LUBBOCK, Texas - If Texas Tech thought Oklahoma was a good test for its revitalized defense, one has to wonder what the Red Raiders are thinking with No. 5 West Virginia coming to town.
Texas Tech's defense allowed 41 points through three quarters in a home loss to the Sooners last weekend - just two points shy of what it had allowed to everyone else combined in the first four games of the season.
Now the nation's No. 2 defense will face Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith, its running back Andrew Buie, and two of the best receivers in the country, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. West Virginia is averaging 570 yards a game. Oklahoma was averaging 492 before beating the Red Raiders 41-20 last Saturday.
Texas Tech safety Cody Davis, left, and the Red Raiders defense faces another tough test in West Virginia’s high-flying offense.
"In this game we feel like we'll be able to come out a lot faster in the first half so we don't have as many mistakes and we'll be able to perform a lot better," senior safety D.J. Johnson said.
The Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) gave up more points than OU had averaged coming into the game (37 points). West Virginia (5-0, 2-0) is averaging 52 points.
Texas Tech leaped to the top of the defensive stats nationally this season after three victories against lesser opponents (Northwestern State, Texas State and New Mexico) and a victory at Iowa State.
That's a complete reversal from last season when the Red Raiders finished near the bottom in several defensive categories.
Improvement from the OU game is vital if the Red Raiders defense has a chance to slow the Mountaineers, Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. Against Oklahoma, the defense gave up 150 yards after contact on runs and pass completions, and allowed touchdown passes on two third-and-longs, he said.
"We've got to get back to making sure that we play the way we played in the first four games on defense," Tuberville said. "It wasn't anything other than the fact that we just got there and didn't make plays."
The challenge begins with Smith, the nation's most efficient passer. Last week, the senior threw for 268 yards and four touchdowns in West Virginia's 48-45 win at Texas. For the season, he's thrown 24 touchdown passes and has not been intercepted in 204 pass attempts.
Buie last week was the balance to Smith's 35 pass attempts. The sophomore got a career-high 207 rushing yards on 31 carries and added another 66 receiving yards. Then there's Bailey and Austin, who against the Longhorns combined for 177 receiving yards from their 18 catches. Bailey is No. 2 in the country (142 receiving yards per game) and Austin is third (132 yards per game).
West Virginia coach Dana Holgerson, who was a receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator with Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2000-2007, said he and his staff have spent hours looking for creative ways to get first downs against the Red Raiders. The offense, he said, is going to have to play as well as it has all season.
"They're technically sound," Holgerson said of Texas Tech's defense. "That poses problems when you don't know what they're going to do. That aggravates you from a game-plan standpoint. We can come up with a bunch of plays, but it's just hard to execute against them."
Johnson said the run-pass threat of Smith and his receivers and Buie is an opportunity.
"It gives us the challenge, gives us the chance to show what we can do," he said. If "we can tackle the pass and contain it as much as we can and force them to run the ball and force them to be one-dimensional, I feel we'll affect them greatly."
Against Oklahoma, the Red Raiders defensive woes began early. Texas Tech watched as Oklahoma put together a 12-play drive on its first possession that included three third-down conversions - the last a third-and-10 from the Red Raiders' 13 that resulted in a touchdown pass from Landry Jones to Justin Brown.
The rest of the way, the Red Raiders gave up field goals or touchdowns on drives of nine, eight, six (twice) and 10 plays. The biggest drive came after Texas Tech gambled and failed on fourth-and-5 from the OU 36 early in the second half. The Sooners sacked quarterback Seth Doege for a 10-yard loss and the short field quickly led to 31-13 lead after a 1-yard run by Blake Bell.
"In this league, as tough as it is, you're not going to be able to bring your 'A' game every week," Tuberville said. "We hope we bring it this week, because we obviously didn't bring it last week."