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Red Raiders throwing up a run-game roadblock

Don Williams
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

The Texas Tech football team liked its depth in the defensive front six going into the season, and the value of that depth seems to be showing up early in the season.

After two games, the Red Raiders rank 14th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing defense, allowing 59.0 yards per game against Houston and Stephen F. Austin. Perhaps more impressive, the Cougars and the Lumberjacks managed only 1.84 yards per carry between them.

Tech also is tied for 25th in third-down defense with opponents converting 11 of 38 for 28.9 percent.

Asked Tuesday about his team's success defending the run, Tech coach Matt Wells began by crediting the play of the Red Raiders' defensive line.

"I think as the game wears on, we get stronger," Wells said. "Quite frankly, the depth at linebacker — playing six 'backers — has allowed that, because those guys have rotated in quite a bit and they've stayed fresh. But that's where we want to be."

In limiting opponents' third-down conversion rate, the Red Raiders have also found themselves defending a lot of fourth-and-short situations in the first two games. UH converted 4 out of 4, and SFA went for it and made it 5 of 8 fourth downs.

"Play better on third-and-long," Wells said. "We were outstanding on third down Saturday, but part of the issue was allowing third-and-longs to become fourth-and-shorts in a go situation for SFA."

The Texas Tech defense anchored by linebacker Colin Schooler (17) ranks among the FBS leaders after two games in rushing defense and third-down defense.

The unusual number of fourth-and-short situations has led to the Red Raiders already being subjected to five opponent series of at least 13 plays.

Linebacker Colin Schooler said, "If we win third down more, or limit the damage on third down — instead of third-and-8 giving up 7 where they say, 'Oh, we can go for it; it's fourth-and-1 — put them in a fourth-and-5 situation and maybe the punt-return team is on the field instead of us again."

Name to know

Texas Tech sophomore Tahj Brooks is the 15th-leading rusher in the FBS, but on Saturday the Red Raiders will face a running back on even more of a role.

Florida International's D'vonte Price has a streak of four consecutive 100-yard games. In the last two games of the 2020 season, Price carried 26 times for 178 yards and a touchdown against Florida Atlantic and 24 times for 100 yards against Western Kentucky.

In the first two games this year, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior carried five times for 165 yards and three touchdowns against Long Island and 23 times for 111 yards last week against Texas State, putting him ninth on the FBS leaderboard. FIU's only win in those games was a 48-10 romp against LIU.

"He's a big back, runs hard. He runs behind his pads," Wells said. "And he's got a big O-line in front of him. The two tackles are big and very athletic. I think the interior three guys are nasty. They look strong on tape.

"So he's got a good O-line in front of him, two good tight ends and he's a good back."

The Panthers are quarterbacked by senior Max Bortenschlager, who spent four years at Maryland before transferring to FIU. Bortenschlager started eight games for the Terrapins as a sophomore in 

Tech hosts FIU at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Panthers, coached by former NFL coach Butch Davis, were 0-5 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season and 1-1 this year.

Eaton LB commits

The Texas Tech football team picked up an oral commitment Monday night from Ben Roberts, a defensive standout on a nine-win playoff team last year for Fort Worth Eaton.

Eaton lists Roberts as a 6-foot-3, 200-pound strong safety and outside linebacker. The Eagles are 3-0 this season, and Roberts has gotten credit for 23 tackles.

Eaton went 9-4 last year, reaching the Class 6A Division II regional semifinals. Roberts was credited with an even 100 tackles, as well as four interceptions and a fumble recovery. He earned first-team all-District 4-6A recognition.

Dave Campbell's Texas Football selected him as the district's preseason defensive player of the year going into this season. 

Roberts is unranked by recruiting services, but shows scholarship offers from Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as from SMU, Tulsa, Utah State, Wyoming and Lamar.

Roberts is the eighth recruit to commit to the Red Raiders for their class of 2022.

Texas Tech football commitments

The following players have made non-binding oral commitments to Texas Tech. The national signing periods are Dec. 15-17 for high-school recruits who want to sign early, Dec. 15 through Jan. 15 for mid-year junior-year college transfers and Feb. 2 through April 1 for the regular signing period. 

Bryson Donnell, 5-10, 204, RB, Tyler Lee; Tyler King, 5-10, 175, WR, Alief Taylor; Sheridan Wilson, 6-4, 275, OT, Argyle; Kaden Weatherby, 6-6, 280, OL, Centennial (Colo.) Eaglecrest; Ben Roberts, 6-3, 200, OLB-S, Fort Worth Eaton; Hut Graham, 6-1, 185, S, Gunter; Maurion Horn, 5-11, 175, CB-RB, Broken Arrow, Okla.; Jocelyn Malaska, 6-1, 170, CB-WR, Bethany, Okla.

College football

Who: Texas Tech vs. Florida International

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Jones AT&T Stadium

Records: FIU 1-1, Texas Tech 2-0

Last game: Texas State 23, FIU 17; Texas Tech 28, Stephen F. Austin 22

Last meeting: Texas Tech 56, FIU 3 in 2005 in Lubbock

Tipico Sportsbook line: Texas Tech by 21

Streaming: Big 12 Now on ESPN+