Earlier this week, Louisiana Tech team captain safety L’Jarius Sneed set the tone for Saturday’s game with some pregame chatter directed towards the Texas Longhorns wide receivers.
As if they needed some extra motivation before their final season opener, senior wide receivers Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay have a big task at-hand facing an experienced Louisiana Tech Bulldogs secondary. Last season, as a defensive unit, La Tech ranked 29th in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 193.6 yards per game. This is shaping up to be a nice tune-up matchup for the Texas offense before they face LSU.
The back-end of the Bulldogs defense cannot be overlooked.
Although, they’ll be breaking in a couple defensive backs in new positions under defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. Diaco, who most recently worked as a defensive assistant under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, runs a 3-4 defensive scheme.
It all starts with their best defensive player — first-team all conference cornerback Amik Robertson. While he’s bit undersized standing at just 5’9, Robertson is tremendously quick and consistently makes a play on the ball. He led their secondary with four interceptions, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 12 pass breakups last season.
Robertson will likely be matched up against the 6’6 Collin Johnson. In a recent USA Today Draft Wire piece on Robertson, he spoke about the challenge of facing bigger receivers:
At the end of the day, those bigger guys have some advantages but I have some advantages over them as well. Those guys expect to bully me. They expect to use their size against me. They wanna play the fade ball or the back shoulder throw. A lot of them sleep on my leaping ability though. That gives me an opportunity to make plays.
As for the rest of their secondary, the Bulldogs return plenty of contributors at both cornerback and safety.
- L’Jarius Sneed (59 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 3 INTs in 2018) converted from cornerback to safety, will start at free safety.
- Michael Sam, who converted from safety to cornerback, will line up opposite of Amik Robertson at corner.
- Redshirt freshman Bee Jay Williamson surprisingly beat out last year’s leading-tackler Darryl Lewis at strong safety.
This group is known for their speed and aggression for the football. In a valiant losing effort at LSU last season, Louisiana Tech allowed only one LSU receiver to eclipse 40 yards.
The La Tech game film against LSU was pretty impressive. Their defensive backs frequently pressed up against LSU receivers and maintained solid man coverage throughout the game.
But unlike those younger, leaner LSU receivers, Duvernay and Johnson are two veteran possession receivers that bode well against a back-end that is built on speed. Johnson’s large frame on the outside and Duvernay’s speedy-stocky build in the slot will provide a major test to the Bulldogs secondary in coverage and after the catch.
For Texas to have success through the air, it all starts with the protection up front, and it’s a good thing Louisiana Tech has a lot of talent to replace along their defensive line. The void on their defensive line suits nicely for quarterback Sam Ehlinger and the rest of the offense.
It starts with timing and rhythm. Behind stable protection, Ehlinger excels at letting routes develop for his receivers while surveying the field and timing up his delivery. Without there being a serious threat of a pass rush, the Texas receivers should have plenty of time to create separation in their routes as the protection holds up.
To take into account the personnel changes in the secondary, there are going to be times when the Louisiana Tech defensive backs take their chances and play overly aggressive — they have nothing to lose. We’ll have to see if Texas can jump on those mistakes, rather than playing right into them.