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June 23, 2009

Yeager: Facts don't back up Athlon quote

When it comes to college football - or just about anything else, for the matter of it - you expect media types to say dumb things. Journalists are usually not expert in anything but journalism, and besides, outrageous statements sell copy. It is just a little bit startling, however, when a bona fide expert says something that is outright silly.

A classic case in point is an anonymous quote about the Texas Tech football program from an opposing Big 12 assistant coach. The statement, which appears in the 2009 Athlon's college football annual, reads as follows: "They [the Red Raiders] were better on defense last season, but they're still way behind their offense in terms of talent. Mike (Leach) is going to spend all his time working on offense, but you have to have a great defense to be good in this league."

The critic of this quote is paralyzed by giddiness much like a mosquito at a blood bank, such is the bedazzling array of targets on display.

Take, for instance, the assertion that Tech's defensive talent a year ago was "way behind" the offense's. Now clearly, the defense did not boast a supernova talent like Michael Crabtree. But it did produce a second-round NFL draft pick in safety Darcel McBath, and a fourth rounder in Brandon Williams who is reputed to already be tearing it up for the Dallas Cowboys.

Additionally, the defense boasted former freshman All-American Colby Whitlock, defensive end McKinner Dixon who was one of the Big 12's leading pass rushers, and cornerback Jamar Wall, who is appearing on many preseason All-Big 12 teams. Middle linebacker Brian Duncan is also receiving some All Conference notice.

Was and is the Red Raider defense as talented as the offense? Probably not. But the disparity is clearly not as dramatic as many people think. And a Big 12 assistant coach should know that.

The second sentence from the quote, however, is where the gristle really meets the bone. The clear implication of the sentence is that the Tech football team is permanently incapable of fielding a great defense because head coach Mike Leach cares naught about that side of the ball.

Now there was doubtless a kernel of truth to such thinking a few years ago, but it is certainly not true now. Leach has matured as a coach and the scales have fallen from his eyes.

He cared enough about defense to oust his longtime close friend and mentor defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich and replace him with Ruffin McNeill. And while the Red Raider defense has not taken the nation by storm under McNeill, it has at least improved to the point of respectability.

In further defense of Leach and, well, the Tech defense, it should also be noted that few defenses in the nation would fare well statistically if they faced the offenses that populate the Big 12.

In terms of scoring defense, no Big 12 defense finished nationally in the top 15 a year ago. The University of Texas was best in the league with a number 18 national ranking. Good, but hardly "great."

The best pass defense in the league belonged to Colorado, which finished number 73 nationally.

And no Big 12 team finished in the nation's top 50 in terms of total defense.

Clearly, there were no great defenses in the Big 12 a year ago, but obviously, a few teams were "good in this league."

And Texas Tech was certainly one of them. The Red Raiders tied for the Big 12 South title, bumped off the then number one Texas Longhorns, spent time as the number two team in the nation, and finished the season 11-2. If that's not "good in this league," I don't know what is.

So who made this silly statement? Who knows? But the remark comes off as the disgruntled axe-grinding of a coach who's recently had his keister handed to him by the Red Raiders. And you know what? That could be just about anybody.


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