It was no secret that Texas Tech needed vast improvement with its defense if the Red Raiders had any hopes of challenging for a Big 12 title in 2012.Coach Tommy Tuberville, in his third season with the Red Raiders, spoke candidly about the need to go back to the fundamentals of good tackling and gap control last spring and during media days in July.He hired defensive coordinator Art Kaufman when Chad Glasgow returned to TCU's staff after one year in Lubbock. He brought in some talented transfers, including linebacker Will Smith (second on the team with 19 tackles), and revamped the scheme.But even Tuberville has got to be surprised at how fast Kaufman has been able to turn it around. The Red Raiders (4-0, 1-0 in Big 12) are leading the nation in defense as they prepare to host No. 17 Oklahoma (2-1, 0-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.It's a far cry from last year when Tech finished the season 114th in total defense out of 120 schools."You see they're playing a lot more aggressive," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "They're really physical up front. They're covering people with tight coverage. Everything looks stronger and more disciplined in how they're playing."No one can attest to that more than Iowa State, which lambasted the Red Raiders 41-7 in Lubbock last year."They were a different team physically, both with the interior positions and the skill positions, speed on both sides of the ball," said coach Paul Rhoads, whose Cyclones were held to a season-low 189 yards in a 24-13 loss last week to Tech. "They really physically challenged us and got after us. "Tuberville credits Kaufman's leadership and a major upgrade in team speed."In the Big 12 you have to have as much speed as you can," Tuberville said. "We're playing a lot better than, obviously, we had. Our defense is tackling better, but we have more speed on the team. We made it a priority the last two years in recruiting to bring in height and speed on defense. Guys who can run and rush the passer and get their hands up in the passing lanes. It's an ongoing process to get this defense where we need it to be to play the Oklahoma States and West Virginias, teams that throw the ball almost every down."Kaufman, he said, has helped with improving technique and stopping the run with better gap control."He's done a good job of training these kids in terms of playing the run -- how to play with their hands, how to play with their eyes, how to play gap control -- all the little things it takes to be a run-stopping team and that kind of filters down to playing pass defense and rushing the passer."The change in command three consecutive seasons fed disarray, which disrupts everything, Rhoads said."There's a personality that you establish as a defensive coordinator," Rhoads said. "You do that individually first, then with your staff, and then it goes throughout the team. They've developed their players for three years with their strength system and developed those players to fit a defense that Tommy is comfortable with playing right now, and they're doing an exceptional job."Tech has been here before. After four games a year ago the Red Raiders were 4-0 and 1-0 in conference before losing to Texas A&M 45-40 in their conference home opener. Former Mansfield Timberview running back Eric Stephens, who was off to a great season, was injured in the game and missed the rest of the season. Another close loss to Kansas State followed.The Red Raiders rebounded with their last significant win when they ended Oklahoma's 39-game home winning streak with a stunning 41-38 upset.In Lubbock, however, wins over the Sooners are less surprising. Oklahoma hasn't won there since 2003.Tech, along with Texas, are the only schools with five wins against Oklahoma since Bob Stoops took over in 1999.The Red Raiders entered the USA Today coaches' poll for the first time this season at No. 24 this week.The last time AT&T Jones Stadium hosted a Top 25 matchup was when Tech defeated Oklahoma State 56-20 in November 2008.A win Saturday against the Sooners should move Tech into The Associated Press poll Top 25 and would signal a legitimate resurgence in Lubbock.Stefan Stevenson817-390-7760Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs
Here's a look at how this season's Texas Tech defense compares with the 2011 squad after four games:
Spotlight on Texas Tech CB Cornelius Douglas
Fifth-year senior Cornelius Douglas, the reigning Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Week, has been a key player in the Texas Tech defense's ongoing renaissance.
That's saying something about Douglas' ability, considering it was just last season that he was lining up on the opposite side of the ball as a wide receiver.
A two-interception showing against Iowa State last week, however, may have been Douglas' way of letting opponents know where his real comfort zone is.
"I mean, Tech was the first time I played receiver," Douglas said. "So, most of my college recruiting I was a cornerback, but I mean, it's just, I would say, instinct."
Douglas, a Lawton, Okla., native, displayed a diverse set of skills in high school, making appearances at quarterback, defensive back and kick returner.
At 5-foot-9, 198 pounds, Douglas has accounted for seven tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions and two passes defended as an integral part of the nation's No. 1 total defense (167.5 yards per game) and No. 1 passing defense, one that has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 47.6 completion percentage.
But with No. 17 Oklahoma coming to Lubbock this weekend, Douglas is presented his toughest task as a defensive back to date.
Douglas, coincidentally, had some of his best games as a receiver against the Sooners, racking up a career-high six receptions against Oklahoma on two occasions.
His level of play against Oklahoma, coupled with the fact that the Sooners did not recruit him out of high school despite family ties to the university, could bode well for the Red Raiders.
Douglas' uncle, John, played baseball at Oklahoma, and his mother, Debra Martin, graduated from the university. Cornelius, though, insists that whatever grudge he may have had against Oklahoma is long gone.
A Tech win is all he is focused on now.
"I'm kind of over that," Douglas said. "That was freshman year they didn't recruit me.
"It's just a business trip now; I've got to get the W."Saturday's games
Kansas at Kansas State (11 a.m., FX): Both teams had last week off. K-State is coming of 24-19 victory at Oklahoma while KU lost 30-23 at Northern Illinois. The Wildcats have won the past three and 15 of past 20.
Iowa State at TCU (2:30 p.m., FSSW): Both offenses struggled last week -- TCU's 156 yards was its lowest since 1997, while Iowa State was held to 189 in a 24-13 loss to Texas Tech. But both defenses have started strong and rank in the top 20 in scoring and yards allowed.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech (2:30 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8): The struggling Sooners face the nation's No. 1 defense. OU hasn't won in Lubbock since 2003.
West Virginia at Texas (6 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4): Texas has struggled against the pass, so with the nation's No. 3 scoring offense coming to Austin, the Longhorns are considering a change at strong safety.