While the Texas Tech offense sputtered in the first half Saturday night against Texas State, the defense was clutch, keeping the Bobcats off the scoreboard. And after giving up one big play to start the second half, they settled in and resumed doing what they’ve been doing.
“Two weeks in a row they’ve carried us,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the defense. “They’ve done a great job the first four weeks of leading us. Hopefully they’ll keep building on that and the offense can catch up.”
A big reason for that was senior linebacker Will Smith.
Just over halfway into the second quarter, Texas State had first-and-goal from the Texas Tech 1-yard line.
On first down, Smith drove 339-pound guard Ryan Melton out of his way, then combined with defensive tackle Kerry Hyder to drop Terrence Franks for a 2-yard loss. Chris Nutall appeared to have a lane to the end zone on second down, but Smith quickly closed it, arriving just in time to knock the Bobcats running back off his feet at the 1.
Then a third time, the Bobcats tried the run, only to be stopped by, guess who, Smith. This time, Pete Robertson had the assist.
“I just saw the hole,” Smith said. “They called the blitz up and I just timed it up right to get to the gap and try to make a play on the guy carrying the ball.”
Earlier in the same quarter, Hyder forced and recovered a fumble that Smith picked up and ran 9 yards into the end zone.
“It just opened up, really,” Smith said. “Kerry Hyder had picked it up at first and we were trying to push him in and then it got punched out and was like it (fell) from the skies. I just picked it up and scored.”
“It was a zone right and I got in the gap,” Hyder added. “I popped the ball out and thought I was going to score, but somebody came in from my backside and knocked it out of my hand. Will was there to pick it up for the touchdown.”
That was the only touchdown Tech scored in the first half.
“The defense put up more points than we did in the first half,” junior wide receiver Bradley Marquez said.
Smith was on point against the Bobcats, tying his career high of eight total tackles, five of them solo, and one tackle for loss.
The defensive effort exuded by Texas Tech was not solely from Smith.
In the first quarter, Texas State had the ball at the Tech 1-yard line on second-and-goal, and Robertson intercepted an ill-advised cross-field pass. It was the first career interception by the sophomore linebacker.
Texas State tried a fake punt to start the fourth quarter, but junior linebacker Blake Dees wasn’t having any of it.
When junior Bobcat receiver Ben Ijah put the ball behind his back, Dees knew exactly where the football was and made the tackle to set his offense up at the Texas State 24-yard line.
On the night, the Red Raider defense forced three turnovers — two fumbles and one interception.
Freshman Tanner Jacobson made his first career start at strong safety and finished with six tackles.
“I feel like Tanner, he did great,” Smith said. “That kid comes to practice every day prepared. You can tell he’s going to be a leader in the future because he comes ready to work. He rarely makes mistakes. He’s a hard worker.”
Dees also finished with six tackles and a pair of tackles for loss.
Seniors linebacker Terrance Bullitt and defensive tackle Dartwan Bush and sophomore linebacker Andre Ross each had a sack.
As far as weaknesses in the defense’s performance, Kingsbury said he would have to look at the film but he is excited about the production on that side of the ball.
“I’m really excited about their production,” Kingsbury said. “They’re creating turnovers, they’re swarming and getting off the field on third and fourth downs and getting big stops.”