The Daily Texan spoke with Cory Diaz, sports writer for The News-Star in Monroe, Louisiana.
Daily Texan: Quarterback J’Mar Smith and receiver Adrian Hardy, what kind of problems do these two guys present to defenses?
Cory Diaz: Adrian Hardy, being a guy that signed with Texas’ rival out of high school, signed with Oklahoma, obviously to be that caliber of a player, he’s very dynamic. He’s got that typical Power Five size. He’s 6-foot-2, just a shade under 200 pounds, he’s a guy that’s very good at high pointing the ball. He runs really crisp routes, but he’s also really strong and he’s got a quick first step. He really has all the tools to be one of the best, if not the best wide receiver, especially in Conference USA come the end of the year. And his timing with J’Mar has certainly improved since he had to sit out a year due to the transfer rule, and last year was the first year Adrian got significant playing time. You could tell over the course of the year that their timing and rhythm together just kept improving and kept improving.
DT: On the defensive side, Louisiana Tech lost its defensive coordinator and (defensive lineman) Jaylon Ferguson. Who do you think on this Tech defensive front is going to step up and make an impact early in this season?
CD: I don’t think there’s any question it’s going to be Willie Baker. He’s a redshirt junior, last year he served as (Ferguson’s) primary backup at the rush end spot. With new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco coming in just before spring ball and getting into the fold there at the Louisiana Tech football program, he’s installed a new 3-4 base front. They had been basing out of a 4-3, so they’ve shifted the front, and what that’s done is that’s moved Willie back from that rush end spot to more of a hybrid Jack linebacker position. That kind of plays into his strengths. Obviously he’s got incredible ability to rush the passer. He kind of broke out in the Hawaii Bowl last year, had four sacks in that game and was a real difference maker. What the new position allows him to do is it allows him to disguise what he’s going to do pre-snap.
DT: Texas has had a problem in the past with kind of allowing teams to hang around. What do you think this Louisiana Tech team needs to do in the first half to stick around in a game where they might look overmatched against a top 10 Texas team?
CD: (Louisiana) Tech went down to Baton Rouge and played LSU last year, and at the half it looked like the game was already over. The big reason for that was because (Louisiana) Tech had a couple of turnovers in the first half. They cannot turn the ball over. I feel like against this Texas team and how talented it is, if this (Louisiana) Tech team makes some miscues and gives Sam Ehlinger extra possessions, I really think the Texas offense could make them pay for that. I think the biggest thing for J’Mar Smith at quarterback and the running backs is don’t throw interceptions — you can’t fumble the ball and put the ball on the ground. What I suspect offensively for (Louisiana) Tech to come out and do, I think they’ll start out with some quick passes. I think they’ll come out and rely on J’Mar Smith early. I think they’ll give him some quick-read snap plays just to kind of get the timing down with Adrian and Isaiah (Graham) and Griffin (Hebert) at the slot receiver position, just to kind of get into that rhythm.