Prior to the 2023 Texas Tech football season, one of the huge talking points from people both within and outside of the program was the age and experience of the defense. However, in the game that clinched bowl eligibility, Saturday’s 24-23 win over UCF, a handful of young players stepped up to turn the tide.
Every time the calendar turns to November, injuries are guaranteed to have taken their toll on just about any football team. That was true for the Red Raiders in their most recent contest with starting “star” Tyler Owens not able to play against the Knights and with starting safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson leaving the game with a groin injury and starting defensive tackle Jaylon Hutchings lost mid-game to a knee injury.
Fortunately, this season there is a wave of young talent proving that the future is bright for the Red Raider defense.
The most noticeable young contributor, the one who made the game-winning play against UCF, is E’Maurion “Dooda” Banks. The redshirt sophomore from Wichita Falls, Texas was a savior of sorts on Saturday because he took over the bulk of the snaps that had to be filled when Hutchings was lost for the day.
However, those who take a quick glance at Saturday’s box score might not appreciate what Banks did. After all, he finished the day with only two stops (one for loss) and he had no sacks.
However, the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder helped the Red Raiders control the line of scrimmage and his play helped minimize the impact of Hutchings’ injury. Of course, he also made the play of the day when he got his long arm in the kicking lane on UCF’s final extra-point attempt causing the kick to twist wide left thus helping the Red Raiders maintain a one-point lead.
Banks’ play has been a revelation this year and it gives Tech fans hope that the defense will be able to maintain its current level of play next year when Hutchings is no longer part of the roster. In seven games this year, he’s Banks has been primarily a backup DT but he’s still managed to rack up 10 tackles including 2.5 for loss. Given that Hutchings and fellow DT Tony Bradford Jr. rarely leave the field, Banks’ opportunities have been limited but when he’s been on in the fray, he’s been easy to notice.
Another freshman who is staking his claim to a starting spot in 2024 is Brenden Jordan. A true freshman from Mansfield, Texas, he’s been thrust onto the field quite often this year due to injuries and that was once again the case on Saturday with Owens out due to an ankle injury.
Playing the “star” position, which is the most critical position on the field for defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter given how he likes to deploy this hybrid linebacker/safety player, Jordan has been a pleasant surprise in his first collegiate season.
He’s seen action in all eleven games this year making 18 tackles (including one for loss). On Saturday, he had arguably his best outing as a Red Raider, as well. Playing for Owens, Jordan had five tackles, four of those being of the solo variety.
It has been fun to watch the former 4-star prospect come into his own so early in his collegiate career. Now, he looks to be the obvious choice to take over at the “star” spot when Owens exhausts his eligibility at the end of this season.
Another young defensive back who played a huge role against Central Florida was Chapman Lewis. Taking over for Taylor-Demerson, he made five tackles with three being solo stops.
A former 3-star prospect, he was the No. 71 safety in the class of 2023 but few expected him to be an impact player right away given the experience-laden secondary that the defense fielded to begin the year.
However, Lewis has shown ready to be a starter in 2024, which is critical given who he’ll likely be replacing in Taylor-Demerson. Nicknamed “Rabbit”, Taylor-Demerson is this team’s biggest playmaker with 10 career interceptions and his absence will be felt next year just as it was on Saturday.
Still, Lewis appears to have a leg up in the race to be the starter at one of the safety spots next season and he showed on Saturday that he’s capable of coming up big in critical spots.
Of course, we’ve already come to take for granted the contributions of another young Red Raider defender, Ben Roberts, who was huge again against UCF. While he has been a starter since week two, his emergence is one we shouldn’t overlook.
With six tackles against UCF (including 0.5 for loss), the redshirt freshman has a team-leading 86 stops this year. What’s more, he’s already amassed five games with double-digit tackles this year.
The point is that Tech’s defense is starting to show how it will replace the massive losses it will incur this year. That’s because McGuire’s early recruiting efforts are already starting to pay off in the form of youngsters who are showing promise. Hopefully, it is a sign that next year will see the Red Raider defense continue its rebirth under Tim DeRuyter despite seeing some long-time program stalwarts move on.