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.