Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury brought in a heaping helping of transfers over the past year trying to upgrade the Red Raiders’ defense and the team overall. That’s not the only part of the solution.
The other part is having returning players get better.
No one’s answering that bell in that regard more than Mych Thomas. The senior nose tackle transformed himself over the past year, shedding 30 pounds while he learned the system and adapted from junior-college to Big 12 football. So far, his play’s been not merely that of the rotation guy he was last year, but a potential difference maker.
“I feel like I’m confident this year in my play style,” Thomas said. “I’ve lost a lot of weight. I feel more ready than last year. I feel like I can chase down the ball more this year than I was last year. I’m just trying to trust the process and keep going.”
Tech (2-0) is a six-point underdog on the road against Houston (2-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday, and the Red Raiders will happily take the same caliber of play in this game that they got from Thomas last week. He recovered a fumble, was in on four tackles including a sack, had a hit on the quarterback and made a heads-up play that helped seal a 52-45 victory.
With Arizona State facing third-and-2 late in the game, Thomas turned and ran with Sun Devils running back Kalen Ballage in pass coverage. That wasn’t his assignment, but Thomas sensed Ballage would be left uncovered otherwise. Ten yards downfield, Thomas got a hand on Manny Wilkins’ pass as he and linebacker Dakota Allen combined to break it up.
“It got a great reaction,” Thomas said. “Coach (David) Gibbs said I did a great job on the play, because he said he called a bad play, but I made it look so good. I got a great reaction from my teammates and just from people.”
That Thomas was able to pivot and keep up with a 230-pound running back in a snap-decision pass coverage illustrates the progress he’s made since he arrived at Tech in the summer of 2016 weighing 345 pounds. This week, Thomas said his weight ranged from 317 before a workout to 313 after.
His improved agility and endurance was apparent last week. In the first half, he recovered a fumble, tackled Ballage twice on 1-yard gains and had an assisted stop on a Demario Richard 3-yard run. On a play in the second half, he blew up the A gap, drove the left guard backward and hit Wilkins as he released a completed pass.
“Mych had a game,” rush end Lonzell Gilmore said. “I see him out here taking on double teams, holding center for us, opening up holes for the linebackers. Mych does everything. There was the play he even covered a 230 running back, so Mych is pretty much an all-around guy.”
Thomas played in 10 games last season, all as a backup, and got credit for eight tackles, one quarterback pressure and one breakup. For the Dallas Skyline graduate, it was his first year of major-college ball after coming in from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas.
“Last year was a new experience,” he said. “I felt like I was following people around, was not trying to be a leader like how I’m supposed to be. So that was a downfall.
“This year, I’ve picked it up and tried to start leading. At practice, I feel like my D-linemen or my defense can feed off me if I’m doing something right.”
The Red Raiders lost two full-time starters at defensive tackle from 2016, Ondre Pipkins who was a senior and Breiden Fehoko, who transferred to LSU.
They have the potential to be more productive this season. Not only has Thomas gotten off to an encouraging start, but so has defensive tackle Broderick Washington. The sophomore from Longview won the team’s in-house recognition as defensive player of the week.
In the fourth quarter against ASU, Washington was in on three tackles, on running plays that went for 1, 2 and 1 yard.
“They stepped up when they had to,” Kingsbury said. “To see those guys really take control and be leaders, and had great energy and on the sideline and play like they did at the end, that was very encouraging.”
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