Tommy Tuberville didn't have a job when he and Texas coach Mack Brown visited troops at bases throughout the Middle East last year on Under Armour's Coaches Tour. That didn't stop the two coaches from talking a little shop.
"The nine days all I did [was] ask him, 'If you get a new job, what kind of offense are you going to run? What will you run on third down? How will you fake punts? How will you fake kicks?'" Brown said Monday. "I've got all my notes ready now."
Brown was kidding (we think). But if he gleaned any info from the time he spent with Tuberville, he won't hesitate to use it when the Longhorns visit Lubbock on Saturday to face Tubs' first Texas Tech team. Brown knows how dangerous Lubbock can be. Two years ago, Mike Leach's Red Raiders took away the Longhorns' shot at the national title when receiver Michael Crabtree turned on the sideline and raced into the end zone. Brown also knows how dangerous Tuberville can be. During Tuberville's 10 seasons at Auburn, few coaches were better at crushing the dreams of top 10 teams.
From 1999-2008, Tuberville went 15-13 against top 10 foes. Compare that to Brown, who is 9-13 against top 10 teams since coming to Texas in 1998. (For comparison's sake, Nick Saban is 11-7 against top 10 teams in his LSU and Alabama tenures and Urban Meyer has gone 12-3 against top 10 teams in five seasons at Florida.)
In college football's recent past, few have been better at preparing a team for a top opponent than Tuberville. Tubs got off to a rough start at Auburn against the top 10, losing in his first five tries. But Terry Bowden left a rebuilding job. Leach did not.
In fact, Leach, who won at least eight games eight times in 10 seasons in Lubbock, believed the Red Raiders were poised for a great season in 2010 before overgrown Little League-dad-with-a-mic Craig James and a bitter Texas Tech administration shoved him out the door. "I recruited all those players, and it's a good team," Leach said last month. "I felt like it was the best team I had coming back in 10 years. I think they are loaded at more positions than we had been in the past."
So maybe the 2010 Red Raiders are closer to 2001 Auburn team that shocked then-No. 1 Florida. That upset touched off a six-season stretch during which Tuberville went 15-6 against top 10 teams.
As coincidence would have it, the last win of that run also came against the Gators. Auburn won in The Swamp in 2007 on a Wes Byrum kick, but the credit for the win should go to the defensive strategy devised by Tuberville and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to shut down Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
Muschamp will boom on the Texas sideline Saturday, using his superior athletes to harass Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts. Neal Brown, whom Tuberville landed in his second try at hiring away the offensive coordinator from Troy, probably will chuck the ball at a Leach-like pace. The Red Raiders have passed on just 58.4 percent of their plays -- compared to 68 percent in Leach's final season -- but the numbers are skewed toward the run because Brown ran more in last week's laugher at New Mexico.
The more important percentage is 46. That's the frequency, according to Brown, that Texas Tech has blitzed this season. With sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert still learning on the job and a third starting tailback in three weeks -- this time, it's junior Fozzy Whittaker -- Brown worries about pressure from the Red Raiders causing mistakes for an offense that has yet to turn the ball over this season.
"They're more like the Alabama defense this year," Brown said. "They're very multiple. Last year they sat there and pretty much played base defense."
Actually, they're more like the Texas defense. Though Red Raiders defensive coordinator James Willis joined Saban's Alabama staff last year after Tuberville's Auburn staff disbanded, his defense should look most similar to Muschamp's. Willis learned coaching defense from Tuberville and then Saban. Muschamp learned coaching defense from Saban and then Tuberville.
Tuberville learned coaching defense from Jimmy Johnson, who believed that you recruit a safety to find a linebacker, a linebacker to find a defensive end and a defensive end to find a defensive tackle. So it should come as little surprise that a quick, undersized player has become a standout in Tuberville's first season. Scott Smith, a 260-pound defensive end, was Texas Tech's defensive star last week, sacking the quarterback and recovering a fumble against New Mexico.
Still, Tuberville believes the Red Raiders' defense needs work. "This is not a defense where you just go out and line up and play," he said. "You've got to communicate. Then you've got to adjust depending on what they do, and then you've got to fly to the ball. We're getting better, and we're playing a lot more guys. We've just got to recruit more speed. We need more speed on defense than what we have right now, but we can win with what we have."
That's the key. Tuberville believes he can win now. That makes the Red Raiders dangerous Saturday, no matter how much higher the Longhorns are ranked.
"He's done a great job wherever he's coached," Brown said of Tuberville. "He won at Ole Miss, he won at Auburn and he'll win at Tech."