The Texas Tech Red Raiders opened their season Saturday by thrashing Stephen F. Austin. Arguably more impressive than scoring 69 points, however, was that the defense held the Lumberjacks to 17 points, with only three of those coming in the first half. Even against an FCS team, David Gibbs’ unit raised some eyebrows around Lubbock. Here’s how each position group graded out.
Overall Grade: A+
The Red Raiders gave up three points in the first half of a football game and generally looked competent doing it. They were able to get off the field by only allowing one 3rd down conversion and forcing three 3-and-outs in the first half. The defense held SFA to 5-17 on 3rd down attempts, with three of those conversions coming from one drive. There was some hard hitting to go along with sound tackling and an overall improvement in fundamentals. The Red Raiders were one of only four teams in the nation this week to record five or more sacks with five or more passes defended. At every level, the Tech defense showed reasons for fans to be optimistic.
Defensive Line: A+
Welcome to Lubbock, Ondre Pipkins and Kolin Hill. The newcomers imposed their will on the game early and set the tone for the first team defense. The Lumberjacks only managed 58 yards on the ground in large part due to Pipkins and sophomore Breiden Fehoko clogging up everything between the tackles. Better technique at the point of contact and pursuit were key improvements all around. Five different defensive linemen recorded sacks, which should bode well for the depth there going forward. After watching Sam Houston State rush for 300+ yards in the 2015 season opener, Tech fans should be downright giddy after this performance.
Malik Jenkins pounced on a fumble in the 3rd quarter and the rest of the linebackers collectively played a solid game. Tackling in the open field was better and pursuit to the ball led to more team tackling. True freshman Jordyn Brooks got some run and showed some impressive instincts and poise. Houston transfer and team captain Luke Stice was also a contributor in his debut. Overall, this group was effective against the run and pass. If they continue to read the backfield well and fly to the ball, Tech’s run defense will be greatly improved.
Keenon Ward’s acrobatic interception at the goal line late in the first half was certainly this group’s highlight reel play. Justis Nelson and Tevin Madison played above average games, Thierry Nguema picked off a pass, and Jah’Shawn Johnson brought the hammer a couple times. The DBs were able to keep Lumberjack wideouts in front of them for most of the night and also came up to finish plays. Corners showed tighter coverage in man-to-man situations and there weren’t many blown zone assignments. SFA totaled over 300 yards through the air but only averaged 5.7 yards per attempt on the night. Two interceptions, better tackling and no long plays is about as much as Tech fans can ask for from this group.
There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about this unit going forward. As the newcomers and underclassmen continue to develop in the schemes, Tech can make real strides toward an average defense, which would be a vast improvement over the past few years.