STEP RIGHT up, folks, the Greatest Show on Turf is getting ready to start again in Lubbock. Quarterback Graham Harrell to wideout Michael Crabtree looks to be the most productive pairing in all of college football. So what's new, right? The Red Raiders have been lighting up scoreboards since Mike Leach arrived in 2000. Truth is, Leach has needed those prodigious point totals because his defense hasn't stopped the other team that often. Texas Tech is a serious threat to win its first Big 12 South title because that flaw may have been corrected.
Four games into last season, Leach replaced defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich with assistant head coach Ruffin McNeil. Improvement was immediate and dramatic. McNeil ratcheted up the intensity in practice while dialing down the difficulty. "The idea was to give our guys a chance to play faster," he says. "A clear mind means fast legs."
In Tech's next three games—all lopsided wins—the defense allowed Northwestern State past midfield one time, held Iowa State to 84 first-half yards and shut out Texas A&M over the final three quarters. The buzz around the Big 12 is that with eight returning starters and a star-studded influx of transfers, this will be Leach's best defense.
The most luminous of the new faces is 6'6", 275-pound end Brandon SeSay, a four-star recruit out of Douglass High in Atlanta who arrived in Lubbock by way of the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif. Tech fans are delighted to welcome back another end, McKinner Dixon, who had a terrific freshman season before repairing to Cisco (Texas) Junior College for two seasons to get his academic affairs in order. Further beefing up the D-line will be nosetackle Chris Perry, a transfer from Miami who will back up Colby Whitlock, a Freshman All-America pick a year ago.
"We will attack people," says McNeil. "We have the ability to blitz, but our emphasis will always be that we are fundamentally sound." Despite last season's improvement, Tech surrendered a total of 712 rushing yards in losses to Missouri, Colorado and Texas in the second half of the season.
This year's early season schedule looks more pastry cart than cupcake, and with a win at home against Texas on Nov. 1, the Red Raiders could be 10--0 when they travel to Oklahoma. It would be a high-pressure game in a hostile environment—not exactly the setting in which Leach's teams have excelled. But this season could be different with that Ruff crowd on defense.