The Texas Tech Red Raiders experienced a bit of a shakeup on their coaching staff this week when defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was reportedly fired (before officially “resigning) following a poor showing against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
There are some unusual circumstances surrounding the departure of Wallerstedt, as some reports indicate he was forced out after showing up to the team facility under the influence of an “unknown substance” while others say the split was due to growing strife between Wallerstedt and the rest of the coaching staff. Whatever the real story, one thing is clear: Texas Tech is better off without him on the sideline.
While Texas Tech has not never been a bastion of great defensive play, Wallerstedt did the program very few favors in how he led his defense. For as much success as the defense has had under Kliff Kingsbury and the return of the Air Raid offensive attack, they have been hurt by Wallerstedt’s handling of the defense. Last season, the Red Raiders ranked No. 85 in total defense, surrendering 418.7 yards per game and No. 99 against the run, allowing over 200 yards rushing per game. After starting the season out 7-0, Tech was severely let down by their defense down the stretch, losing their last five regular season games, giving up an average of 294 yards on the ground and surrender 23 rushing touchdowns.
This season, the defense seems to have only gotten worse. In three games, Texas Tech has surrendered 887 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, low-lighted by their dismantling at the hands of Arkansas. The Razorbacks walked into Lubbock and rushed for 438 yards, averaging 6.44 yards per carry, with seven rushing touchdowns in a 49-28 Arkansas victory. It was a major blow to a Tech team that had visions of making a run at a Big 12 title, which seems unlikely if they get run over by a team that went just 3-9 last season, including 0-8 in SEC play. If they can’t contain the worst of the SEC, how will they compete with the best of the Big 12?
This start is particularly frustrating because Tech was supposed to have answered some of their issues on defense in recruiting this offseason. The team went out and signed junior college defensive linemen, like the massive Rika Levi at 6-foot-2 and 367 pounds, to make an immediate impact in the trenches. But so far, Levi has been missing in action (which is difficult to do for someone of his size) with just 5 total tackles and with 0.5 tackles for loss. The rest of the defensive line has been equally disappointing, with Branden Jackson leading the team with just 1.5 tackles for loss. The Red Raiders were supposed to have gotten more physical at the point of attack so they could control the line of scrimmage. But through three games, it’s just been more of the same Texas Tech defense (or lack thereof).
While it’s difficult to immediately turn around a defense with as many holes as Tech had, Wallerstedt’s “rebuilding” efforts were looking more and more like further demolition. This Red Raider schedule opened up very soft prior to the Arkansas game with tilts against FCS Central Arkansas and a road trip to El Paso to face the UTEP Miners. Still, against this soft slate, Texas Tech struggled to put up much resistance. Even before the meltdown against the Razorbacks, Tech was allowing 224.5 yards rushing and three touchdowns per game on the ground and allowed over 400 yards of total offense to an FCS opponent in a narrow 42-35 win. This was an opportunity for the defense to build some confidence in Year 2 under Wallerstedt but came out and fell flat on their faces instead.
Add to that the alleged strife among the coaching staff that Wallerstedt was in the middle of, and you get a perfect time to part ways with the assistant coach. Texas Tech is a team that has an opportunity to catch lightning in a bottle and make a run with the weapons that they have on offense. Their defense just has to be good enough to slow people down and the Red Raiders will score enough to win on most nights. With what they have been showing so far, though, this offense would have to score 70 per game from here on out to give this squad a realistic shot at becoming bowl eligible.
Shaking up the coaching staff was the only option for Texas Tech to try and get a better effort out of the defensive side of the ball. Whether or not linebackers coach Mike Smith can step in and do a better job as the defensive coordinator remains to be seen but he will be a different voice that might be able to reach some of the talent that the team has on that side of the ball. By all accounts, this Tech defense should have taken a major step forward in 2014 with the returning talent they had and the additions through recruiting. So far, it has been nothing short of a disaster.
And at the end of the day, the buck for that disaster stops with the defensive coordinator. Kingsbury, for all his accolades and contract extensions, is not a defensive coach so he will rely heavily on his defensive staff to get things done on that side of the ball. Wallerstadt was entrusted with a group that he had turned over greatly in just over a season to take the next step and he dropped the ball. While the team is far from fully stocked on defense with top talent, there was enough, in theory, to show some significant improvement. Without that improvement, however, coupled with the reported issues he was causing in the locker room, Wallerstadt had to go.
Texas Tech is still a talented team that can create some noise in the Big 12 title race. Their shake-up on the coaching staff can’t make things worse defensively (they hope) and will see if this move can provide a spark to the defensive side of the ball, much like it seemed to last season for the Texas Longhorns after they fired Manny Diaz following their disastrous showing against the BYU Cougars. After surrendering 550 yards rushing in Provo, the Longhorns shaped up and finished the year as a middle-of-the-pack defense in the Big 12 after looking like one of the worst in college football.
If the Red Raiders can get a similar boost from the dismissal of Wallerstadt, they will end up much better off for making this move down the stretch in 2014.