One reason Texas Tech can hope for an improved defense this season is a handful of new starters in the front seven.
But new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman isn’t going to complain if one of the holdovers ratchets up the productivity, too. The front four set a tone in the Red Raiders’ season-opening victory Saturday against Northwestern State, making a flurry of plays at and behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensive tackle Kerry Hyder stirred up more trouble for the Demons than anyone. The 6-foot-2, 281-pound junior from Austin LBJ knocked down two passes, twice shot the gap and made tackles for loss and also tripped up the quarterback for a sack.
He was the ringleader of a unit that limited Northwestern State to 84 yards and made nine stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“I told our defensive line, starting with the tackles,” Kaufman said, “‘It’s your job to take this game over up front.’ I really thought Kerry Hyder would play well in this game, because he had had a great camp. When you’re explosive up front, that makes for a lot of easy plays for the second-level guys when they’ve got to double team (defensive tackles).”
Northwestern State was a 5-6 team last season in the Football Championship Subdivision, but the Red Raiders have to start somewhere to pump up a defense that finished each of the last two years ranked 114th. Manhandling an FCS offense line might help confidence if nothing else.
“It’s a small step in a long journey,” Hyder said. “We did a good job today, but we still have a long way to go on defense.”
Tech is hoping that two of its top signees from 2011, the Pennsylvania tandem of Delvon Simmons and Branden Jackson, can make an impact this season. In the opener, though, Hyder and sophomore Jackson Richards might have had the most noteworthy performances.
Richards squared off against Northwestern State’s top offensive lineman, senior left tackle Larry Calcote, and broke up two passes. Demons quarterback Brad Henderson threw for nearly 2,000 yards last year with only six interceptions, but he’s only 5-foot-11. Tech took advantage of that with its front seven getting hands in the passing lanes.
“That’s something I kind of got away from last year,” Richards said. “I remembered I did that some in high school. I just felt it, and it happened.”
The Demons finished with an average of 1.7 yards per play and gained only 13 yards rushing. Middle linebacker Will Smith made his Tech debut with only three tackles, but the transfer from Riverside (Calif.) City College filled gaps several times that forced running backs to aim for another lane.
“Watching No. 7 run around out there, he made a huge difference stopping the run inside, as all the defensive line and linebackers did,” Tuberville said.
Northwestern State’s longest pass play covered 22 yards, its longest run 11 yards.
Though something as basic as pre-snap certainty might seem easy to take for granted, the Tech defense didn’t always have that last year. On Saturday, Kaufman said the defense missed two checks in the first two series, but otherwise had no issues with alignment and pre-snap adjustments.
“Wasn’t a lot of confusion. There was not a lot of confusion,” Richards said. “I wouldn’t call this defense more simplistic, but we knew our jobs, exactly what we needed to do every play, and that’s what we were trying to do.
“There was no confusion at D-ends, I know that. Based on how the secondary and linebackers came up and were making plays, there wasn’t a question that they were lined up in the right spot.”
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