October 9, 2011

Crawford will have opportunity

As fans exited Jones AT&T Stadium after Texas Tech's 45-40 loss to No. 24 Texas A&M, a strange fog blew in and hovered in around the stadium. How fitting.

The Red Raiders had just lost what could have been the final chapter in a storied rivalry to Texas A&M, but more importantly long-term will be running back Eric Stephens' apparently serious injury.

Stephens was injured late in the third quarter on a tackle by Texas A&M linebacker Damontre Moore. Moore hit Stephens in a way that caused Stephens' leg to bend completely backward and it was apparent he had seriously injured his knee.

As of early Sunday morning, no specifics about Stephens' injury were known.

"We hate to lose Eric Stephens," head coach Tommy Tuberville said after the game. "It doesn't look good. Our prayers are with him and his family in a tough situation like this. He was having a great night, but those things happen."

Stephens finished his night with 102 yards -- an individual total that surpassed any team totals the Aggies had given up on the ground this season. He did it before the end of the third quarter.

He did it before being carted off the field and to the hospital in an ambulance.

Stephens was on the way to a 1,000-yard rushing season, but that goal appears to be derailed.

So what now?

No one can replace Stephens. He's definitely the best running back on the Red Raider roster this year.

But there's a running back that certainly can be an adequate replacement for Stephens and he's one that has long deserved a second chance to be the Red Raiders' lead back.

It's Aaron Crawford, and you would be hard pressed to find a Tech fan that wouldn't smile just a little bit about the opportunity that's fallen in front of a player that used to be fans' favorite tailback.

The fifth-year senior, who earned a degree this past August, found his way into the starting lineup midway through his freshman year but has been hindered by injuries since. Crawford got that lead spot back after Stephens' injury and rushed for 22 yards on seven carries and looked pretty good in pass protection.

Crawford should start this upcoming week of practice as the No. 1 back on the depth chart.

"Unfortunately we have things that go bad," Crawford said. "But yes, I feel like anytime a guy goes down another one has to step up whether it's me, any freshman or sophomore or senior. You have to do it."

Aside from Crawford, there should be an increase in playing time for true freshmen Kenny Williams, a back that draws comparisons to Stephens, and DeAndre Washington. Ronnie Daniels may or may not be eligible after an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules.

But Crawford is the senior.

The five-foot-10, 211-pound running back from Memphis, Tenn., looks poised for a chance to redeem himself on the gridiron from his freshman year even though he never did anything wrong.

"Really, I'm really not thinking about that just right now," Crawford said. "I'm confident to do what I have to do. You would hate to see it in a situation like this because God forbid anybody gets hurt.

"But I'm very confident in my abilities. I've been around for five years. I've been around a bunch of great players and played against some great players. I feel that I'm up to the challenge."

That's as great of a silver lining as there ever could be on such a gloomy night in Lubbock, Texas.

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