Texas defensive preview

While the Cougar defense can expect a Boise State-style offense with Texas talent under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, the Cougar defense can expect a Mississippi State-style defense under the direction of new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Total Blue Sports breaks down the Longhorn defensive players and gives insight into what the Cougars should expect Saturday.

The Texas starting defensive eleven that the Cougar offense will face in a primarily new 3-4 system under first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (came from Mississippi State) will look like this:

Defensive line

DE: Jr. 6-4, 260-pound Alex Okafor
NT: Sr. 6-5, 305-pound Kheeston Randall
DT: So. 6-4, 290-pound Calvin Howell or So. 6-2, 290-pound Ashton Dorsey


Buck/ DE: So. 6-5, 250-pound Jackson Jeffcoat
Will: So. 6-2, 235-pound Jordan Hicks
MLB: Sr. 6-3, 240-pound Keenan Robinson
Field: Sr. 6-2, 245-pound Emmanuel Acho

Defensive backs

CB: So. 5-11, 199-pound Adrian Phillips
CB: So. 6-0, 180-pound Carrington Byndom
FS: Jr. 6-1, 215-pound Kenny Vaccaro
SS: Sr. 6-1, 205-pound Blake Gideon

Defensive line breakdown

Alex Okafor played defensive tackle last year and drew comparisons to former Longhorn great and current Washington Redskin Brian Orakpo.

Okafor is a very aggressive pass rusher, and Cougar right tackle Braden Brown will have his hands full if Okafor can transfer what he did during spring camp to the game. Okafor has yet to do so, since Rice utilized a lot quick passes from their quarterback.

Big Kheeston Randall is a load at nose guard and will be a handful for Cougar center Terence Brown. Last season, Randall made many plays in the backfield, including racking up 13 tackles for a loss. He'll anchor the middle in the two-gap system.

At right defensive tackle, Calvin Howell could get the start, but it's still unknown if that will happen for sure. Ashton Dorsey was the starting defensive tackle heading into the season but was suspended for Texas' season-opener against Rice.

Linebacker breakdown

Considered one of the best linebacker corps in the Big 12, the group took a hit with the loss of Demarco Cobbs, considered one of the fastest linebackers in the country. He fractured his arm just before the start of the season.

Field side linebacker Emmanuel Acho is considered among the best within the conference in terms of athleticism, and is a good pursuit player in the run game.

Senior middle linebacker Keenan Robinson has similar skill sets but is a fifth-year linebacker with a lot of experience (38 games, including 26 starts). He was an outside linebacker last year that was moved to the middle with Acho's rise in development. Robinson has been named to just about every linebacker award watch list.

Will linebacker Jordan Hicks could be one of the best in the Big 12 by his senior year. Cougar tackle Matt Reynolds will have the responsibility of keeping him in check, much like he did Kendrell Lockett of Ole Miss.

Defensive back breakdown

Free safety Kenny Vaccaro is considered the Longhorns' best cover man. When you mix his cover ability with his hard-hitting prowess, Vaccaro is an explosive player that the Cougars will have to account for.

"Like Ole Miss, I think Texas has a lot of speed in their backfield," said Coach Doman. "They have a lot of physicality and big strong players in that backfield, and then the scheme allows them to play fast."

Alongside Vaccaro at strong safety is Blake Gideon, who has raised some eyebrows among Longhorns fans, but not in a good way. Gideon hasn't been as consistent as he was when paired with free safety Earl Thomas his first two years. However, he is a big hitter at 205 pounds but is also prone to miss tackles and is a poor judge of angles at times.

It's at cornerback that the Texas defense is very susceptible, and even though the corners weren't tested against Rice, it's a concern for the Longhorn defensive staff since the cornerbacks play a man-versus-man coverage.

"I think the first four or five teams are going to play us man-to-man," said Coach Doman. "I think we're significantly better now against man-to-man coverage. I hope we continue to do so. You saw us make a couple nice plays against man-to-man. Ross [Apo] made a great play out on the edge twice, one for a touchdown.

"So, I think we've improved our scheme versus man-to-man and I think our receivers have improved their ability to get open versus man coverage."

Adrian Phillips played in 12 games last year and on special teams. He has a total of nine tackles (six solo) and one pass breakup for his career.

On the other side is another sophomore in Carrington Byndom, who might be the lesser defender of the two cornerbacks.

"If our tempo is increased, and we do a good job of getting in and out of the huddle with varied looks, our play-action game hopefully will allow us to get some more balls downfield," said Coach Doman. "I'd like to take one or two shots downfield a quarter, when we only took one shot downfield a quarter the last game."

Texas nickel

When Texas goes nickel, Vaccaro drops down to the nickelback spot, and Phillips goes back to safety, with true freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs filling in for Phillips.

Overall, Texas is really young, having played 18 true freshman last week – most of any FBS team – and seven redshirt freshman and a bevy of sophomores, mostly on offense. Defensively, the Longhorns have more experienced talent that Cougar fans can expect to see lined up in a 4-3 or 4-2-4 nickel, much like Ole Miss. And, like Ole Miss, Texas likes to do a pre-snap alignment with movement before the ball is snapped.

New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz

New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a huge fire-zone guy. He sends a lot of pressure from unorthodox places, and usually plays zone coverage behind it. It's not unusual to see a linebacker jump up like he's going to blitz, then hurry back and play a deep zone once the ball is snapped. It looks hectic, and it causes problems for offenses.

"Coach Manny Diaz does a good job down there, and those kids will be flying around, blitzing and playing man to man, and then they'll blitz and drop into a zone," said Coach Doman. "Our kids are going to have to be on their toes."

Texas struggled to stop the run at times against Rice, and it will be interesting to see how the corners hold up against BYU's passing offense. Still, the defense has more experienced upper-tier talent than the offense does with guys like Okafor, Randall, Acho, Robinson and Vaccaro.

BYU's three improvements

Coach Doman feels the Cougar offense will do three things better than what BYU fans saw against Ole Miss.

"We'll play with a little bit more grit. I think you'll see us play with a little more tempo, and then execute better. If we do those three things, we'll be pretty good because we didn't do those three things very good [against Ole Miss]."

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