No. 2: Ben Roberts stars against Oregon in first start for Texas Tech
When Texas Tech lost starting middle linebacker Jacob Rodriguez for several weeks due to a foot injury sustained in the season-opening loss to Wyoming, it opened the door for redshirt freshman Ben Roberts to make his mark. However, when head coach Joey McGuire announced that Roberts would get the start against Oregon in week two in place of Rodriguez, most Texas Tech fans scratched their head and said..."Who?".
After all, the Haslet, Texas native was a rather unheralded signee in the class of 2022. Just the No. 1,150 player in the country when he signed out of high school, he redshirted as a true freshman and was not expected to be a big part of the 2023 defensive game plan.
Thus, expectations were low and worries were high when Roberts had to make his first career start against the No. 12 Oregon Ducks. Featuring Heisman Trophy candidate Bo Nix at QB and a lethal rushing attack, Oregon was expected to feast on the Red Raider defense with Roberts having to play such a vital role.
That didn't happen though. Sure, Oregon did put up 31 offensive points in their 38-30 win but they didn't simply have their way with the Red Raider defense.
In fact, the Ducks feared ground game managed only 113 yards on 31 rushes, an average of 3.6 yards per carry. Much of that was because of Roberts' brilliance.
Racking up 12 tackles, one off of his season-high, he was a rock for the Red Raiders in the middle of the defensive front. Five of those tackles were solo stops. What's more, he even forced a fumble, one that the Ducks would recover, unfortunately.
Roberts would go on to have a stellar redshirt freshman season. He had six games of double-digit tackles including 13 against eventual playoff participant Texas in Austin.
Together, Roberts and Rodriguez will combine to form one of the best interior linebacking duos in the nation in 2024. They are both instinctual and highly intelligent players who will help set the tone for the Red Raider defense next fall.
It's funny to think about how differently we view a player like Roberts now as compared to how we viewed him back in September. In just 12 games this year, he went from a no-name that not even the hardcore fans knew a thing about to one of the pillars of this program's future. And that journey all started when he opened a ton of eyes by racking up 12 big tackles against Oregon, one of the best teams in the nation this year.