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OSU football: Q&A with Don Williams, who covers Texas Tech for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

September 30, 2017

Oklahoma State is at Texas Tech this week for a pivotal game in Week 2 of the Big 12 schedule.

I reached out to Don Williams, who covers the Red Raiders for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal to analyze Saturday night’s game.

Tulsa World: Much has been made about the improved Texas Tech defense through the first three games. What, if anything, has made the difference for the group?

Don Williams: “They’ve been much better in the front seven, primarily thanks to Mych Thomas and Broderick Washington at defensive tackle and Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen at linebacker. Washington’s a sophomore first-time starter, but a team leader behind the scenes. Thomas came to Tech from a Kansas junior college in the summer of 2016 weighing 345 pounds and appeared to be nothing special as a rotation guy last season. He’s been really dedicated to the weight room and conditioning since and now checks in about 313 to 317 pounds, which has allowed him to show some surprising athletic ability and agility.

As for the linebackers, Allen was promising two years ago as a freshman, when he was second on the team in tackles, and has come back strong after getting kicked off the team and spending a year in exile at East Mississippi Community College. Brooks, thrown to the wolves as a true freshman last year, led the team in tackles, but recently said he and the linebacker group were “young and dumb” last year. He’s healthy after playing last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder and has really made strides.

Brooks is 6-1, 240. DC David Gibbs told me this spring Brooks “looks like what the people we play are playing with at linebacker,” meaning Tech’s been linebacker-poor the last few years and finally has some guys who look the part.

Beyond that, they’ve hit on several transfers who have helped right away: rush end Tony Jones and defensive backs Jaylon Lane, Octavious Morgan, Vaughnte Dorsey, Willie Sykes and Justus Parker. The first four are all JC transfers. Sykes is a transfer from Arkansas and Parker a transfer from Texas Lutheran.

Taking all that account, they’ve had a lot more playmakers and, thanks to the increased depth, better flexibility on defense.

Tulsa World: Why have the Red Raiders been able to create so many turnovers? They’ve been Oklahoma State-like in that regard this season.

Williams:”(Defensive coordinator) David Gibbs emphasizes takeaways above everything as part of his philosophy. The two seasons before he came to Tech, his defenses at Houston came up with 73 turnovers, best in the FBS for that two-year period. They make a conscious effort to strip the ball -- which looked bad and called his approach into question when Tech was getting lit up for 60 and 70 points in games the past two years.

This season, with the focus on turnovers and the talent upgrade on defense, a lot of those takeaways are starting to happen. Five last week, nine in the first three games. They’ll need a few to beat OSU.”

Tulsa World: Speaking of the defense, how are linebacker Jordyn Brooks and safety Vaughnte Dorsey after suffering injuries in the win over Houston? What are their statuses for Saturday?

Williams: (Head coach) Kliff Kingsbury will surprise the media here and there, but for the most part, he tends to not give very detailed information regarding players’ injury status or projected return dates. That’s the case on most injuries that happen in season, at least. So it’s a guess on Brooks and Dorsey. Brooks tweaked a knee last week and actually played a few more plays after he first came out. He also stayed in the defensive huddle after he was done for the day and looked OK heading to the locker room after the game. So my guess is he’s probable to questionable for Saturday.

Dorsey had the scary-looking injury last week: Took a knee to the head covering a kickoff, then was immobilized, strapped to a back board and wheeled off. Luckily, Kingsbury on Sunday said Dorsey “felt great and had no lingering effects” the next day. My guess on him is questionable for Saturday.”

Tulsa World: Did Gary Patterson and his TCU defense figure out how to slow down Oklahoma State’s offense? Is Texas Tech able to duplicate that effort?

Williams: “I didn’t get a chance to watch TCU-OSU last week, but it’s never a surprise when Gary Patterson comes up with a great defensive plan that works. That said, I don’t see OSU’s offense staying down for long. Between Mason Rudolph, James Washington, the depth and experience of the receiving corps and Justice Hill at running back, that’s about as much skill-position talent as any team in the nation.

Tech’s defense is much better -- heck, Tech’s ranked 40th in the FBS in run D -- but OSU’s easily their best test so far. No matter how much better Tech’s defense is, I think they’ll have a hard time keeping OSU from scoring high 30s into the 40s.”

Tulsa World: This figures to be one of those old-fashioned Big 12 high-scoring games everyone is accustomed to. What matchups are you looking forward to watching Saturday night?

Williams: “As mentioned above, Tech’s front seven has been the key to this early season turnaround, so I think those guys against the Oklahoma State offensive line will be a telltale matchup, especially with the injury issues the Cowboys have had there. Almost goes without saying that Gibbs has to come up with something to slow the OSU passing game. James Washington’s scored touchdowns against Tech from 39, 33, 75, 73 and 82 yards, but it’s not just him. Marcell Ateman and Chris Lacy both have had 100-yard games against Tech and Jalen McCleskey had a punt-return touchdown here two years ago. How do you defend all that?

And on the flip side, I think the OSU secondary has its hands full against the Tech passing game. Nic Shimonek’s a lot like Mason Rudolph: big guy, good judgment, doesn’t make many mistakes. If everyone’s covered, he’s shown he’ll throw the ball into the stands and play the next down. He has one interception so far, and that one went off the receiver’s hands. The four starting receivers -- Derrick Willies, Keke Coutee, Cameron Batson and Dylan Cantrell -- are all legit. I know Tech has a lot of respect for Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards, but I’m curious to see how the Cowboys’ young corners will match up.”