Although Texas Tech's defense was better in 2012 than it had been over the previous few years, the pass rush was still rather anemic. The Red Raiders recorded a mere 19 sacks on the season, which placed them 91st nationally. By way of comparison, Stanford led the nation with 57 QB traps, while Texas topped the Big 12 tallying 34 sacks. Rushing the passer was just not a Tech strength. Far from it.
But 2013 brings new defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt and a change in defensive philosophy. Wallerstedt promises that his defense will be very aggressive and will make rushing the passer a high priority, particularly in the red zone and near the opponent's goal line.
Of course, rare is the defensive coordinator who doesn't talk up bringing the heat. But actually being able to do so successfully is something else altogether.
A coach is limited by his players. If there are no talented rushers on the team, or if his corners are vulnerable in man coverage, there's not much the coach can do, no matter how much he would love to rough up opposing quarterbacks. Now there's no real reason to doubt the sincerity of Wallerstedt's desire to rush the passer. The real question is, does he have the personnel to do so.
Will the 2013 Texas Tech defense record fewer or more than 25 sacks?
Twenty-five sacks are not all that many. Typically, that number will place a defense in the middle of the pack nationally. The last time Tech hit that number was 2010, when Brian Duncan led the way with seven sacks.
A couple of factors will ensure that the Red Raider defense gets ample opportunities to rush the passer. First, Tech plays in the Big 12, a conference known for its passing offenses. Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia can be counted on to air it out but plenty, while neither Texas nor TCU are what one would call chary of the pass.
Second, Tech's run defense should be better. There is talent, experience and reasonable depth up front, and linebackers such as Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe have the potential to be run-stuffers. If improvement in rush defense comes to pass, so will the passes. And hopefully for Tech's sake, the sacks.
The Red Raiders return the only two players to make an impact in the sack stats a year ago—tackle Kerry Hyder and end Dartwan Bush. Both recorded six sacks. There is no reason whatsoever to think Hyder and Bush will be less effective than they were last season. On the contrary, they should be more proficient if only because they're more experienced. But they'll need help if the Red Raiders are to reach the 25-sack mark.
From whence does the help come?
First, it will come from Wallerstedt. It is probably safe to say that he will game plan and play-call more aggressively than Art Kaufman, who was a fairly conservative coordinator. Wallerstedt will do his best to rush when least expected and to do so from unusual angles. Sacks should follow.
Second, there is reason to think that end Brandon Jackson and linebacker Pete Robertson are ready to come into their own. Both have the size, speed and athleticism you like to see in pass rushers, and both are entering their sophomore seasons. Player improvement is usually most dramatic between the freshman and sophomore years. And indeed, Robertson in particular looked like a better player in the spring. He certainly is one of the most aggressive players on the defense. If Jackson and Robertson really do blossom, the Red Raiders could not only reach 25 sacks, they could smash that number.
The only real reason for concern and caution is the situation at cornerback. Bruce Jones is a returning starter at field cornerback, and he's capable of holding his own. Boundary corner is another story. Ola Falemi seems most likely to start, but his only real D1 experience is as a special teamer. There are other candidates—including true freshman Dee Paul—but none inspire overwhelming confidence at this point. If Wallerstedt has to fight liabilities at the corner position, he will have to dial back the heat, and that will hurt the sack tally.
But the plusses definitely outweigh the minuses for Tech's pass rush. Two proven rushers combined with a couple of other rushers who possess great potential, and all four completely unleashed by an aggressive defensive coordinator should mean many an enemy QB on his keister in 2013. We'll take the over on this one.