Over the years, Texas Tech football is seldom recognized for its defense in wake of a consistently high-scoring offense.
However, the Red Raiders remain confident in their ability to progress and are trying to shape an identity on the defensive side of the ball.
Tech’s defense is led by second year defensive coordinator, Keith Patterson. He was one of head coach Matt Wells’ first hires after departure from Utah State in 2018. Patterson, upon arrival in Lubbock, worked with linebackers. Now, he is in charge of the safeties of the program.
Patterson has been known for his aggressive defenses and their ability to force turnovers. In fact, Tech ranked third in the Big 12 in interceptions last year, according to Tech Athletics. On a national scale, they ranked 17th in the country in the same category.
When Patterson spoke to the media earlier in the week, he was complimentary of senior defensive back Demarcus Fields’ physical presence at corner.
The six-foot-flat, 200-pund senior finished fifth on the team in tackles last year, according to Tech Athletics. Pound-for-pound, Fields is on the bigger side of the Red Raiders’ secondary. But the physical aspect is not all that peaks coach Patterson’s interest.
The mental aspect of the game is also highly respected among Tech players. The toughness and rugged mentality seems to be vital against physical Big 12 opponents, and Patterson thinks he has the personnel to fulfill that aspect of the game.
When talking about another up-and-coming player on the Red Raider roster, senior linebacker Jacob Morgenstern, Patterson raved about his mentality.
“He brings a toughness … He was able to match up with a tight end,” Patterson said. “It’s very seldom where you got a six-foot-four 220-pound outside guy that can match up with tight ends. You can’t block him, and he can also cover you man-to-man.”
The mental toughness of Morgenstern, which is in line with his big frame, is what coach Patterson is looking for on the defensive side of the ball for Tech, and it starts in the middle.
For years, the linebackers have been the focal point of the Red Raiders’ defense. Last year, Jordyn Brooks, who is now in the NFL, was the epicenter of the defense. Now, Riko Jeffers has assumed the role, and is looking to improve the underwhelming Tech defense one step at a time.
“He gets us into the right fronts and coverages a lot, and so many of the other guys just tend to let him do it,” Patterson said. “One of the things we talked about in our staff meeting was making and forcing other guys to be able to step up and communicate.”
The lack of communication on the defense has proven to be a problem for the Tech defense this year, especially in the secondary.
The Red Raider defense ranks last in Big 12 pass defense, total defense and third to last in red zone defense, according to Big 12 statistics. Against Kansas State, Tech allowed 206 passing yards with 9.4 yards per pass. The Wildcats had two receivers with individual receptions of 65 yards or longer. This is the second time Tech has allowed multiple big passing plays in a game. Against Houston Baptist, they allowed 572 receiving yards with two specific receptions over 65-plus yards apiece.
Now, this could also stem from the lack of pressure on quarterbacks, as Tech only has two sacks all season. However, the defensive line is seeking to patch up their errors, which they hope results in a big-time push.
“We know as a d-line, as a defensive unit, if we just continue to correct those little mistakes, it’ll make a big difference,” sophomore defensive lineman Tony Bradford Jr said.
Bradford is confident in the results that the Red Raiders could see when they finally take their practice skillset and mentality to Saturdays.
“We just have to do a better job as a unit and a team of taking all the work we’ve done in practice and moving it to game day, because when we do, watch out," Bradford Jr said.
Despite the two-game skid of late for Tech, both games have been decided by two possessions or less, one of which came in an overtime loss by one possession.
With the long season ahead of them, Wells and the Red Raider program think they are close to turning the corner.
“I will say this: our time is coming; our time is coming.” said Wells. “I believe in these players. The way they continue to come in here and grind and work … I’m proud of our guys.”
With two games down in conference play, the Red Raiders are approaching perhaps their most consistent opponent in No. 24 Iowa State.
This will be the second road game in a row for Tech, as they will travel to Ames, Iowa, for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff against the Cyclones.