Rai ers hunt for missing 'D'October 13, 2017 1:46pm

Oct. 13--It's taken three years, but the Texas Tech football team is starting to play some defense to go along with its high-powered offense for the first time under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Kingsbury was criticized all offseason following one of the worst seasons ever for a defense. Despite having one of the best offenses in the country, led by eventual NFL first-round pick Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders finished 5 -- 7 (3 -- 6 Big 12) and missed out on a bowl game.

The reason? TTU was 128th out of 128 teams in scoring defense, allowing a miserable 43 { points per game. The Red Raiders were also dead last in yards allowed per game, at 554.3; 116th in rush defense, at 238.6; and 125th in pass defense, at 315.8.

Under Kingsbury, Texas Tech had not had a good defense yet, but last season's abysmal performance was historically porous and made Kingsbury's seat feel a little warm in Lubbock.

This season, however, in defensive coordinator David Gibbs' third year, there has been a major overhaul on the defense, and while the Red Raiders are still not great, there has been drastic improvement. The Raiders are still scoring in bunches, too, helping them to a 4-1 (1-1) record and No. 24 ranking in the AP poll.

WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who has had his fair share of success of scoring against Texas Tech defenses, sees a considerable change in what the Red Raiders are doing heading into Saturday's match-up, at Milan Puskar Stadium.

"They have a plan; there was a dial-up defense element to what they were doing over the last couple years," he said. "They are not doing that. They are sound with what they are doing. They have a plan, and they are executing it very well."

Many of the same players on this version of the TTU defense were on past units, but are a year older and a year wiser. Becoming more familiar with the scheme allowed Gibbs to home in on what type of game plan he can come up with. Rather than having to switch defenses from week to week, there is finally an identity.

"For a lot of these guys, it's their second or third year with coach Gibbs, and we've brought in some new faces who have really done a nice job so far," Kingsbury said. "Having consistency at the coordinator position where you can try to build a culture in your program is huge. Everyone who has had success in our league has had stability at the defensive coordinator position and hopefully we can find that."

As a unit, the Raiders still sit at 105th nationally in total yards allowed per game, with 437, one spot above WVU's defense. TTU gives up a lot of yards through the air, ranking 124th, but has faced high-flying offenses in Arizona State, Houston and Oklahoma State.

That won't change this weekend, against the Mountaineers and quarterback Will Grier, but the biggest improvement for the Red Raiders is with their rush defense.

They are 53rd in rushing yards allowed per game (138.4), up more than 70 spots from last season.

Holgorsen believes that has a lot to do with the play of their linebackers.

"Dakota Allen is playing well," he said. "Jordyn Brooks was a big-time linebacker coming out of high school that played for them last year as a freshman. Those guys are everywhere. They are typically always in the box."

In what is pretty "ho-hum" for the Red Raiders, they are seventh in total offense, fourth in passing offense and 67th in rushing offense per game. They haven't missed a beat without Mahomes, thanks to Nic Shimonek.

Shimonek has completed 72 percent of his passes for 1,811 yards and 14 TDs.

But Kingsbury's offenses struggled against WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson's 3-3-5 stack recently, so Kingsbury knows this will be a challenge.

"This is a team we've struggled with, there's no doubt," he said. "They've gotten after us the last couple of years and we just need to play better; that's all it comes down to. Otherwise, we'll go up there and get embarrassed."

Grier named to Manning Watch List

Grier was named to the Manning Award Watch List on Thursday, along with 10 other quarterbacks.

It was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in honor of the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It is the only quarterback award that includes the candidates' bowl performances in its balloting.

Grier has thrown for 1,740 yards and 16 TDs.

Follow Sean Manning on Twitter @SeanManning_DP. Email: smanning@dominionpost.com.

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(c)2017 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

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