Texas Football: Why the Longhorns Could Have the Best Defense In America
Texas Longhorns' Head Coach Mack Brown said before the season began that he believed he could possess the best defense he's ever had during his tenure at the University of Texas.
That's a pretty strong statement considering Will Muschamp's defense lost guys like Earl Thomas, Sergio Kindle, Lamar Houston, and Roddrick Muckelroy.
After Saturday's game against rival Texas Tech in Lubbock, I'm beginning to understand why Mack had a certain sparkle in his eye every time he entertained questions about his defense this spring.
He knew what he had, and now America knows too.
In a game that was widely believed to be an offensive slug fest, featuring two of the premier offenses of the last decade, the Texas defense, not the offense, gave a performance for the ages.
Since 2002, Texas Tech has put up over 400 yards of offense every time they have played the Longhorns.
Quarterbacks Kliff Kingsbury, Sunnie Cumbie, Cody Hodges, Graham Harrell, and more recently, Taylor Potts (420 yards last season), have all lit up the Texas secondary.
And it doesn't need to be said how the Texas defense felt after a two-play sequence that essentially cost them a spot in the National Championship the last time they played in Lubbock.
Questions arose all week as to how the defense would respond in their first game back in Raiderville since that horrific night in 2008.
Redemption was at stake.
So when Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts lined up to take his first snap of what he imagined would be yet another prolific night, he couldn't have imagined the ball sailing over his head. But it did.
Freshman Jackson Jeffcoat raced for the loose ball and recovered the ball on the Tech eight yard line. A play later Texas was up 7-0.
Later in the first quarter, with Texas leading 14-0, Potts looked for a completion across the middle but had the ball tipped.
The ball hovered in the air for a few seconds, but landed in the hands of perhaps the most anxious player on the field.
Safety Blake Gideon, infamous for his dropped interception in 2008, was given the exact same opportunity, only this time he took advantage.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Curtis Brown, another player who sought redemption for his role in allowing Michael Crabtree to waltz into the end zone, picked off a Potts pass and returned it nearly 80 yards, setting Texas up for a field goal attempt.
As great as the secondary was, the real story was the defensive line.
Eddie Jones, Kheeston Randall, Alex Okafor, Sam Acho, and Jackson Jeffcoat all got in on the act of harassing Taylor Potts, racking up four sacks and countless more QB pressures.
Because Tech employs wide splits along the offensive line, Will Muschamp lined up Sam Acho in the middle alongside Kheeston Randall, and put Eddie Jones and Alex Okafor on the ends. The idea was to put as much speed on the line as possible, and it ended up paying dividends, as Potts and the Tech offense had very little room to operate.
Now here's the really impressive part.
Tech has averaged over 400 yards of offense against Texas since the turn of the century.
On Saturday night, the Red Raiders only managed 144 yards of total offense, their lowest total in 20 years.
The passing game was held to a meager 158 yards, and the running game lost 14 yards total.
In short, it was sheer defensive dominance unlike anything Texas has experienced against an offense of this caliber.
Tech has had some offensive growing pains with the transition from Leach to Tubberville, but this is the kind of system that simply has to plug players in to rack up tons of yardage and points.
As of now, the Texas defense has made its case as the best unit in America.
Currently the Longhorns are ranked No. 2 in total defense, allowing only 206 yards a game.
Texas has continued its run stopping dominance, allowing only 44 yards a game, which is good for first in the country.
The real improvement has come in pass defense, where the Longhorns are allowing just over 160 yards a game and only five yards per attempt.
The depth this unit boasts is remarkable.
The defensive line has made its case as one of the best in the country, anchored by veterans Sam Acho and Eddie Jones. Kheeston Randall is a mammoth in the middle and the youngsters Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat look like stars already.
The linebacker corps is stout in the middle with Dustin Earnest and speedy on the outside with Dravannti Johnson and Emmanuel Acho making plays in space. Keenan Robinson may very well be one of the best all-around linebackers in the Big 12. Freshman Jordan Hicks has made some good contributions early, as well.
The secondary, riddled with NFL talent, is just flat-out scary.
Blake Gideon is the team's second leading tackler and incredibly physical in stopping the run.
Christian Scott and Kenny Vaccaro can lay the wood with the best of them.
Curtis Brown has great instincts and teams avoid throwing to Aaron Williams all together.
With the offense sputtering early, this unit had to be good, and they have been.
If I'm Garrett Gilbert, I can take comfort in knowing that my defense can get me the ball back in any situation. Now I have to do my job.
This defense will keep Texas in every game it plays this season, including the big ones in Dallas and Lincoln.
With this unit alone, the Longhorns are a 9-3 team at the absolute worst.
If the offense can get any kind of rhythm going, it could make for a very interesting rest of the year in Austin. Unfortunately, the Red River Rivalry game is only two weeks again, so some dramatic progress will have to be made in a short amount of time.
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