Texas Tech vs. SMU: Match-ups to Watch


Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech and Southern Methodist square off in the season opener for both teams on Friday night at 7:00, CST. Until then, let’s look at some key match-ups to keep an eye on when the Red Raiders and the Mustangs finally take the field.

Tech’s Eric Ward vs. SMU’s Kenneth Acker

Earlier this week we crammed as much hype regarding Eric Ward as we could into a preview of the receiver positions. It can’t be overstated how talented, experienced and intelligent Ward is, and he’s definitely the best player on this Texas Tech offense. Over the last two seasons he’s been a walking highlight reel; making insanely acrobatic catches, vicious blocks and last minute touchdowns.

Tasked with covering Ward is senior SMU defensive back Kenneth Acker, who brings some athleticism and competitiveness of his own to the fight. Acker was named second-team All-Conference USA last season after starting all 13 games. He led the team with 12 pass break-ups and three interceptions. Acker also notched 50 total tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and returned six punts for 84 yards. Because he has such good hands, there’s talk of Acker playing some at receiver for the Mustangs this season. I highly doubt coach Mason wants to completely give up his best defensive back to the offense, so I’m betting we see Acker on Ward this Friday.

These guys may be the best athletes on the field when the lights come on in Dallas, and both are on their way to the league. Ward is physical off the line and he won’t be easily pushed around. Acker, 6-0/195, is good-sized for a cornerback, but I don’t seem him having a whole lot of success against a beast like Ward. They’ll each win some battles, but on this particular night Ward wins the war.

Edge: Ward

Tech Offensive Line vs. SMU Front Seven

This should be the most interesting match-up of the game. Both these units have depth, size and experience issues, so it will ultimately come down to talent and execution. Texas Tech has to replace three seniors from last year’s unit, and those replacements  should be sophomore Jared Kaster at center, sophomore Alfredo Morales at left guard, and senior Rashad Fortenberry at right tackle. Sophomore Le’Raven Clark, formerly at right guard, takes over at left tackle for last season’s All-Big 12 tackle LaAdrian Waddle. So, lots of youth and inexperience, but lots of promise as well.

Same tune for SMU’s front seven. Defensive linemen Margus Hunt and Torlan Pittman are gone, as well as linebackers Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed. Sophomores Andy McCleneghen and Zach Wood, and junior Darrian Wright are all first-year starters along the defensive line. Senior Randall Joyner, one of the better defensive players, and sophomore Robert Seals will plug in at linebacker. Overall, the linebacking unit looks comparable in size to what Tech’s offensive line goes against every day in practice. The Mustang D-line is a huge concern for SMU, but the linebackers have some key leadership and experience. I fully expect SMU you bring lots of guys on blitzes and stunts early to try and rattle the Tech offense line and force mistakes.

This is the area of the field I’ll be watching most closely. Tech’s offensive line depth is razor thin, but there are talented players in all five starting spots. SMU has a blend of experience and youth at linebacker, but the defensive line is completely untested, especially against Big 12 offensive lines.

Edge: Tech OL

Tech Linebackers vs. SMU’s Traylon Shead

This one has big plays written all over it. Just exactly who will be making those plays is the question. Linebacker was the weakest position for Tech’s defense a year ago, but every single starter from the unit returns this season. Tech is at least two deep at every position with guys who’ve played in major college football games, and they should perform well enough as the season goes on for this defense to be even more successful than it was last year. However, if there’s one type of offensive player these guys struggle to defend, it’s power backs like Traylon Shead.

Shead, a former four-star recruit at Texas who transferred from Navarro junior college this spring, stands 6-2 and weighs a colossal 230 pounds. Even at that size, he can cut and make defenders miss, but what makes Shead dangerous is his ability to break tackles. His highlights from junior college are nothing but stiff-arms and would-be tacklers bouncing off.

Shead will be a hassle for Tech’s linebackers, and I really think coach Jones tries to take some of the pressure off Garrett Gilbert by running the ball. If Shead can cut through defenders on this level the way he did in high school and junior college, then I expect Jones to keep feeding him, and it’ll be a long night for Tech’s linebackers.

Edge: Shead