Racking up passing yards and points hasn’t been a problem in recent years for Texas Tech, but the No. 12 Red Raiders are hoping it’s their improved defense that legitimizes their lofty ranking and carries them to the Big 12 title game.
That unit should receive a good test Saturday when Texas Tech visits high-powered Nevada in the first meeting between the schools.
In recent years, the Red Raiders have been known as a team that could light up the scoreboard with prolific passing, while not often preventing opponents from doing the same.
Last season, they averaged more than 40 points per game with quarterback Graham Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree easily leading the nation in passing and receiving yards, respectively. The defense, though, allowed more than 40 points three times in Big 12 losses, and permitted 551 total yards in a 59-43 defeat to Texas.
The Red Raiders earned their highest preseason ranking since 1977 this year, but a 49-24 opening win over Eastern Washington on Saturday apparently didn’t convince poll voters that things would be different defensively, and they stayed at No. 12.
Harrell went 43-of-58 for 536 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and Texas Tech rolled up 639 total yards. The defense, though, gave up 341 passing yards to an FCS opponent, and coach Mike Leach was not happy with the overall effort.
“I’m optimistic because I’m still excited about this team, but I just felt like we wouldn’t have wasted as many plays as we did this game,” Leach said. “But we did, and now we have to learn from it and go from there.
“We need to entertain a far higher dose of respect for all the teams we play.”
The Red Raiders returned eight defensive starters after holding Virginia to seven second-half points in a 31-28 comeback win in last season’s Gator Bowl.
Linebacker Brian Duncan called allowing 24 points “not at all acceptable.”
“As a defense, we are not proud of that,” Duncan added. “We are the type of ‘D’ now that we cannot let any team score. We take it personal.”
They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves against Nevada. Working in coach Chris Ault’s Pistol offense, the Wolf Pack racked up 629 yards of total offense in a 49-13 win over Grambling State on Saturday.
While Texas Tech does its damage mostly through the air, Nevada didn’t have any passing touchdowns Saturday. The Wolf Pack instead rushed for 426 yards, with Vai Taua logging 103 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and quarterback Colin Kaepernick running for three more scores.
“We didn’t play as consistently as we could at the quarterback position,” Ault said. “There were some good signs overall and there are some things we can do better. Our running backs are a tough, a tough group.”
Nevada also had an impressive rushing attack last year, when Luke Lippincott ran for 1,420 yards and 15 touchdowns to help the Wolf Pack average more than 33 points. Lippincott totaled 69 yards and a TD on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack’s offense was especially good at home in 2007, averaging nearly 39 points and 214 rushing yards. Nevada went 4-2 at Clarence Mackay Stadium last year, with one of the losses a 28-26 defeat to then-No. 13 Hawaii.
Nevada, however, is 0-2 all-time against the Big 12, losing 52-10 at Nebraska last Sept. 1. The Wolf Pack play at sixth-ranked Missouri next week.
Texas Tech comes in having won eight straight non-conference games.