Texas Tech Football: Game Balls For Week 1

LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 29: Nic Shimonek
LUBBOCK, TX - SEPTEMBER 29: Nic Shimonek /

The Texas Tech football team turned in a dominating performance in week one against Eastern Washington.  Here is one defensive group and three players deserving of game balls for their performance against the Eagles.

When a team is coming off as thorough of a beating as the Texas Tech football team put on Eastern Washington in week one, there are plenty of accolades to throw around.  The 56-10 victory was a complete performance on all three sides of the ball as the Red Raiders put the game out of hand by halftime.

Heading into the season, much of the intrigue surrounding the team was focused on the large number of new faces that were slated to be key contributors this year.  Fortunately, the new additions jelled with the returning veterans enabling the Red Raiders to avoid the upset at the hands of an EWU team that has a track record of knocking off FBS teams on the road.

Here are the recipients of our imaginary game balls for the week.

The Secondary

One highlight of the game was the play of the new and improved secondary.  Featuring three JUCO transfers (Jaylon Lane, Vaughnte Dorsey and Octavius Morgan) and Arkansas transfer Willie Sykes), defensive coordinator and secondary coach David Gibbs’ defensive backfield was aggressive and physical in a way that a Red Raider secondary has not been in recent memory.

Sykes had an interception return for a touchdown and he and his fellow defensive backs harassed the EWU receivers all afternoon forcing numerous drops.  Now that the Texas Tech defense finally has the type of athletes in the secondary to play the scheme Gibbs prefers, we can expect a noticeable difference at the back of the defense.

The Eagles put up just 220 yards passing in the game thanks in large part to the work of the secondary. But while the entire defensive backfield was terrific, no individual stood out above the rest so the entire unit receives a game ball.

Defensive End Tony Jones

2017 JUCO signee Tony Jones made quite the first impression in his Texas Tech debut.  According to the official Texas Tech football Twitter account, Jones is the first Red Raider defensive lineman to record a sack and an interception in the same game since 2015.

While the interception was nice, Jones’ sack was far more important.  That is because last season, Texas Tech had just 14 sacks as a defense.

Jones, who recorded 5.5 sacks for Butler Community College last year, will be counted on to ensure that the pass rush improves in 2017.  Lacking the size to be an every down defensive end, Jones has one role and that is to get to the quarterback.

Heading into the season, no player on the roster had more than one collegiate sack so Gibbs desperately needs someone to step up along the defensive line.  Jones’ disruptive afternoon gives Texas Tech hope that he can be part of an improved defensive effort moving forward.

Quarterback Nick Shimonek

The first fifth-year senior to make his first career collegiate start for Texas Tech since Cody Hodges in 2005, Nick Shimonek was as good as could be expected.  The most impressive aspect of Shimonek’s game was his accuracy and decision-making.

He completed an insane 26 of 30 passes for 384 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.  He was in control of the offense all afternoon and showed poise in the pocket despite taking a sack on each of his team’s first two drives.

Shimonek said that head coach Kliff Kingsbury told him prior to the game to play his style of game and not try to be like any previous Tech QB and that is exactly what he did.  Shimonek was precise, patient and deliberate with his throws and did not force the action when the team struggled offensively in the first quarter.  Those are traits to be expected of a fifth-year senior.

WR Derrick Willies

With the offense struggling to get out of its own way to start the game, senior wide receiver Derrick Willies provided the spark his team needed.  He caught two consecutive passes for 40 total yards on the first two plays of Tech’s fourth drive.

Those plays seemed to get the offense rolling as Tech finally found its rhythm.  The drive concluded with a Justin Stockton touchdown run to give Tech a lead that would never be in jeopardy.

Willies finished the afternoon with just four receptions but he made the most of them racking up 126 total yards and a score.  That was good for an other-worldly 31.5 yards per catch (thanks in large part to his 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter).

Willies flash potential last season, his first with Texas Tech after transferring from the JUCO ranks. However, injuries and inconsistencies kept him from being the dominant force many expected him to be.

Now, he looks to be ready for a monster 2017 season.  If Willies can be a true lead receiver on the outside, the Red Raider offense will be lethal again this year.

Next: Texas Tech Football: Defense Keys Route of EWU

There were numerous other players whose performance warranted recognition.  Receiver Keke Coutee, running backs Justin Stockton and Desmond Nisby, linebacker Jordyn Brooks and linebacker Dakota Allen were all solid performers who helped lead the Red Raiders to victory.