Jimmy Burch

Texas Tech defensive coordinator has been Big 12’s top newcomer

Texas Tech defenders swarm Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams during last week’s 35-24 victory over the Razorbacks. The Red Raiders are holding opponents to 29.7 points per game and are among the nation’s leaders in creating turnovers.
Texas Tech defenders swarm Arkansas running back Rawleigh Williams during last week’s 35-24 victory over the Razorbacks. The Red Raiders are holding opponents to 29.7 points per game and are among the nation’s leaders in creating turnovers. AP

He has been the most impactful fresh face at any Big 12 football program this season. And by a wide margin.

But because Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs does not wear a helmet or shoulder pads, he is not eligible to be named the 2015 Big 12 newcomer of the year. That does not make him any less deserving of the title if his next nine games follow the same turnaround path as his first three.

Tech (3-0) has limited its nonconference opponents to an average of 29.7 points, almost two touchdowns per game below last year’s average (41.3). The Red Raiders are tied for No. 10 nationally in turnovers gained (2.67 per contest) and eighth in turnover margin (1.67) heading into Saturday’s showdown against No. 3 TCU (3-0) in Lubbock (3:45 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4).

Any positive statistical designation for the Tech defense, which has seen eight coordinators in the past eight seasons, marks a monumental improvement for a unit that ranked last among Big 12 teams in most categories in 2014. But emerging among the national leaders in turnovers created, Gibbs’ area of expertise, is significant on many levels.

First and foremost, unleashing a ball-hawking defense offers the quickest way for a 4-8 team (Tech’s record last year) to become a bowl participant the next season. Takeaways trump stops because they create short-field opportunities for the offense.

If you question this formula, consider this evidence: TCU led the Big 12 in turnover margin last season (plus-18), posting a 12-1 record a year after finishing 4-8.

Tech dreams of a similar turnaround this season and TCU, coincidentally, sits squarely in the crosshairs of Gibbs’ crew. Tech still does not force a lot of punts, but the Red Raiders have recovered five fumbles and intercepted three passes in their first three games running Gibbs’ 4-3 scheme.

That puts Tech on pace to collect 32 turnovers during the regular season. A year ago, the defense finished with only 15, including a league-low six interceptions. The difference in production, as well as players’ attitudes, has been a game-changer for coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“Coach Gibbs coming in, new scheme, the way he handles himself with his calm demeanor, you can see they feed off that,” Kingsbury said during this week’s news conference in Lubbock. “But they’re going to see a whole other beast this week with TCU.”

Kingsbury said the Horned Frogs’ spread offense, led by dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin, offers an “apples and oranges” comparison to the attacks Tech has faced while building its 3-0 record. But the common defensive thread all season has been increased turnovers, a trait Gibbs’ teams flashed the past two seasons during his tenure as defensive coordinator at Houston.

Under Gibbs, the Cougars led the nation in takeaways (43) in 2013. They collected 30 more last season while holding opponents to 19.5 points per game. Those digits led to Gibbs’ hiring, a move hailed in February as a potential game-changer by Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

“I couldn’t be more excited about David Gibbs and what he’s going to bring to our program,” Hocutt said at the time. “I love his philosophy and what he talks about from a defensive perspective. I’m very confident and hopeful there are much better days ahead.”

Obviously, there is work left undone with a unit that ranks No. 112 nationally in total defense (491.7 yards per game). But that figure is down from last season (512.7 average). The turnover total is up and the halftime adjustments are better.

Tech has outscored its opponents 41-3 in the third quarter this season. The Raiders allowed only a second-half field goal in last week’s 35-24 upset of Arkansas. Although he dismissed his team’s third-quarter success as a matter of “luck,” Gibbs said the spike in turnovers is directly related to drills done on a daily basis to create more takeaways.

“The kids have done a good job, but that doesn’t surprise me,” Gibbs said. “They do it in practice. I thought they did a nice job trying to rip and punch and do all the things you have to do to create fumbles. The truth is all three of the teams we played are very disciplined football teams. So to come away with eight is pretty good.”

If Tech continues to collect more turnovers than it surrenders on a weekly basis, the Red Raiders have the offensive firepower to be the Big 12’s biggest surprise in 2015. But for now, Kingsbury is simply happy to see the defensive numbers trending in a positive direction. Asked if Tech finally has found stability at defensive coordinator, Kingsbury said: “I hope so.”

Along the way, Kingsbury also may have made the best off-season coaching hire of any Big 12 coach.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

Ball hawks

Texas Tech is limiting scoring and winning the turnover battle under new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. A look at the turnaround.

Stat

2014

2015

Scoring

defense

41.3

29.7

Turnover

margin

- 1.08

1.67

Turnovers

gained/game

1.25

2.67

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