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September 29, 2004

Is Tech's improved defense, enough?

It's not a perpetual thing as it is with the offense, but like a Red Raider quarterback, when you begin to look at how to break down the Texas Tech defense your search begins and ends with the containment of monster defensive end Adell Duckett.

Of course there are plenty of other talented players, but with Duckett's ability against both the run and the pass he's a menace to offensive coordinators, running backs, and quarterbacks alike. Last season he set school records in sacks (14), and tackles for loss (24.5). With just one sack and four tackles for loss this season hasn't shown the early results that the Tech defense was undoubtedly banking on due to a couple of nagging injuries that have slowed his productivity.

While Duckett is clearly "the talent" of the defensive line, that's not to say there aren't other players along the four man front with starting experience and the ability to create problems for opposing offenses. A pair of sophomores make up two-thirds of Duckett's accompanying party with defensive tackle Ken Scott and defensive end Seth Nitschmann combining for 12 tackles, including one for loss so far this season.

While the defensive line isn't amazingly active in the stat lines, generally neither is Oklahoma's leaving the linebackers to sweep up the vast majority of plays. It would seem that the same holds true for the Red Raiders, with each of their three starting linebackers ranking among the top four tacklers on the team.

With Oklahoma favoring runs up the middle in it's early season games, and the announcement of freshman superstar Adrian Peterson earning his first start against the Red Raiders it would seem that the youngster will need to get to know middle linebacker Brock Stratton well. Stratton on the season has 17 tackles, including two for loss and is definitely the Red Raiders best defense against runs between the tackles.

With Peterson's speed, toss sweeps figure to become an even more prevalent piece of the Oklahoma offensive puzzle, and two men who will be chiefly responsible in not allowing the back to get his shoulders parallel with the end zone will be weakside lineabacker Mike Smith and strongside backer John Saldi. Smith is second on the team in tackles and may not have the same type of speed as his counterpart he is able to cover ground at a respectable rate. Saldi gives up some size in comparison to other linebackers but with his long, lean frame he moves from sideline to sideline better than his compatriots.

When a true sophomore cornerback, and a junior free safety fresh off their first full years as starters are the rocks of your secondary, you just might be in trouble. When said secondary is going against the defending Heisman trophy winner, the point potential become scary. New starters at cornerback -Antonio Huffman- and strong safety -Josh Rangel have filled in admirably with Huffman having the team's lone interception to date.

As goes emerging star Vincent Meeks at free safety so goes the Tech secondary. He is the one constant that seems to stay on even keel and avoid the highs and lows of intense game situations. On the other hand when cornerback Chad Johnson is up and confident in his ability to cover a receiver he can be a very solid Big 12 cornerback, but when the youngster gets down, he's prone to the mental mistakes that plagued him as a prepster at Shreveport (La.) Evangel. Building confidence against probably the nation's most experienced and talented crew of receivers is unlikely at best.


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