Every regime change in college football is accompanied by a promise from the new head coach that he and his staff will seek to upgrade the speed of the defense.
It’s a noble, almost always necessary goal. Slow defenses get exposed in a hurry and find themselves on the wrong end of blowouts.
But sometimes a football player who doesn’t approach gold-medal speed brings too much in the way of toughness and savvy to keep on the sidelines.
Mark Mangino quickly figured that out about safety Lubbock Smith. Smith started six games as a red-shirt freshman in 2009, Mangino’s final season, and was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-Big 12 team. Then Mangino got forced out two years after going 12-1 and winning the Orange Bowl.
Turner Gill, who lasted for two years of a five-year, $10 million contract and compiled a 5-19 record, upon taking the job and promising to build a winning “dynasty” talked about the need to upgrade the defense’s speed.
In Gill’s first season, Smith started the first nine games and missed the final three with injury. Gill demoted him to third safety during his junior season and preferred Keeston Terry, upgrading the speed of the defense and downgrading its toughness.
Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Dave Campo put Smith right back in the starting lineup. Terry? He’s playing safety for Division II powerhouse Pittsburg State because he wanted no part of Camp Charlie.
“I went to his first meeting with the team and he was dog-cussing the players and was very arrogant,” Terry told the Independence Examiner of Weis in February. “I don’t want to be a part of that.”
Terry could be part of a national-championship team. The Gorillas are ranked No. 1 in Division II.
Smith, who comes from Dallas football powerhouse Carter High, the same school NFL receiver Michael Crabtree attended, prefers to play Big 12 football.
In Saturday’s 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State, Smith showed why he belongs in the Big 12. He intercepted a pass and returned it 18 yards.
Smith rocked quarterback J.W. Walsh as he was throwing a pass on third-and-five at the KU 44, and the hit killed any chance for accuracy. The play enabled Kansas to have the ball with 6:49 left trailing by six points.
“It was a boost, definitely a big play, but I just wish we could have made more things happen on defense,” Smith said.
It was a good week for a defense that held Oklahoma State, the team leading the nation in offense going into the game, to 20 points.
“It definitely gives us encouragement as far as stepping in the direction of where we need to go, but we need to strive to keep getting better day in and day out,” Smith said.