The Texas Tech football team expects to have its best defense in recent memory this fall. A huge reason for that optimism is the age of the defense as the entire starting eleven is comprised of upperclassmen. Still, for that side of the ball to take a step forward after years of struggling, the super-seniors are going to have to lead the way.
The term “super-senior” is relatively new in college sports. It describes a senior who is playing one extra season, which was granted to all players in college athletics during the 2020-21 school year, which was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That term describes eleven members of this year’s team with nine of those players being members of the defense. What’s more, seven of those defenders are part of Tech’s two-deep rotation.
Leading the way in terms of importance to the 2022 defense is middle linebacker Krishon Merriweather. Last year, he was sixth on the team in tackles with 52 but he’s the third-leading returning tackler from 2021 behind safeties Dadrion Taylor-Demerson and Reggie Pearson.
Given that the Red Raiders lost Colin Schooler and Riko Jeffers, a duo that combined for 178 tackles last season, Merriweather’s presence on the defense as the lone returning starting linebacker is all the more important and he must be one of Tech’s best players for this year’s defense to reach internal expectations.
Also being asked to play a greater role this year at the linebacker spot is super-senior Kosi Eldridge. Primarily a backup during his time at Tech, he has earned a starting job as an outside LB despite having only 10 tackles last season and 31 for his entire collegiate career. Whether or not he’s ready to be a starter is going to be one of the keys to this year’s defensive success.
Meanwhile, backing up Eldridge is Dimitri Moore, a transfer from Missouri State who was a 2018 SEC All-Freshman team honoree while playing at Vanderbilt. Though he had just 11 tackles in six games a year ago for the Bears, he is expected to see some important time on the field for Tech this year and could be utilized in some special packages. That gives the linebacking corps three super-seniors that will play meaningful snaps in 2022.
While the linebackers are one of the concerns of the team as we head into the season, the secondary is expected to be one of the strengths of the entire roster. And that unit will be fortified by its own trio of super-seniors.
Expectations are high for Marquis “Muddy” Waters, the safety who transferred to Tech from Duke prior to last season. Fans may not remember him though because he was lost for the season after four games due to injury.
But don’t forget that he is one of the more accomplished members of Tech’s defense. Prior to his time as a Red Raider, Waters had 234 tackles, three interceptions, and 13 pass defenses in 49 games (35 starts) with the Blue Devils. He’s averaged 58.5 tackles per year and if he can match or exceed that total this fall, Tech will have an excellent strong safety at the back of the defense.
At corner, a pair of super-seniors are set to play a big role. One is a name most Red Raiders know and one is a newcomer this offseason.
Set to return as a starting corner, Adrian Frye enters his fifth season for the program. Thus far, he’s managed to accumulate 84 tackles, 24 pass defenses, and seven interceptions in his career. But he hasn’t managed to recapture the magic of his true freshman year when he picked off five passes to earn All-Conference honors. Still, he’s a veteran and steady presence at corner and he should give Tech plenty of quality snaps this fall.
Meanwhile, Keyon Blankenbaker is a name most Tech fans may not know. A late-summer transfer from Wyoming, he’s going to play quite a few snaps for the Red Raiders, most likely being a slot corner.
As a Cowboy, the Illinois native was extremely productive. Making 20 starts, he had 125 tackles, 16 pass defenses, an interception, and a forced fumble in 40 career appearances.
Last year, the Red Raider secondary was abused by opposing passing attacks. Giving up over 260 yards per contest through the air, Tech was No. 119 in the nation and No. 10 in the Big 12 against the pass. But if these three super-seniors play up to their paper, they will help this secondary, which will also feature three traditional seniors as key contributors, to take a step forward this fall.
Along the defensive line, two big-bodied super-seniors could provide Tech with some valuable depth as rotation pieces. Vidal Scott, a transfer from Arkansas State is 285 pounds and will back up Philip Blidi and Tony Bradford Jr. at the defensive tackle spot. Meanwhile, Gabe Olidapo is playing his first year with the program after four seasons as a shotput thrower for the Texas Tech track team. Whether or not he is ready to play meaningful snaps is yet to be seen but at 295 pounds, he’s certainly got the size to do battle along the defensive front.
College coaches love to have age on their team. It’s often one of the most important factors in building a successful roster.
This year, the Texas Tech defense will be expected to be better than it has been in almost a decade and that’s in large part because of how experienced that side of the ball is. And if these super-seniors can lead the way, we may finally see what’s been the weakness of this program for far too long turn into a strength.