Desmond Nisby, Justin Stockton, DeMarcus Felton and Tre King all had their moments in Texas Tech’s season-opening victory against Eastern Washington. Given that the Red Raiders won 56-10, it was one of those games with a lot of low-pressure minutes when it was easy for all sorts of players to stand out.
Though the four running backs each bring something a little different, it’s likely the rotation won’t remain that large.
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged as much Tuesday.
“I could see, as the games go on, people getting fewer touches,” he said.
Stockton’s the speedy senior, Nisby the 235-pound newcomer who can pound defenses and Felton and King are somewhere in between.
“We wanted to get everybody, as the game went, get everybody some touches and see how they played,” Kingsbury said. “And we have confidence in four of five of those guys carrying the football, which is good. Good to see them do it when the lights are on.”
Nisby has been dealing with a turf toe injury, but Kingsbury said Monday he’s OK.
“I expect him to be full go,” Kingsbury said. “I think it helped him having the bye week. We were able to rest him a little bit and get him feeling better, and I expect him to be ready to go if we need him.”
Matt Haack made the Miami Dolphins this season as an undrafted free agent. How’s that relevant for Texas Tech? Haack was a headache for the Red Raiders during last year’s 68-55 loss to Arizona State.
Haack, as an Arizona State senior, averaged 44.4 yards per punt in 2016 and 55.0 yards on three punts against Tech. The Red Raiders started possessions that night at their 4- , 1- , 2- , 8- and 7-yard lines, four of those instances being after punts and one after a kickoff. Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins also quick-kicked to pin the Red Raiders at their 2.
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury cited that as the most frustrating facet of last year’s game at ASU.
“I think we started five drives inside our 7-yard line,” Kingsbury said, “turned it over twice, had a safety, a bunch of things you can’t do on the road against a good football team and win. I think, more than anything, they dominated us in special teams and the field-position battle.”
New ASU punter Michael Sleep-Dalton is averaging 36.9 yards, though he’s been bothered by an injured right foot. Five of his 11 punts so far have wound up inside the 20. Tech also gave up a safety and lost the turnovers column 2-0 in last year’s game, something Kingsbury harped on all offseason.
“I think our team understands that that’s going to be huge in every game we play moving forward is being able to win that turnover battle,” he said, “so hopefully we can find a way to get it done.”
Running back Da’Leon Ward will miss his second game in a row this week. Kingsbury wouldn’t say whether Ward is practicing, but said he won’t play against Arizona State.
The sophomore from Dallas Skyline didn’t participate in preseason workouts for academic reasons. Kingsbury said on Aug. 27 Ward could return to the team but had “a lot to prove off the field” and added his status would be determined on a week-to-week basis.
Ward was the team’s primary running back the last month of the 2016 season, but his absence wasn’t felt in the opener when four running backs shared the spotlight in a 56-10 win over Eastern Washington.
Two of Arizona State’s defensive starters — tackle JoJo Wicker and linebacker Christian Sam — are players Texas Tech recruited. Wicker, a 6-foot-3, 273-pound junior from Long Beach, California, visited Tech the weekend before he committed to Arizona State.
Sam is a 6-2, 237-pound senior from Allen.
“They just continue to get better,” Kingsbury said. “They flash on film. Both great young men. I enjoyed getting to know them through the (recruiting) process, and glad to see they’re having success because they do everything right.”
Wicker was named second-team all-Pac-12 last season when he had 39 tackles with 11 tackles for loss. Sam missed nearly all of last season with an injury and has 15 tackles through two games this year.