Opponents to watch: Robertson, Baker pack punch on defense

Myah Taylor

In just over a week, Texas will host one of the nation’s top teams in the No. 6 LSU Tigers. But before the Longhorns prepare for one of the biggest games of their season, they must first face a Louisiana Tech squad with talent on both sides of the ball.

Here are four Bulldog players to watch for on Saturday:

No. 8 J’Mar Smith — Quarterback

When Louisiana Tech met No. 6 LSU last fall in Baton Rouge, the Tigers came out on top 38-21. But early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs trailed by just three points. Quarterbacking for the Louisiana Tech side was then-junior J’Mar Smith, who threw for 330 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Bulldogs may not have been able to hold on against the superior LSU team, but with Smith at the helm, their offensive production proved solid.

Despite going cold at points, Smith helped lead the team to an 8–5 record last season. Smith, who was selected for All-Conference USA Honorable Mention in 2018, passed for 300-plus yards in four games and made plays on the ground, too. In Smith’s last outing in 2018 against Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, he brought Louisiana Tech back from a 7-3 halftime deficit with both a passing and rushing touchdown that helped secure the team’s victory. In his third year as the starter, Smith may give the young Texas defense some trouble in the season opener.

No. 85 Willie Baker — Defensive end

The biggest star of the 2018 Louisiana Tech squad was then-senior defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson. However, after being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the NCAA career sack leader will no longer be leading the charge for the Bulldog defense. Joining Ferguson in his departure were other key starters on the defensive front and defensive coordinator Blake Baker.

Among those returning to the Louisiana Tech defensive front is defensive end Willie Baker, who will have to assume a leadership position in Ferguson’s absence. Last season, Baker showed the potential to lead this new-look defense, most notably against Hawaii. Like his quarterback Smith, Baker had big moments against the Rainbow Warriors last December, recording five tackles for loss and four sacks. With the departure of veteran players like left tackle Calvin Anderson and Patrick Vahe along with position changes on Texas’s offensive line, the Longhorns will have to look for ways to slow down Baker.

No. 6 Adrian Hardy — Wide receiver

Much of the Bulldogs’ offensive firepower comes from junior wide receiver Adrian Hardy. Last season, Hardy recorded six touchdowns and led his team with 75 receptions for 1145 yards. The Houston native returns as Louisiana Tech’s most dynamic wideout. When the Bulldogs went toe-to-toe with LSU for three quarters last fall, Hardy’s play was to thank, as he recorded 10 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns. The Longhorns should expect Hardy to be Smith’s main target when the teams take the field on Saturday.

No. 21 Amik Robertson — Cornerback

First Team All-Conference USA. First Team All-Louisiana. These are just a couple of junior cornerback Amik Robertson’s accolades from the 2018 season. A potential NFL Draft prospect, Robertson led the Bulldogs with four interceptions, two of which came in Louisiana Tech’s bowl victory. In his stellar sophomore season last year, Robertson recorded 44 solo tackles, 12 pass breakups, a forced fumble, a recovery and a sack. The player out of Thibodaux, Louisiana, stands at just 5-foot-9. While Texas’ star wide receiver Collin Johnson has a significant height advantage on Robertson at 6-foot-6, the Longhorns should still plan accordingly for this talented corner.