe for success. pic.twitter.com/Me47ZyuEF4
— Ryan Mainville (@RMainvilleLBK) October 10, 2021
Your defense also tries to take away the middle of the field for opponents in drop-eight. Your linebackers drop back into coverage and your safety prevents the deep ball. Even with eight guys in coverage, including the talented linebacker group, opponents are still making it look easy against Texas Tech. This pass doesn’t even look to be intended for the receiver that caught it, but it’s still a gain for Texas. Slow the clip down a bit and you’ll see a 10-yard gap in the Texas Tech coverage. That’s a dangerous game to play against any quarterback, but especially one as talented as Casey Thompson.
All that we’ve looked at so far doesn’t even consider the running game, which has been the weakest area of Texas Tech’s defense this season. The Red Raiders are fourth in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed per game and rushing yards per carry. There have been no adjustments made when facing off against talented backs like TCU’s Evans or Texas’ Bijan Robinson, a choice that’s been costly.
During nonconference play, the Red Raiders allowed just 1.74 yards per carry. There seemed to be an affirmation that all the offseason hype about the Texas Tech defense was justified. Quickly into the first game of Big 12 play, it was clear that there should’ve been more a conservative approach to the expectations surrounding this defense. In three games of Big 12 play, opponents are averaging a whopping 6.46 yards per carry — second to only Kansas for the highest mark in conference play.
It’s clear that the three-man rush defense is just not working for Texas Tech. The secondary can’t keep receivers in front of them, defensive lineman can’t put pressure onto the quarterback and linebackers can’t stop the run. Continuing to run this scheme is squashing the chances of walking away with a win.
Keith Patterson needs to make an adjustment, and quickly. The Red Raiders season is on the line and if he’s not careful, his job may be as well.
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