Two steps forward, three steps back is the perfect way to describe the Texas Longhorns 31-21 win over the Kansas State Wildcats.
One step forward: The Longhorns busted out of a two-game slump to start conference play with a 1-0 record.
Two steps forward: The Texas defense held Kansas State to 151 yards rushing, after allowing an average 411 yards on the ground against BYU and Ole Miss.
Three steps back: Texas' starting linebacker and defensive leader Jordan Hicks ruptured his left Achilles tendon against the Wildcats.
Hicks will undergo surgery to repair his Achilles tendon and is out for the remainder of the season.
This is the second consecutive year Texas will lose Jordan Hicks with a season ending injury. Last season, Hicks suffered what was first called a hip injury, but was later determined as a groin injury, in the Longhorns game against Ole Miss. Hicks received a medical redshirt for the 2012 season and was expected to be a big-time play maker for Texas in 2013.
In a press conference before Kansas State, Mack Brown said Texas has "had the perfect storm for everything to go wrong" this season. Maybe the Longhorns head coach was onto something.
Between giving up a school record 550 yards rushing to BYU, being forced to learn a new scheme under defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and now losing the Longhorns lead tackler, the Texas defense has faced more adversity in four weeks than most teams will face all season.
When Jordan Hicks went down last season, the Texas defense went down with him. Will that be the case in 2013? Let's take a look.
2012 Youth = 2013 Experience
Texas was forced to rely on young, inexperienced linebackers after Hicks' injury last year. Prior to 2012, the backup linebackers had zero career starts for Texas and the youth was apparent on the field. One could argue the linebackers were the weakest link for the defense and partly to blame for Texas finishing the season as the worst statistical defense in school history.
The initial loss of Hicks was devastating to Texas. But the defense--primarily the linebackers--showed signs of progress towards the end of last season. It is quite possible the 2012 defensive struggles could actually be a blessing in disguise for Texas this year.
The Longhorns are no longer relying on true freshman linebackers to replace Jordan Hicks. The backups are experienced and have played a lot of snaps through the first four games of the 2013 season. Does that mean losing Hicks is not a big deal for the Texas defense? Absolutely not. But the experience gained in 2012 could help the alleviate, and even wipe out the devastation the defense suffered when Hicks went down last season.
Defensive Expectations sans Jordan Hicks
Losing Hicks is a big hit against the Texas defense, but it is not the end of the world for the Longhorns. (Let's not forget the Longhorns allowing 550 yards rushing to BYU occurred two-weeks before Hicks' injury.) When Mack Brown replaced former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with Greg Robinson after the second game of the season, most reasonable thinking Texas fans should have known the defense would be a work in progress.
The expectations for the 2013 Texas defense are low, but those expectations were set before Kansas State. Losing Hicks does not help raise the expectations of the Texas defense, but there's a possibility Hicks' injury may not be as big of a loss as it was in 2012.
Nobody knows what the future holds for the Texas defense, but until proven otherwise, the experience of the Longhorns two-deep can only help the defense.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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