The Texas Tech Red Raiders won just four games and experienced their second straight losing season under head coach Matt Wells. The job now, for the Red Raiders, is to get back to a bowl game for the first time since the Kliff Kingsbury era. We’ve already looked at the Red Raiders offense, but what does Texas Tech have to do on defense to start making things right in 2021? We break it down here.
1. Can This Defense Ever Get Better?
It’s a broken record in Lubbock, but let’s break down where the Red Raiders finished last year. Tech was either No. 8 or No. 9 in the Big 12 in major defensive categories, and among the bottom 25 percent in FBS, including No. 108 (out of 130 teams) in scoring defense. Keith Patterson, the defensive coordinator, needs to make this group, at the least, serviceable. To that end, Patterson has eight returning starters. But, given this program’s inability to build a consistent defense year across year, it’s about attitude and leaving the past in the rear-view mirror. If Patterson can get them to do that, he might be able to get this until into the top half of the country in total defense, which would be around No. 65. That would be dramatic improvement for this unit.
2. The Lurking Lineman
Tech has a healthy group of returning starters, and they’re primarily focused on the front four and at linebacker. None could be more unit-changing than defensive tackle Tony Bradford Jr., who will be a junior this season. Bradford was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection last season after registering 28 tackles, including six tackles for loss. Obviously, he’s not among the leading returning tacklers. But Bradford’s job is to make an impact beyond that. And, in a 3-4 defense, that means clearing the path for other players. At 6-foot-1, 290 pounds, he can do that. And if he takes a big step forward, so does this Red Raiders defense.
3. The Secondary Problem
If there is one unit Red Raider fans should have questions about, it’s the secondary. Going into the season the Red Raiders have just one returning starter in safety Eric Monroe, a senior. In fact, one thing the group does have is seniority — most of the talent are either juniors or seniors. But there are caveats. Monroe isn’t exactly homegrown. He’s a transfer from LSU who only joined Texas Tech in 2020. His projected companion at safety is also a transfer, Duke’s Marquis Waters. Cornerback is a real question mark. If you buy into the idea that Adrian Frye and DaMarcus Fields are the projected starters, well Frye had a 17-tackle season and it should be interesting to see him be a full-time starter. Fields started six games last season and led the Big 12 in passes defended. So while some may not look at him as a ‘returning starter’ by the traditional definition, Fields’ final season in Lubbock could be the linchpin toward making the back line better.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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