Big 12: Branden Jackson

There can be various signs of success in the Big 12.

Last week we took a look at potential stats from various offensive players in the conference that could be a sign of success for their respective teams. This week, we look at a stat from one defensive player per school that could be a sign of success this fall.

Here's a look at one stat from a defensive player on each Big 12 team that could be a sign of success for their teams.

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman's total sacks: The Penn State transfer has freakish ability. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman moves like someone half his size and was ultra-productive as a sophomore, compiling 12.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. But he only managed two sacks as a sophomore, although he was deployed in a backup role for most of the season. If Oakman can approach double-digit sacks with increased playing time as a junior, he could help Baylor’s young secondary overcome the mistakes they are certain to make as they gain experience.

Tackles recorded by Iowa State defensive tackle Brandon Jensen: The Cyclones have a potential hole in the middle of their defense with attrition since the end of the season destroying ISU’s depth. Jensen, who quit football after the 2013 season, returned to the team shortly after spring football. His return was much needed and if he’s able to match his production while starting all 12 games a year ago, it will give Paul Rhoads a foundation for his defense that he didn’t have during spring football. If he can raise his tackle total from 18 in 2013 to around 30 in 2014, it could be a sign he’s become a disruptive force in the middle of ISU’s defense.

Kansas linebacker/defensive end Ben Goodman's tackles for loss: The junior is a versatile talent who has moved closer to the line of scrimmage to make more of an impact with his ability to be disruptive and get into the backfield. He finished with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. If he can at least double those numbers, his disruptive nature could combine with a talented secondary to make the Jayhawks defense better than expected this fall.

Kansas State linebacker Mike Moore's total tackles: The junior looks like he could be poised for a breakthrough season with the Wildcats. He’s an active and energetic linebacker who could pair with Jonathan Truman to give KSU one of the conference’s most productive linebacking duos. Moore only had seven tackles in 2013 but finished strong with two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. If he can match or exceed Blake Slaughter's 110 tackles in 2013 it will be a good sign that the Wildcats’ defense won’t have a major drop off in 2014.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips total tackles: If the junior exceeds his tackle total from 2013, that’s a great sign for OU’s defense. Phillips played in just four games as a sophomore, recording seven tackles before a back injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Anything higher than seven tackles likely means Phillips has returned to the lineup and is healthy and productive. If he does return, he has the potential to take OU’s defense to another level.

Oklahoma State cornerback Ashton Lampkin's pass breakups: The likely replacement for Justin Gilbert will be tested early and often in 2014. If Lampkin responds to the challenge and ends up with double-digit pass breakups, it means he has made a seamless move into the starting lineup. That would be terrific news for the Cowboys because if he can join Kevin Peterson to help lock down the perimeter, OSU won’t have to count on its young and inexperienced safeties to make as many plays in the passing game.

Sack total from TCU defensive end Devonte Fields: If Fields returns to his 2012 form, he’s a game-changing talent. He managed three tackles, including two tackles for loss, before a foot injury ended his 2013 season. In 2012, Fields had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. If he’s healthy and focused, Fields has the ability to put up career-high numbers in sacks and tackles for loss in 2014. If he does, he can transform TCU’s defense and take the unit to another level.

Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks' total tackles: The senior had 40 tackles in four games last season, so the Longhorns would love to see a full, healthy season from Hicks. If he surpasses 40 tackles in 2014, it’s a great sign for Charlie Strong’s defense. The 2011 season was the last time Hicks played in double-digit games, but he's in impact player when healthy. But he’s spent as much time on the sidelines as he has making plays during the past two seasons.

Texas Tech defensive end Branden Jackson's sack total: The Red Raiders will really need to lean on Jackson, who finished the 2013 season with 44 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. He’s a proven commodity along Tech’s defensive front so it will be critical for him to, at the very least, match those numbers this fall. If he struggles to be productive, the Red Raiders defensive line could be the weak link of the defense and hamper the team as a whole.

Tackles for loss by West Virginia defensive end Shaquille Riddick: The Gardner-Webb transfer has the talent to make a major impact. While it would be great for the Mountaineers if Riddick can register between 5-10 sacks, he could be a difference maker if he can record 15-20 tackles for loss. If he is consistently disruptive and getting into opponents' backfields, the Mountaineers’ talented secondary could take advantage of any mistakes by the quarterback with key turnovers. If Riddick is a matchup nightmare, he will change the future of WVU’s defense.
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Monday, we continue with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

OFFENSE (starters in bold)

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb had a great spring and returns to lead the offense.
QB: Davis Webb (So.)

This one is pretty simple. Webb, who broke out in the bowl game, is loaded with potential and had a fabulous spring with 13 touchdowns and no turnovers over three open scrimmages. With no other QB on the roster, incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will assume the backup spot by default.

RB: DeAndre Washington (Jr.), Quinton White (So.)

With Kenny Williams taking over as the starting “Raider” linebacker, Washington takes over as the starting running back. Washington has two seasons of experience and was just as productive out of the backfield as Williams was in 2013. White will have to perform in a backup role to fend off incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton.

WR: D.J. Polite-Bray (So.), Devin Lauderdale (So.)


IR: Jakeem Grant (Jr.), Brent Mitcham (Sr.)

IR: Bradley Marquez (Sr.), Jordan Davis (Sr.)

WR: Reginald Davis (So.), Derreck Edwards (Jr.)

The playmaking potential is boundless in the speedy trio of Grant, Marquez and Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl. Polite-Bray can fly, too, and made a living hauling in bombs downfield during the spring to emerge as the fourth starting receiver. With bulky tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward (who ranked 29th in the Big 12 in yards per catch), the Red Raiders struggled at times last season to stretch the field. With a major upgrade in speed across the board at the position, that won’t be an issue in the fall. Jordan Davis gives Tech a reliable fifth option inside when Kliff Kingsbury goes to his five wide receiver sets.

LT: Le’Raven Clark (Jr.), Poet Thomas (RFr.)

LG: Alfredo Morales (Jr.), James Polk (Sr.)

C: Jared Kaster (Jr.), Tony Morales (Jr.)

RG: Trey Keenan (So.), Baylen Brown (So.)

RT: Rashad Fortenberry (Sr.), Josh Outlaw (RFr.)

The offensive line two-deep could undergo a transformation once junior-college transfer Dominique Robertson arrives in the summer. Offensive line coach Lee Hays has said that he would consider swinging Clark to guard to boost the run game, should Robertson show up ready to play. Hays was given this option after Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility in the spring. At the moment, right guard is the biggest question up front, but if Clark were to slide inside, he and Morales could team up to give the Red Raiders a powerful run-blocking duo at the guard spots.

DEFENSE

DE: Branden Jackson (Jr.), Zach Barnes (So.)

NG: Jackson Richards (Jr.), Donte Phillips (Jr.)

DT: Demetrius Alston (Jr.), Keland McElrath (Jr.)

This appears to be the biggest question on the entire team. Jackson is coming off a solid sophomore season, with nine tackles for loss and four sacks. But Tech, which finished next-to-last in run defense in 2013, got pushed around in Big 12 play with the unit its currently projecting to start. That’s why Tech signed four juco defensive linemen -- Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, Rika Levi and McElrath – in its 2014 class. To toughen up their front, the Red Raiders will need at least a couple of those jucos to pan out.

BANDIT: Pete Robertson (Jr.), Kris Williams (So.)

WLB: V.J. Fehoko (Sr.), Malik Jenkins (So.)

MLB: Sam Eguavoen (Sr.), Micah Awe (Jr.)

RAIDER: Kenny Williams (Sr.), Austin Stewart (Sr.)

This is a unit that really came together over the spring. What started as an experiment could result in the Red Raiders uncovering their answer at the “Raider” linebacking spot vacated by Terrance Bullitt. Even though he sat out the spring game, Williams had a tremendous run of practices at the position and was rewarded with a spot atop the depth chart. Elsewhere, the Red Raiders are in good shape. Robertson was an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer last season, and Eguavoen and Awe were third and sixth on the team in tackles. Some big-time help could be on the way this summer, too. Former Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who was an ESPN 300 recruit last season, attended Texas Tech’s spring game and could be in line for a hardship waiver to play immediately at his next school.

BC: Justis Nelson (So.), Thierry Nguema (So.)

FS: J.J. Gaines (So.), Jalen Barnes (RFr.)

SS: Keenon Ward (So.), Dorian Crawford (Sr.)

FC: Dee Paul (So.)

The Red Raiders have reason to be cautiously optimistic about their young secondary. Gaines was performing at a high level last fall before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury five games into the year. He was a limited participant during spring ball and should be good-to-go again for the fall. Ward had an MVP spring, laying out several receivers with big hits to solidify the other safety job. Nelson returns after starting as a true freshman, essentially leaving the field cornerback spot as the only lingering competition. Nigel Bethel II, the four-star gem of the 2014 recruiting class, has the talent to vie for that job when he arrives on campus. Even though he didn't appear on the depth chart, safety transfer Josh Keys, who did enroll early, could add valuable depth once he settles into coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s scheme.
This week, we continue breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

Next up, the Texas Tech Red Raiders:

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMILe'Raven Clark is one of the best linemen in the Big 12.
1. OT Le'Raven Clark: Clark was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, one of only two Big 12 offensive linemen to earn all-conference recognition as an underclassman last season. While the rest of the offensive line struggled, Clark was rock-solid, protecting the blind sides of Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb and Michael Brewer. Over the next two years, Webb will have no better friend than Clark.

2. RB/LB Kenny Williams: Second place on this list was a bit wide open. But Williams is one of the clear leaders for the Red Raiders, and a valuable piece to the offense -- and perhaps the defense, too. After rushing for 1,321 yards the last two seasons, Williams asked for a shot this spring at outside linebacker, where he has been taking first-team snaps. Whether it be offense, defense or both, Williams will be a big part of the team next season.

3. QB Davis Webb: No QB had a better bowl-game performance than Webb, who shredded Arizona State for 403 yards, four touchdowns and a completion percentage of 68.3. Webb had some struggles as a true freshman but showed what he was capable of with the reins of the offense. If Webb builds off his Holiday Bowl performance, he could develop into one of the best QBs in the Big 12 -- if not the country.

4. WR Jakeem Grant: Besides Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, there might not be a better playmaker at receiver than Grant, who finished sixth in the Big 12 in receiving yards last season despite missing two games. Grant was benched late in the season but responded the way Kliff Kingsbury had hoped he would with two touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl. Even with Eric Ward and Jace Amaro gone, the Red Raiders could boast a formidable receiving corps with Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis leading the way.

5. WR Bradley Marquez: Marquez, along with Williams, is one of the team’s leaders and its most reliable returning pass-catcher. In the last three seasons, there have been only two games in which Marquez did not have a reception.

6. OLB Pete Robertson: Robertson is Texas Tech’s top returning defensive player after earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors anchoring the “bandit” role in Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme. Robertson was one of several Red Raiders to have a tremendous showing in the Holiday Bowl, collecting a career-high 11 tackles, including two for loss against the No. 14 Sun Devils. Wallerstedt is counting on more of those performances from Robertson in 2014.

7. WR Reginald Davis: The potential of this former high school quarterback is boundless. Davis spent the last two seasons learning the nuances of playing receiver, but finally began to break out late last season. In the Holiday Bowl, he hauled in a 38-yard pass and returned a kick for a touchdown that eradicated some momentum the Sun Devils had built in the second half. Davis will step into a more prominent role in 2014, and with more chances to make plays downfield, he’s capable of delivering a monster season.

8. ILB Sam Eguavoen: Eguavoen started every game at middle linebacker last season and finished third on the defense with 70 tackles. He will likely end up sliding over to the weak inside linebacker spot with Will Smith gone. Eguavoen might not be a flashy playmaker, but he’s a steady tackler at the second level. Teamed up with Micah Awe, who is expected to take over for Eguavoen in the middle, the Red Raiders should be solid again on the inside.

9. CB Justis Nelson: This freshman had his redshirt removed in the 10th game of the season and played admirably down the stretch opposite veteran Bruce Jones. Nelson closed out the Holiday Bowl with a fourth-quarter interception that sealed the victory for the Red Raiders. With Jones gone, Nelson will take over as Tech’s primary corner.

10. DL Branden Jackson: In his first year in the starting lineup, Jackson held up well and finished the season with nine tackles for loss. With Dartwan Bush and Kerry Hyder gone, Jackson will be Tech’s top returner along the defensive line.

Video: Texas Tech defense

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
10:00
AM ET

Brandon Chatmon discusses Texas Tech defensive end Branden Jackson's potential to step up in the Red Raiders' defense to help replace Kerry Hyder.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
3:00
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.


With six teams snagging first-place votes in the preseason poll, this conference race had potential to be the most wide-open in Big 12 history.

Two months into the season, five teams remain in the thick of the race. But this weekend, that will begin to change, as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will stage the first in several looming de facto Big 12 title elimination games.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Tech linebacker Terrance Bullitt. “Going to be a lot of elimination games coming up. We just have to take care of our part.”

[+] EnlargeKliff Kingsbury
Brad Davis/Icon SMIIf Kliff Kingsbury and the Red Raiders want to celebrate a Big 12 title, the first step is beating Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Due to a quirk in scheduling, only two games so far have been staged featuring Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), Texas (5-2, 4-0), Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1), Tech (7-1, 4-1) and OSU (6-1, 3-1) playing each other. On Oct. 12, the Longhorns beat OU, 36-20. Then last weekend, the Sooners knocked off Tech, 38-30.

As a result, the top five teams will slug it out for the conference title over eight games over the next month, beginning Saturday in Lubbock.

“We’re going to have to win this one have a shot at the Big 12,” said OSU wide receiver Charlie Moore. “This game is huge. A win this weekend would give us a ton of momentum. But it all starts this Saturday.

As the preseason favorites to win the league, the Cowboys have been searching for a momentum-building performance all season. Instead, they’ve been shuffling their backfield trying to find the right combination offensively.

Last weekend at Iowa State, they may have finally uncovered it.

With Clint Chelf getting his first start since the opener at quarterback, and Desmond Roland getting his first career start at running back, OSU racked up 342 yards on the ground while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.

With J.W. Walsh at QB and Jeremy Smith the featured running back, the Cowboys had rushed for just 433 yards combined in their previous five games for an average of only 2.5 yards a carry.

Against the Cyclones, Roland rolled up 219 yards on the ground with four touchdowns. Chelf struggled with his accuracy on a gusty afternoon completing just 10 of 26 passes. But he added 85 yards rushing on just nine carries.

“We’re looking to build off that,” Moore said. “As far as the passing game, we’re going to work on the little things and see if we can put it all together.

“We’re not even close to our full potential.”

The Red Raiders feel the same.

Last weekend, Tech churned out 24 first downs and 388 yards through the air. But three turnovers in OU territory as well as a couple of devastating penalties wiped out several promising scoring opportunities.

Penalties and turnovers have plagued the Red Raiders all year. They lead the Big 12 in both categories, and that finally caught up with them in Norman.

“We have to minimize mistakes and penalties and execute our opportunities,” said Tech receiver Eric Ward, who caught two touchdowns against the Sooners. “It just didn’t go our way last week.”

The Red Raiders had surged into the top 10 before the loss. To remain a contender, they’ll have to respond to adversity better than they did the previous two seasons under Tommy Tuberville, who oversaw a pair of late-season collapses in Lubbock.

“When we had Coach Tuberville, it was kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh, we lost, we're panicking, we're in full frantic mode,’” said Tech defensive end Branden Jackson. “Now, we know what we did wrong and what we have to improve on to move forward.”

Like Tech, OSU has no margin left for error after losing at West Virginia in its conference opener. And for both teams, the defining parts of the schedule lie ahead.

But the winner this weekend will take a strong step forward toward contending for the league crown. The loser will be all but eliminated.

"We're excited about it," Ward said. “Everything is still in front of us.

"Everything is still up for grabs.”

Tech D surging thanks to 'money down'

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
1:00
PM ET

LUBBOCK, Texas -- The Texas Tech defense has a motto for third down.

“We call that the money down,” said linebacker Terrance Bullitt. “That’s when you get paid.”

This season, the Red Raiders have been cashing in. And due in large part to their sweeping defensive turnaround, Tech is 6-0 for the first time in five years.

“When you hear about Tech, you think about how explosive our offense is,” said defensive end Branden Jackson. “We want to show the world that Tech isn’t just an offensive school.”

So far in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first season, the Red Raiders are doing just that.

In the Big 12, they’re third in total defense, second in scoring defense and first in “money down” defense. Opponents are converting just 27 percent of their third downs against the Tech defense, which dating back to the Mike Leach era has long been a drain on the Red Raiders’ perennially high-scoring offense.

This season, the defense is carrying its weight.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the defense has contributed more than nine points per game to the Red Raiders’ scoring margin. When adjusted for the offenses they’ve faced, that ranks 17th in the country.

That’s a massive improvement over the last two years. Tech’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season was -0.3. And in 2011, Adjusted Defensive Efficiency showed the Tech defense cost the team more than a touchdown a game, which ranked 100th in the FBS.

“It’s a different attitude,” Bullitt said. “We wanted to put the team on the defense’s backs.”

Despite rotating true freshmen quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, the offense has continued to hum like past Tech offenses. The Red Raiders trail only Baylor in Big 12 scoring offense with an average of almost 42 points a game.

But offense has rarely been a problem.

Since Leach’s first year in Lubbock in 2000, the Red Raiders have never averaged less than 30 points a game. And yet, they’ve never won a Big 12 title, either.

Defense is why the preseason pick to finish seventh in the Big 12 is thinking it can contend this season.

“Our offense is capable of putting up a lot of points,” said nose guard Kerry Hyder. “So we feel like the faster we can get them the ball, the faster than they can put up points.”

But unlike past years in Lubbock, when the offense hasn’t put up the points, the defense has been there to back them up.

In Tech’s marquee win so far -- a 20-10 Thursday night victory over TCU -- the defense came up big. The Red Raiders defense gave up 23 first downs and 401 yards of offense. But they bucked up when it mattered, forcing TCU to go 3 of 16 on third down, while stuffing the Horned Frogs twice on fourth down.

Eventually, after a dormant second and third quarter, the Tech offense finally woke up late in the fourth quarter, as Webb found Bradley Marquez with a 19-yard touchdown to break a 10-10 tie.

Its a different attitude. We wanted to put the team on the defense's backs.

Texas Tech linebacker Terrance Bullitt on the Red Raiders' improved defense.
“This has definitely been in the making,” Hyder said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys, especially in the front seven. I can feel the energy around the defense right now."

Hyder is a big reason for that energy.

A catalyst in the middle up front in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt's 3-4 defense, Hyder leads the Big 12 with nine tackles for loss. Last weekend in the win over Iowa State, he produced a team-high nine tackles with two quarterback hurries, despite facing constant double teams.

“He's probably not as big as some of the guys I've seen,” Kingsbury said of Hyder, who weighs just 280 pounds. “But he plays hard and he shows up on tape over and over again. He's been a real leader for that defense.”

Others have stepped up, too.

Inside linebacker Will Smith has helped Hyder plug the run and leads the team in tackles. Bullitt has been wreaking havoc from the outside, either dropping back in pass coverage or bringing pressure off the edge.

Together, those three have helped set the tone for Tech's defensive revival.

"We’ve come out here, tried to outwork the offense since the spring, and listened to our coaches," Bullitt said.

Up next, Tech faces back-to-back road tilts at West Virginia and Oklahoma in a pivotal stretch that will denote the Red Raiders as Big 12 contenders or pretenders. But if the defense keeps delivering on the money downs, the Red Raiders just might be the former.

"It’s finally coming together," Hyder said. "We’ve got a lot of confidence building.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Here are some highlights of last weekend's action in case you missed anything.
2012 record: 8-5
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: WR Eric Ward, RB Kenny Williams, TE Jace Amaro, DE Kerry Hyder, DE Branden Jackson, LB Will Smith, CB Tre Porter, DE Dartwan Bush

Key losses: QB Seth Doege, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson, WR Darrin Moore, OL La'Adrian Waddle, RB Eric Stephens

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Seth Doege (4,205 yards)
Rushing: Kenny Williams* (824 yards)
Receiving: Eric Ward* (1,053 yards)
Tackles: Cody Davis (101)
Sacks: Dartwan Bush*, Kerry Hyder* (5.5)
Interceptions: Cody Davis (3)

Spring answers

1. Springing to safety. Replacing Johnson and Davis at safety was a huge concern since that kind of experience and talent isn't easy to find. But J.J. Gaines and Tre Porter, had a strong spring and that position looks to be in good hands. There may be some trouble with inexperience, but defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt has to feel pretty good about the group.

2. More depth at quarterback. I don't buy that there's competition between Michael Brewer and Davis Webb. Brewer was consistently praised all spring, and coach Kliff Kingsbury remarked at how quickly he picked up the schemes and how well he kept the up-tempo pace. Webb, a true freshman, adds comfort as a backup, but this is Brewer's job.

3. A spring miracle in Lubbock. Injuries have just been a constant for the last few years. Every spring and fall, it's been surgery after surgery, injury after injury. Not this year. Apparently the Red Raiders' practice fields are not, in fact, cursed. Getting through the spring without any serious losses is a huge deal considering the school's recent bad luck.

Fall questions

1. Can they weather the storm? I've written about this in the past, but I'm curious to see how the young coaching staff handles the inevitable crises and issues that will come with a season of college football. Kingsbury's a first-time head coach in a big job and stocked Tech's staff with a ton of Red Raider alums. It's an interesting approach, but adjusting on the go in a season full of learning experiences will be interesting to watch.

2. Is there an identity crisis? Tech will air it out plenty, but the full identity on both sides of the ball is still forming and Kingsbury is still getting to know his team. The defense will play some three and four-man fronts and has a lot of strength on the defensive line, but both sides of the ball will adjust on the go to what works and what doesn't next season. Both sides could look different in December than it does in August.

3. Where will the running game factor in? Tech has a ton of strength at running back in Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster, along with DeAndre Washington and Quinton White adding some additional depth. The big question for any post-Mike Leach coach in Lubbock is how much they plan to run the ball. Kingsbury will throw it plenty, but can Tech break its streak of well over a decade without a 1,000-yard rusher? And how much will Brewer be asked/allowed to run? He's no Johnny Football, but he's got wheels and can keep Big 12 defenses on their toes.

ESPN.com's All-Big 12 Freshman Team

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
9:00
AM ET
We ran down our All-Big 12 team yesterday, but here's my best of the bunch among freshmen.

Learn these names. You'll need to in the future.

Let's take a look:

OFFENSE

QB: J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State
RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
RB: B.J. Catalon, TCU
WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
WR: LaDarius Brown, TCU
WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
OL: Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL: Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
OL: Aviante Collins, TCU
OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Malcom Brown, Texas
DL: Davion Pierson, TCU
DL: Branden Jackson, Texas Tech
LB: Dalton Santos, Texas
LB: Isaiah Bruce, West Virginia
LB: Jake Love, Kansas
CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
CB: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
S: Chris Hackett, TCU
S: Karl Joseph, West Virginia

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
P: Ethan Perry, TCU
KR: Tre Parmalee, Kansas
PR: Deante Gray, TCU

Opening camp: Texas Tech Red Raiders

August, 10, 2012
8/10/12
11:00
AM ET
Camp is open over in Lubbock. Before we get too deep in sweltering practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Texas Tech.

Media's predicted finish: Ninth.

Biggest storyline: Texas Tech is on a little redemption tour of its own after breaking the Big 12's longest stretch without a losing season, one that reached back nearly two decades. Last year's 5-7 season was aided by injuries, but the defense simply wasn't good enough. The pundits clearly aren't convinced Texas Tech is ready to rebound and reach the postseason, but the Red Raiders should have the offense. Can they stay healthy and finally turn the corner after a couple of rough seasons to begin the Tommy Tuberville era? He's recruited really well. The Red Raiders have the athletes to make it happen.

Biggest question mark: The entire defense. Texas Tech was by far the nation's worst run defense last season. That's an accomplishment especially in the Big 12, where passing is the name of the game. The Red Raiders gave up 12 more yards a game than New Mexico, the next-worst rush defense and a team that won one game. They gave up 25 more yards a game than the 116th-ranked rush defense. New coordinator Art Kaufman is the fourth man in four years to be in charge of the Texas Tech defense, which fell victim to poor depth in 2011. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the basic terminology and schemes haven't changed, even though the alignments have, from a 4-3 in 2009 to a 3-4 in 2010 to a 4-2-5 last year and back to a 4-3 this year.

Who needs to step up: The defensive line. Even with the injuries, the offense was good enough to win 7-8 games or more last season, averaging almost 34 points a game. Still, there's no underestimating the importance of this unit's improvement. If Tech can't stop the run any better than last year, the offense won't have a chance. Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons must emerge at the front line of the defense. Tackle Kerry Hyder and ends Branden Jackson and Dartwan Bush are the guys who can have the biggest influence on whether or not Texas Tech's rise begins in 2012.

On the mend: This list could go on and on and on, but we'll focus on the biggest guys who need to be back on the field. That starts with running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington who are returning from knee injuries. Receivers Alex Torres (knee) and Darrin Moore (ankle) are back and healthy, though Moore is facing disciplinary action after an offseason DWI arrest.

Breaking out: Texas Tech may have a pair of linebackers who are household names by the end of the season. Juco transfer Will Smith took over this spring and earned a starting spot at middle linebacker. Tuberville wants him on the field as much as possible. Terrance Bullitt, a converted safety, is playing outside linebacker and the 215-pound senior is a big hitter who can fly around and be everywhere. He just needs to prove he can be where he needs to be when he needs to be there. He's got the athleticism to make it happen.

Don't forget about: WR Eric Ward. Torres has had a great career already, and Moore has all the potential in the world, but Ward was the guy producing in 2011, and returns as the team's leading receiver. He was steady during a rocky 2011, catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 scores.

Wrapping up Texas Tech's spring

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
10:00
AM ET
Got a chance to catch up with Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville this week, and if you missed it earlier this week, here's a look at a couple stories from that conversation:
He had plenty more to say, though.
    [+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
    AP Photo/Eric GayTexas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville came away encouraged with spring practice despite having to deal with numerous injuries.

  • Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are the Big 12's only teams without indoor facilities, so Tuberville readily admits the Red Raiders roll the dice every year with weather when they start spring. This year, Tech began practice on Feb. 17, before any other Big 12 team. They only missed two practices, and made up the time before last Saturday's spring game. Tech is already finished with spring practice, but Kansas State hasn't even started.
  • You know football teams have 22 starters, right? Texas Tech was missing six to seven starters this spring from injuries suffered during the season. Nobody got beat up last year like Tech did. Mizzou was a distant second. Oklahoma had big-impact injuries (Ryan Broyles, Dominique Whaley), but had nowhere near the volume Tech did.
  • Texas Tech has hauled in top 25 recruiting classes in each of the past two years, two of the best in school history. But for the players even in the 2011 class, it's easy to forget most are entering their first spring. Tuberville thought this spring was really valuable for guys like DL Delvon Simmons, LB Branden Jackson, DE Kindred Evans, QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams and OL Le’Raven Clark. "They didn’t know what to expect but that’s where you can get better. That’s where you work on a lot of fundamental techniques, so that was the main objective, trying to bring up the level of the young guys on the team," Tuberville said. "Some ended up playing, but we didn’t have a lot of time to spend with them on fundamentals because of game planning in the fall."
  • Tuberville loved what he saw from juco transfer Rashad Fortenberry out of Mississippi. "He’s going to be a real solid left tackle behind LaAdrian Waddle, and that was a big concern with him coming out of junior college," Tuberville said. "He had a very good spring, but I think we really readied ourselves there in terms of depth on the offensive line."
  • Looking for leadership? Tuberville feels like he identified it during the last 15 practices. Defensively, S Terrance Bullitt, S D.J. Johnson, S Cody Davis and DE Kerry Hyder emerged this spring. For the offense, Tuberville saw leadership out of offensive linemen Waddle and Deveric Gallington.
  • There was plenty of hype around Brewer at quarterback this spring, and Tuberville loves what he's seen from the apparent heir to the Red Raider QB throne. "He’s got the ability and the luxury of playing behind [Seth] Doege and learning from him and how he handles himself and how he’s worked through adversity. Seth’s been a very good coach," Tuberville said. "He’s got a lot of room for improvement, but the main thing is his leadership and his knowledge of the offense were much, much better this spring."
  • The offense had a rough spring at times, but Tuberville pointed to his reliance on a lot of different players and combinations at receiver and on the offensive line that produced some short-term struggles he hopes are long-term advantages. "We’ve got so many receivers that we’re looking at," Tuberville said. "There wasn’t one day that we had the same guys playing the same position at the same time, so timing was off a little bit, but that’s a luxury for us." Among the receivers who made great strides during the spring: Javon Bell, Tyson Williams and Derek Edwards.
  • Art Kaufman is Texas Tech's fourth defensive coordinator in four years, but Tuberville says his scheme isn't much different from the 4-2-5 Texas Tech ran under Chad Glasgow in 2011. "We’re pretty much running our same things, we just changed a little of our philosophy and some of our techniques that we’re playing in the secondary and at linebacker," he said.
  • From my estimation, Texas Tech may have the best special teams duo of any squad (outside of do-everything Quinn Sharp at Oklahoma State) in the Big 12 next year. New kicker Ryan Bustin "picked up right where Donnie Carona left off." Tuberville estimates he made 90-95 percent of his kicks in game action this spring. Punter Ryan Erxleben averaged about 48 yards on his eight punts in the spring game, and Tuberville called it some of the best punting he'd ever seen. "I think Ryan has finally bought into the situation that golfers and basketball players and a lot of skill guys finally come to the conclusion of, 'I’ve gotta get stronger.' A lot of kickers and punters don’t believe that," Tuberville said. "They believe in more flexibility, but Ryan’s bought into the fact that he’s got to get his leg stronger and in the last eight or nine months, he’s worked on that, and I’ll tell you, he had a really good spring."
  • Tuberville was disappointed in his secondary for good reason in 2011, but likes what the unit showed during the spring, especially after moving receiver Cornelius Douglas to defense and keeping him there. "We’re much better with him and Eugene Neboh and Derrick Mays who, I think, is making a lot of progress. We still don’t have the depth we need at defensive line," Tuberville said. "It’s a work in progress, but we’ve got two more coming in from the high school ranks."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD