An already depleted secondary became even thinner Saturday in Ames as one safety after another left the field due to injury.
Despite the extreme attrition which saw Tech play four freshman in the secondary at once, the Red Raiders were able to persevere and escape with a 34-31 victory over Iowa State.
"Going in to that game we had three safeties and I'm sitting there thinking 'gosh I hope nobody goes down' and we lost four of them," said Texas Tech defensive coordinator Mike Smith during a press conference Monday. "It makes it interesting."
Now, Tech (4-7, 2-6 in Big 12) faces No. 5 Baylor (9-1, 6-1) to close out the season. The Bears own the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation at 50 points per game and the No. 1 passing offense in the conference, fourth nationally, at 345 yards per contest. Even Red Raider head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday morning he thought Baylor featured the best college receiving corps he had ever seen.
J.J. Gaines, Justis Nelson, Keenon Ward, Dorian Crawford and Jalen Barnes were all either already inactive or injured Saturday. On Tech's final defensive possession, which ended with the Red Raiders holding the Cyclones on downs, the secondary featured true freshman Nigel Bethel at one corner, true freshman Tevin Madison at the other, true freshman Derrick Dixon (who was making his first start) and walk-on junior John White.
When asked who will be available in the secondary for Tech this weekend against the formidable Bears offensive attack, Mike Smith said he really wasn't sure yet.
"Right now it's just a waiting game with some of these head injuries, but we're just trying to put something together," Smith said. "As a staff we're actually meeting right now, trying to come up with a backup plan for what we're going to do in a game if these guys can't go. I've never been in this situation, I've never seen this situation, so some of these guys are going to have to step up like they did (last week)."
Smith pointed to the job John White did when thrust into action Saturday, saying if Tech is to have any shot this week they will need a similar effort from players way down the depth chart.
"John White hasn't repped since a handful of plays last spring and he went in and made a heck of a play in the end zone--knocked the ball out," Smith said. "He got his head turned and made a play, so some of these young guys or even guys who haven't repped, walk-on guys are going to have to play and if that's the case there is nothing else I can do."
Smith said one option is to play some of the corners at safety. One name offered up was sophomore Justis Nelson, who played some safety last season before moving to corner. Smith said he expects Nelson to return to the field this week after being inactive against Iowa State. Having Nelson on the field should be a boost no matter where he plays. Junior Brandon Bagley was another corner mentioned who could move to safety this week.
One player you won't see on the field is true freshman safety Payton Hendrix. Smith said there was no way they would burn his redshirt for one game, saying the coaching staff is competitive,but wouldn't mess with a player's career like that.
"We'll have to come up with something, the game will still be played on Saturday," Smith said.
Texas Tech Secondary in Flux
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