Tommy Tuberville's coaching friends are congratulating him this week. His Texas Tech Red Raiders are ranked No. 1.
In total defense.
That's right. The football program which seemingly hasn't guarded anyone in a dozen years, which fathered the 70-63 West Virginia-Baylor game, which gave up 66 points in two of its final three games a year ago, sits above Alabama and LSU and all the other sabertooths who still play a little defense on college gridirons.
It's like Pavarotti being known for his dancing. Carmelo being known for his defense. Cattlemen's being known for its quiche.
It's the Big 12's worst nightmare. Tech, which has terrorized the league since 2000 with the Mike Leach offense, suddenly playing the other side of the ball.
And just in time for the Sooners to hit Lubbock, desperately needing a victory to keep their season afloat.
But good news for OU. Tech's lofty ranking isn't legit, at least not yet, and even Tuberville admits it.
“It's great to talk about those stats,” Tuberville said. “I mean, they're good for people to compare and all that. But we know better than that. We all know better than that. Five weeks from now we'll know a lot more. Heck, we'll know a lot more after this week.”
Tech's rise up the rankings is dramatic.
Total defense: 102nd in 2011, first in 2012.
Rush defense: 117th in 2011, 12th in 2012.
Pass defense: 34th in 2011, first in 2012.
Scoring defense: 47th in 2011, fifth in 2012.
But the Red Raiders have played toothless offenses. Their victims have been Texas State, Iowa State, New Mexico and Northwestern Louisiana. The first three are not in the top 90 in NCAA passing, and the latter is a I-AA team.
So there's still some mystery. “I think there's a lot of unknown across the country,” Bob Stoops said.
Give the Red Raiders this, though. They obviously are much better defensively with new coordinator Art Kaufman, and even last season, Tech wasn't awful against the pass, even in the quarterback-crazy Big 12. Tech's pass defense ranking (34th) and scoring defense ranking (47th) were acceptable, considering the competition.
Tech's defense held up well against the Sooners, with a 41-38 upset in Norman.
“Last year I thought we played pretty good,” Tuberville said. “Played the best defensive game we played all year against Oklahoma last year, and still gave up 38 points.”
Tuberville was known for his defenses while head coach at Ole Miss and Auburn. So after last season – when Tech's season ended with losses of 41-7 to Iowa State, 52-20 to Texas, 66-6 to OSU, 31-27 to Missouri and 66-42 to Baylor – Tuberville dismissed Chad Glasgow and hired Kaufman, who had been Tuberville's coordinator at Mississippi and spent last season at North Carolina's coordinator.
“Kaufman's done an excellent job,” Stoops said. “They're disciplined in what they're doing. Aggressive, physical up front. They're covering you tight.”
Tuberville said Tech's newfound defensive prowess is built upon confidence.
“Confidence of knowing they're all on the same page,” Tuberville said. “It's not rocket science. What we do is very simple.”
Kaufman has instituted the gap-control system that Mike Stoops apparently put in at OU.
And now it comes down to Tech's new defense against the OU offense and the struggling Landry Jones.
The rest of the Big 12 would love to see the Sooners go 0-2 in the conference and stay in their offensive slump.
But it comes at a price. Shut down the Sooners, and the dormant Texas Tech defense will have grown fangs.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.