It is impossible for a football team to go through a season without being bitten by the injury bug. Texas Tech fans are all too aware of that fact after seeing the team have to take on Houston without starting QB Tyler Shough, starting middle linebackers Jesiah Pierre and Jacob Rodriguez, and starting safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson (the latter for the final three quarters of the game).
Now, it appears that this week’s opponent, Baylor, will also be dealing with its own injury concerns. In fact, the Bears announced on Monday that a key starter for their team has been lost for the season.
Texas Tech won’t face Baylor LB Mike Smith Jr. this weekend
Speaking to the media to begin the week, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda shared that starting middle linebacker Mike Smith Jr. tore his ACL in the Bears’ win over Central Florida this past weekend and will be out for the remainder of 2023. This is a significant blow for his team.
The 6-foot-1, 235-pound fifth-year senior is currently tied for second on the Baylor defense with 25 total tackles. With 18 solo tackles and three tackles for loss, he’s also second on the roster trailing only the Bears’ leading tackler, fellow inside linebacker, Matt Jones.
An offseason addition from Liberty, Smith had 85 tackles in 12 games last season. He also added three forced fumbles and an INT to his resume in 2022.
His absence is obviously not good news for a struggling Baylor defense. Thus far in 2023, three of Baylor’s five opponents have scored 35 or more points. What’s more, the two that didn’t were a Utah team that is without its top QB, Cam Rising, and which has not scored more than 24 points against an FBS team this year and an FCS opponent, Long Island.
Currently, the Bears are allowing 394.6 yards per game, second-worst in the Big 12 ahead of only Houston, a team that Tech just racked up 400 yards and hung 49 points on last Saturday. Additionally, the Bears rank 13th in the conference in scoring defense (28.4 points per game), last in rushing defense (184 yards allowed per game), and last in yards allowed per rush (5.0).
That’s good news for a Red Raider team that just piled up 239 yards on the ground against Houston and which seems to have committed to feeding RB Tahj Brooks a steady diet of carries with Shough on the shelf. Given that already this year, Utah has rushed for 224 yards, Texas has rushed for 175 yards, and Central Florida has run for 235 yards on the Bears, Tech is almost certain to try to churn out the yards on land this weekend, especially with Smith now out of action.
Texas Tech should get healthier on defense against Baylor
On the other side of the coin, the Texas Tech defense might be getting healthier this weekend. According to head coach Joey McGuire, Pierre, Taylor-Demerson, and second-team defensive tackle “Dooda” Banks should return to the field on Saturday. Of course, that’s great news for the Red Raiders.
Despite missing this past weekend’s win, Pierre is second on the team with 37 tackles (one behind redshirt freshman Ben Roberts) and is second in the conference with an average of 9.2 per game. Meanwhile, Taylor-Demerson’s 29 tackles are good for third on the roster and tops among all Red Raider defensive backs.
McGuire also said that more help could soon arrive for his defense. Pierre’s week-one running mate at inside linebacker, Jacob Rodriguez, could be close to a return as well.
After leaving the Wyoming game in the first quarter due to a foot sprain, the Wichita Falls native has missed the last four games forcing Roberts to serve in the starting role long before he was expected to. If Rodriguez can return on October 14 against Kansas State as McGuire indicated on Mondy was the hope, the spine of the Texas Tech defense could be back to full-strength for the first time since the opening 15 minutes of the season and that would do wonders for the Red Raiders as they turn the page to the second half of the schedule.