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Previewing Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss: Linebacker

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LINEBACKER

Player Ht/Wt Class Position Tackles TFL Sacks
Bront Bird 6'3"/220 So. LB 58 3 1
Marlon Williams 6'0"/224 Jr. LB 65 3 2
Brian Duncan 6'1"/238 So. LB 90 2 0
Victor Hunter 5'11"/256 Jr. LB 20 1 0
Ashlee Palmer 6'2"/222 Sr. LB 48 5 1
Allen Walker 6'1"/215 So. LB 37 3 2
Jonathan Cornell 6'1"/225 So. LB 42 4.5 3
Patrick Trahan 6'3"/225 Jr. LB 24 3.5 1
Lamar Brumfield 6'0"/224 Jr. LB 20 2 0
Tony Fein 6'2"/245 Sr. LB 51 5 0

Texas Tech

Brian Duncan is focused.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the resurgence of the Texas Tech linebacking corp. At some point during last year's offseason, Ruffin McNeill determined that it was imperative to send out on the field more athletic linebackers than we've seen in the past. The result was the emergence of Brian Duncan, who should have been named to some of the all-conference teams, led the team with 90 tackles, 59 of which were solo tackles. Duncan is by far and away the best linebacker that Texas Tech has had, perhaps since Zach Thomas. Duncan's been on a tear of late as he's had 7, 11, 11 and 5 tackles over his last 4 games and had a huge interception against Baylor.

McNeill prefers to play a traditional 4-3 defense, despite the Big 12's move towards more offenses running the spread. That typically means that Marlon Williams, for most of the season, was covering the opposing team's slot receiver. I think there was a movement towards the latter part of the year to move away from Williams in the slot, preferring a bigger safety or defensive back, which in turn limited Williams time on the field. Against Kansas, Williams had 4 tackles, but over the next 3 games (Texas, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma) Williams had 2, 2 and 5 tackles, before returning to form with 9 tackles against Baylor. In my opinion, Williams is much better playing the run than the pass and he excels against more traditional teams, which is Ole Miss.

As the season moved on, it seemed like Bront Bird became that linebacker that tended to initially cover a team's tight end or slot receiver. Bird, a former safety in high school, seemed to struggle a bit in pass coverage and much like M. Williams, Bird is better suited playing the run. Bird tends to run very hot or cold in terms of involvement, but I think that's partly because of playing time, not necessarily the inability to make a play. Bird will have one game where he makes 10 tackles and then not show up in the boxscore.

Victor Hunter is the bowling ball run stopper. He is your goal-line stand guy that tries to plug the middle of the field. He doesn't see a ton of playing time (i.e. due to the number of spread offenses), but he's effective at what he does.

Mississippi

Ashlee Palmer is excited.

The SEC is not typically a spread-offense conference, it's more traditional in offensive schemes (for the most part). The difference between the linebackers for Ole Miss and for Texas Tech is that the Ole Miss defensive line does a ton of the dirty work, leaving the Rebel linebackers to make a few tackles each game, which is a good thing.

While perusing the Ole Miss linebacker stats, it's apparent that they each contribute 3 to 4 tackles a game. Leading linebacker tackler Tony Fair's last 4 games were 2, 2, 5 and 2 tackles. Ashlee Palmer: 4, 1, 3 and 0. Granted, 2 of these last 4 games were absolute blow outs, but it's still interesting to note that this is a collective effort. If there is one linebacker that has the ability to take over a game, it's Palmer, who had a very nice stretch early in the year with 5 tackles against Florida, followed up with 9 against S. Carolina an 8 against Alabama. Keep in mind that Palmer was the player that the Ole Miss staff thought might not make it because of grades, but was eventually fully reinstated.

Of course, the difficult part about playing Texas Tech is that the Ole Miss linebackers may be completely taken out of the entire game play because Texas Tech will run 4-wide more times than not. You'd have to think that the Ole Miss staff will have, at the very least 5 defensive backs at any given time, probably more, and as a result, the linebackers may get squeezed.

With that being said, these linebackers are part of the same defense that is #6 in the country at stopping the run, and although the defensive line deserves quite a bit of the credit, I think it would disingenuous to not credit the Rebel linebackers as well. Collectively, these guys get it done.

I'd love to hear from Ole Miss fans to find out what they think we'll see in terms of matchups during the Cotton Bowl.

Conclusion:

I think this is a pretty close matchup and interesting to look at the numbers. Only a few of the Texas Tech linebackers see much playing time, while Ole Miss prefers to rotate, at the very least 6 linebackers, that each make a some impact during every game. Ultimately, the Ole Miss has a better defense and despite my thinking that we may not see the Rebel linebackers receive much playing time, they still get my vote.

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Quarterbacks :: Running Backs :: Receiver :: Offensive Line :: Defensive Line :: Linebackers :: Secondary :: Special Teams :: Coaching

Matchup

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Quarterback

Running Back

Receivers

Offensive Line

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Linebacker