B.R. Holbrook isn’t likely to forget the debut of Texas Tech defensive lineman Michael Starts any time soon.
The New Mexico quarterback had safely sidestepped three Tech defenders late in the fourth quarter Saturday, but when he found himself suddenly face to face with the 6-foot-4, 303-pound Starts, all Holbrook could do was absorb the crushing blow.
Starts’ hit on Holbrook highlighted a strong debut — three tackles and a sack in less than a half of action — a positive development for a defense that has received strong play from its defensive line, and did so again in a 49-14 rout of the Lobos.
As the Red Raiders have stymied three run-centered offenses in the last three weeks — Tech ranks second among FBS in total defense at 160.3 yards per game — the team’s safeties and linebackers have racked up the tackles. But much of the credit for putting those players in position to make plays, defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said, goes to defensive linemen like Kerry Hyder, who stood out as a disruptive presence throughout the non-conference schedule.
“Kerry had a great camp, and in every game he’s really played well,” Kaufman said. “His stats might not be that good, but a lot of it is he’s causing other guys to make plays because he’s so disruptive in there. To me, he’s as explosive, and quick, and powerful and smart as any defensive lineman I’ve been around.”
Hyder’s five tackles are most among the team’s defensive lineman, and he has three tackles for loss and even a team-leading three pass breakups. Other defensive linemen such as Jackson Richards, Dartwan Bush and Delvon Simmons have made their mark by clogging holes and allowing others to roam free. As a result, Tech has hardly been tested in the passing game to this point, ranking 13th in the nation in pass defense with an average yield of 75.3 yards.
Kaufman said he has been pleased with the improvement of a number of players along the front four. After Saturday’s game, he pointed out defensive tackle Donte Phillips and defensive end Pete Robertson, both redshirt freshmen, as reserves who have performed well.
“The depth from the end of spring ball to now has really come along,” Kaufman said, “and I’m really pleased with where we are right now.”
Despite the improvement on the defensive line, particularly the interior, the Tech coaching staff couldn’t resist burning the redshirt of Starts, the highly touted prospect out of Waco La Vega. Last week, Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said he hoped to redshirt Starts, but he also conceded it would be hard to keep him off the field.
In a brief showing on Saturday, Starts illustrated why.
“He can help us,” Tuberville said. “He’s not going to play 30, 40 snaps a game, but he’s going to be a guy that when we go into a game, we don’t have to panic if somebody goes down.”
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