MANHATTAN — A wild-and-crazy passing attack used to be the only thing opposing coaches had to worry about from Texas Tech.
But the Red Raiders are starting to resemble a classic Tommy Tuberville team more than a traditional Mike Leach team. Running the football is valued the same as throwing it. Defense is valued the same as offense. It all matters.
That wasn’t the case under Leach, Texas Tech’s former coach who mastered the air-raid offense long before it became a staple. With him in charge, the goal was to throw for mega yardage and to win by scoring 50 points. The system was always the same. The only thing that changed was the personnel.
Texas Tech still flings the ball all over the field behind senior quarterback Seth Doege, who leads the nation with 28 touchdown passes. But they also have three running backs who have rushed for more than 330 yards and an improved defense that ranks in the top 20 against the run and pass.
They are a more complete team than in past years. That should give No. 4 Kansas State plenty to prepare for before they face No. 15 Texas Tech on Saturday.
“You see them growing defensively, but they are the same offensively,” K-State sophomore receiver Curry Sexton said. “They’re obviously a scary team. They can do a lot of things on both sides of the ball.”
It wasn’t easy for Texas Tech to reach this point. At 6-1, it is already eligible for a bowl and in contention for a Big 12 championship, but Tuberville entered the season with his job on the line. Leach is still popular in Lubbock, and Texas Tech fans were disappointed in last year’s losing record.
But Tuberville stuck with the coaching philosophies that helped him go 85-40 at Auburn, hit the recruiting trail and focused on improving his team’s defense. Bringing in talented quarterbacks and receivers wasn’t enough.
“There’s more athletic ability and depth,” Tuberville said. “We’re playing more people. Last year we were all beat up with our starters. We played a lot of kids who were first-year players or walk-ons. We’ve got a lot more depth.… We’re just a more solid defense because we’ve got more players. We still teach the same things, fundamentals and techniques, but this year we’ve got more guys we can send into a game.”
In Tuberville’s third season, the Red Raiders are starting to see dividends.
He can’t get over how they beat TCU 56-53 in triple overtime.
“Last week we had 96 snaps on defense. That’s a long football game,” Tuberville said. “Had we been in the same situation we were last year, we never win that game. This year we won it, because we were able to play for four quarters and three overtimes with guys who weren’t as tired because they didn’t have as many reps.”
K-State coach Bill Snyder notices a difference, too. The Wildcats beat the Red Raiders 41-34 last year, but needed a second-half comeback. He thinks Doege, who threw for 461 yards in that game, has improved. And he thinks Texas Tech’s defense is playing at a higher level.
Behind Cody Davis – 56 tackles and three interceptions – and Eugene Neboh – 8 1/2 tackles for loss – Tech is allowing 21.6 points and 282 yards.
“They are a much more physical football team up front,” Snyder said. “I think they are a faster football team across the board. Schematically, they have made some changes that have been beneficial and fit their personnel. They are a very, very aggressive defensive football team and you don’t see them getting out of position.”
For those reasons, Texas Tech is the most challenging team remaining on K-State’s schedule.
Snyder scoffed at the notion that K-State might overlook the Red Raiders when a reporter suggested Saturday’s matchup could be viewed as a trap game.
“It’s not a trap game,” Snyder said. “Texas Tech is good. Got that? Texas Tech is good … I don’t know how anyone could say that.”
Added K-State cornerback Nigel Malone: “You take that for granted and Texas Tech will come in here and run the score up on you.”
Texas Tech has always made defensive backs worry, but it is starting to grab everyone’s attention.
“We have to focus and prepare even more than we did last year,” K-State running back Angelo Pease said. “They are going to come out ready to play on defense. Last year they had a great offense. Their offense is still good and they’ve got a good defense now. They are a better overall team.”