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Red Raiders Run Defense Key to 2015 Early Season Success

The beginning to any season is key, especially for a football team in the race to become one of the coveted four to make the second College Football Playoff.

I’m not saying that Texas Tech is currently in the race to get into that final four. Heck, just getting bowl eligible will be step number one. But, to even have a chance the Red Raiders need a quick start before getting into Big 12 Conference play.

Texas Tech opens the 2015 season playing Sam Houston State, University of Texas-El Paso and finally SEC-member and former Southwest Conference foe, Arkansas.

On the outside looking in, many would say the Red Raiders could sweep past these opponents, but that is much easier said than done.

These are not just push over programs. As the QB battle rages on this summer in Lubbock, it will be the defense that will need to step up in the opening few weeks.

Sam Houston State has made a mark for itself in the Southland Conference, making deep runs in the FCS Football Playoffs the last few years. The Bearkats made it to the FCS Playoff Semifinals in 2014, falling to eventual National Champion North Dakota State.

The Bearkats finished 11-5 last season and lost only two senior starters off that squad. This has put Sam Houston State in the driver’s seat to be at the top of the Southland Conference again.

QB Jared Johnson passed for 3,054 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 999 yards and six touchdowns as well.

Texas Tech must stop the rushing attack of the Bearkats. Last season Sam Houston State averaged 320 yards per game on the ground, while the Red Raiders surrendered 260.2 yards per game to opponents.

In the backfield, Donovan Williams returns for Sam Houston State after rushing for 719 yards and nine rushing touchdowns last year.

Texas Tech needs to be wary in this game, because Sam Houston State will be coming to Lubbock to try and make a statement in the 2015 season opener.

After dealing with the Bearkats, the Red Raiders turn their attention to UTEP, a team which Texas Tech defeated 30-26 in El Paso last season.

The Miners are off a 7-5 season, which ended with a 21-6 loss to Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.

But, just achieving a winning season and reaching a bowl game was a big deal for the Miners. When Sean Kugler took over in 2012, the program was coming off a 2-10 campaign.

Now, UTEP is entering this year picked third in Conference USA Western Division by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football and could finish higher than that.

The Miners will have to figure some things out at quarterback with Mark Leftwitch having limited experience. But, that position, at least throwing the ball, isn’t nearly as important in the Miner offense that ran for over 2,700 yards, while throwing for 1,800 yards last season.

With Aaron Jones returning in the backfield off a 1,233-yard rushing campaign last year, the Miners are going to run the ball.

A pair of rushing teams in back-to-back games to open the season is what could hurt the Red Raiders this fall.

The third and final non-conference opponent doesn’t make it any easier. Arkansas really likes to run the ball.

The SEC-rising power, under third-year head coach Brett Bielema, is starting to make some noise.

After going 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC West in his first season, the Razorbacks came back with a 7-6 mark in 2014, while going 2-6 in conference play.

Arkansas registered wins against Nicholls State, Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, UAB, LSU, Ole Miss and finally Texas in the Advocare 100 Texas Bowl. The biggest wins being against No. 20 LSU and No.8 Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks.

The Razorbacks return one of the best running backs in all of college football in Jonathan Williams, who enters his final year 10th all-time at Arkansas in rushing yards. Williams rushed for 1,190 yards in 2014 and earned second team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press.

Last season, the Razorbacks traveled to Lubbock and beat the Red Raiders 49-28, in which Texas Tech surrendered 438 rushing yards.

Traveling to Fayetteville, Arkansas this season will not be an easy task, as the Razorbacks went 5-1 at home last season. Arkansas’ lone home loss last year came at the hands of No. 7 Alabama, which was a tight game, falling 14-13.

So here is the main theme and issue for the Red Raiders: all three teams they face in non-conference play this upcoming season all return veteran running backs. All three top backs rushed for 1,000-plus yards last season and are anticipating big seasons this year.

Texas Tech first year defensive coordinator David Gibbs has to fix the defense. If the Red Raiders run defense is not better when September 5th rolls around, it could be a huge problem.

Sam Houston State, UTEP and Arkansas’ gameplans are easy to figure out at this point. Run the ball right at the Texas Tech defensive line and make them stop you. The Red Raider run defense was not good at the start of last season, giving up 842 yards on the ground in the first three games.

If Texas Tech wants to beat these teams, it will start with the defense. There is no doubt the Red Raiders can score, but these are not favorable matchups for the defense.

Run defense will be key for Texas Tech to open the season, especially if the Red Raiders want to start 3-0.

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