Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville indicated Monday he expects running back Eric Stephens to be out for the season with the left knee injury he suffered in a 45-40 loss Saturday to Texas A&M.
Medical staffers were waiting for the swelling in Stephens’ knee to subside before doing an MRI exam, so Tuberville cautioned that definitive information is not yet available. But he seemed resigned to Stephens being done for the year.
“I don’t know what all damage,” Tuberville said. “There’s lots of damage, but we won’t know ’til (later) today. They let the swelling go down and do the MRIs and all that, but it’s not good.”
Tuberville later said, “Hopefully, we can get him back, get going in spring ball and get him back for next year and ready to go.”
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound junior from Mansfield Timberview was off to an excellent start with four 100-yard rushing performances in the first five games. He has 109 carries for 570 yards and eight touchdowns, ranking 15th in the nation with an average of 114 yards rushing per game.
Stephens got hurt on a first-and-goal play late in the third quarter after working his way back toward quarterback Seth Doege for a pass that fell incomplete. At the end of the play, A&M linebacker Damontre Moore hit Stephens low, causing him to twist and fall backward with his leg pinned.
“It’s tough to lose a guy, the type of person he is, number one,” Tuberville said. “You hate for a kid like that that’s worked that hard ... . His goal was to get a thousand yards. Number one, he wanted to win games. But he wanted to show the team, ‘Hey, in this offense, we can get a thousand yards in this league. I can help us win games.’”
Stephens was on pace to eclipse, in half a season, his rushing total of 668 yards last year, when he shared time with 2010 senior Baron Batch. Coincidentally, Batch suffered a season-ending knee injury two months ago in training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Stephens posted on his Twitter account that Moore called him Sunday to apologize.
“The hit on Eric, the guy was playing hard, stumbled,” Tuberville said. “That can happen. Like Eric said, ‘He called me yesterday,’ which I thought was great. The guy (Moore) felt just as bad as anybody. And Eric said, ‘Hey, I should have caught the ball. I wouldn’t have been in that situation.’”
Tech’s options to replace Stephens are fifth-year senior Aaron Crawford and true freshmen DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams. Harrison Jeffers, a junior with 316 career rushing yards, has been out all season recovering from back surgery. Crawford took over Saturday after Stephens went out and finished with seven carries for 22 yards.
Washington is the team’s second-leading rusher with 22 carries for 107 yards and two TDs. Williams, a three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Pflugerville Hendrickson, has six carries for 5 yards.
Another true freshman, Ronnie Daniels, remains on indefinite suspension.
Crawford showed flashes of ability while starting the last five games of the 2007 season. During that stretch, he had a four-touchdown game at Baylor, made some key runs in a 34-27 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma and scored a tying, fourth-quarter touchdown to help Tech win the Gator Bowl in overtime.
Ever since, however, he’s been a backup, and often injured.
Crawford’s experience and thick build (5-10, 211) give him a couple of edges on the freshmen.
“He’s the best blocker we’ve got,” Tuberrville said. “It’s important that your running back be a physical guy who can protect. He was as good (at that) as Eric was. And we used him a lot in those situations.
“The problem with Aaron is staying healthy. He can be a 100-yard rusher a game, but he’s got to be able to get that mentality and understand sometimes you’re going to have to play through getting knocked around a little bit, because carrying the ball three times a game as compared to 15 or 20 is a whole lot different in this league.”
Tech (4-1, 1-1 in the Big 12 Conference) hosts No. 17 Kansas State (5-0, 2-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
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