LUBBOCK, Texas — For years no one disputed Texas Tech could pass.
Even after Mike Leach's departure in 2009 the Red Raiders have kept slinging it all over the Big 12. Problem was their defense was a dud.
No more, at least thus far this season. The Red Raiders have the second-best defense in the country, while the pass-happy offense continues to hum right along.
It's a strong sign that defensive-minded coach Tommy Tuberville is in charge and the pass-happy pirate of the South Plains, Leach, has moved on.
"It's a tremendous improvement in the first three games from what we saw last year," Tuberville said after Texas Tech's 49-14 win over New Mexico last weekend. "
Texas Tech has the week off before beginning Big 12 play at Iowa State on Sept. 29.
The Red Raiders (3-0) have the highest defensive ranking of the past 12 seasons. At No. 2 nationally they're giving up just 120 yards per game. Last season, they finished 114th in total defense, giving up 485 yards per game.
Tuberville knows Big 12 teams' will have bigger offensive lines and more talent than what the Red Raiders (3-0) faced against nonconference opponents. Texas Tech has more depth and experience than last season, he said.
"We're a team that can score points but we need possessions — last year we couldn't get our offense back on the field," Tuberville said. "This year, hopefully, it's different, but again it's yet to be seen if we can do it in Big 12 play. We'll find out starting next week in terms of how we react to eight- 10-, 12-play drives."
The reason behind the turnaround is defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, a longtime friend of Tuberville who coached under him at Ole Miss.
Middle linebacker Will Smith, a junior college transfer from Riverside Community College in California, said the Red Raiders' defense is still improving.
"I feel like we haven't hit our peak yet, but I feel we're on the way to get there," he said.
Tuberville tried to hire Kaufman when he came to Lubbock in 2010, but the Arkansas native was under contract at North Carolina. Kaufman is the program's third defensive coordinator under Tuberville, who's also from Arkansas.
Kaufman succeeded TCU's Chad Glasgow, whom Tuberville hired from the Horned Frogs at the start of last season. Glasgow is back at TCU, where the Red Raiders will play Oct. 20.
Kaufman, who's focused his players on technique, is aware of the challenges ahead.
"We know we got to raise our bar, and I think our kids are focused on that," he said. "The biggest thing we talk about is it's not about the other team. It's about us."
Defensive end Kerry Hyder said Kaufman prepares well by watching "every ounce of film" and that rubs off on players.
"It is an easier scheme and we're able to play with no worries and no confusion," Hyder said. "It's easier for us to fly around to the ball like we have been doing."
Senior quarterback Seth Doege and a bevy of running backs and receivers are big fans of the improved defense because they're getting on the field more.
Doege, ranked 15th in passing nationally with 12 TDs passes and 858 yards, has a trio of running backs, Eric Stephens, Kenny Williams and SaDale Foster, who have combined for 639 yards on 99 carries. His top six receivers, led by sophomore tight end Jace Amaro, have 774 yards on 60 catches
"They give us opportunities to make plays," Doege said about the defense. "It's so much different than last year, just because we have so much confidence in our defense and them going out there and stopping offense and giving us the opportunity to have the ball in our hands again."