Texas vs. Oklahoma: 5 Keys for the Longhorns' Defense
The Texas Longhorns enter their bye week with a 2-2 record and a whole lot to figure out on defense. Namely, figuring out how to beat the Oklahoma Sooners on Oct. 12.
Despite handily beating the Kansas State Wildcats 31-21, the Longhorns are still a far cry from being even an average defensive team.
This is still a group that has given up over 1,000 rushing yards and is allowing 28 points per contest through four games. And that was before leading tackler Jordan Hicks was lost for the season with an Achilles tear.
If there is one game to get it right, it is the Oklahoma game that is now almost two weeks away. Redemption is simply a must at this point after giving up 1,130 yards and 118 points in the past two Red River Rivalries.
Winning this game starts with forcing an inexperienced quarterback out of his comfort zone and ends with playing sound, simple defense. With that, maybe Texas can make the statement it has needed the past three years.
Force Blake Bell to Win with His Arm
Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell is as daunting a presence carrying the ball as any quarterback in the country. Texas needs to keep his rushing attempts to a minimum and force him to win the game through the air.
The Longhorns did a good job against the Kansas State quarterbacks, holding them to 74 yards on 28 carries, but that is far from proof that they have solved their issues against mobile quarterbacks. In the two prior games, Taysom Hill and Bo Wallace combined for 316 rushing yards and four touchdowns from the position.
At 6'6" and 250 pounds with solid speed, Bell is a better athlete than both and has first-hand experience with Texas' dicey play against mobile quarterbacks. In last season's beatdown, the big junior scored four touchdowns on just 11 carries.
What Bell has yet to prove, in spite of his aerial show against lowly Tulsa, is that he can throw on a BCS defense. Based on Bob Stoops' reluctance to hand him the starting gig, the safe bet is that his 10.49 YPA will take a dip this week against Notre Dame.
Forcing Bell to be a one-dimensional player is easier said than done, but minimizing his rushes will make him more manageable. Especially if he is exposed as an average passer.
The Defensive Tackles Must Make an Impact
The Sooners bring a potent rushing attack to Dallas while the Longhorns tote a battered linebacking corps. The Texas defensive tackles need to pick up the slack.
Given Blake Bell's threat to tuck the ball and run, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed must be careful not to over-pursue. And with top linebacker Jordan Hicks lost for the season, the linebackers are going to have their hands full with backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams.
That means the defensive tackles need to make plays in the teeth of the defense. Getting inside pressure on Blake Bell will make the entire defense's job easier, and any backfield hits on these running backs would make a stop that much easier.
This is all starts with Malcom Brown, who had the best game of his career against Kansas State. He is Texas' best at getting penetration up the middle, and the 'Horns need his best against the Sooners.
Figure out the Linebackers
The linebacker position was a mess even before Jordan Hicks went down. It will be another disaster if Texas does not get things figured out.
When Hicks succumbed to a hip injury last season, the 'Horns gave up 197 points and 2,320 yards through four games. One of those games was the 63-21 pasting administered by the Sooners, in which they racked up 677 of those yards.
While this season's edition will feature more experienced linebackers, the outlook is only marginally better. The middle spot remains a mess, with Dalton Santos failing to outdistance the often clueless Steve Edmond. As far as replacing Hicks, Kendall Thompson has been mediocre at best, and Tevin Jackson has barely seen the field.
The coaches need to figure out who they can trust and get them comfortable playing together. Another jumbled mess, like what was fielded last season, will only lead to more embarrassment.
Contain the Sooner Receivers
Had the Longhorns lost to Kansas State last weekend, Wildcat receiver Tyler Lockett would have been the reason. The 'Horns cannot afford to get exposed like that in coverage against a talented group of Sooner receivers.
Lockett did whatever he wanted against the Longhorns, tallying 237 receiving yards on 13 catches. He was able to do this because the Longhorns forewent safety help to help out against the run, and Lockett jumped on the chance.
Texas cannot afford to leave their cover guys on an island against these Sooners. Sterling Shepard, Jalen Saunders and Jaz Reynolds are all fast, savvy receivers that can make the Longhorn corners look bad once they get behind the coverage.
Notre Dame will likely provide the blueprint for success with their matchup Saturday, but keeping these receivers in front will be a must. Bell has the arm strength to get the ball deep, and letting him get big plays through the air will make things too easy.
Play with Discipline
Playing with discipline is not just the biggest key to Texas' defensive success against Oklahoma, but also the biggest one moving forward.
The Kansas State game was successful because the 'Horns played sound defensive football. They stuck to their assignments, finished tackles and played through the whistle. That may not sound like much, but it was an improvement over the previous two weeks.
Texas is going to give up yardage this season. The question is whether these defensive players can deal with that fact and make the simple plays. Forget the big hits, strip attempts and fancy blitzes.
If the Longhorns can continue to do little things like getting a guy to the ground and giving a consistent effort, they will keep themselves in these Big 12 matchups. That is all anybody can ask for at this point.