One is a team's run defense. Texas's D allows just 2.6 yards per attempt, second best in the Big 12. Another is how many plays in the backfield a team makes. Three of Texas's four starters rank in the Big 12's top five in tackles for loss per game. And finally, people look at sacks for a line's ability to generate a pass rush. The Longhorns' 17 sacks lead the conference.
So by those three metrics, Texas's defensive line has been a smashing success. Defensive ends Eddie Jones and Sam Acho both rank among the Big 12's top five in both sacks and tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Kheeston Randall has been the conference's most dominant interior presence, sitting third in the Big 12 with 8.0 tackles for loss, just ahead of his two linemates.
Acho was a known commodity heading in, an All-Big 12 caliber player who also served as one of the most versatile linemen in the league. Jones was less certain. Always a player with pass-rushing talents, he had to fight through injuries to get to this point. And Randall appeared to be Texas's next big thing, a mobile 6-foot-5, 295-pound tackle with the ability to create havoc in the backfield. It's safe to say so far that Randall is living up to his reputation.
The Longhorns' defensive line received even more help in their last game from sophomore defensive tackle Alex Okafor. Originally an end, the 6-5 Okafor still needs to add bulk to play his new position. But his length and quickness were problems for the Sooners, as he made four tackles and had a quarterback hurry opposite Randall. Okafor's performance has led the coaches to rave about his potential. Currently 258 pounds, Okafor certainly has the frame to add another 20 or so pounds, while retaining some of the quickness that gives him big-play potential.
A pair of freshmen have aided the depth at defensive end. Jackson Jeffcoat has served as an excellent pass-rusher and often comes in when Acho bumps inside on passing downs. Reggie Wilson hasn't had the level of impact that Jeffcoat has, but he boasts a bright future and has five tackles on the year. He's athletic enough to drop back into zone coverage when the defense calls for it.
Defensive tackle hasn't been as deep. Tyrell Higgins was the starter at the tackle spot opposite Randall and started two games before he was replaced in the starting lineup by Okafor against Oklahoma. Higgins has 11 tackles, including one for loss so far this year. Redshirt freshman Calvin Howell and true freshman Ashton Dorsey have also been counted on inside.
The lone sore spots came against UCLA, where the linemen missed their run fits at times, and early against Oklahoma, when the Sooners' tempo caught the Longhorns unaware at times.
Overall Grade: A
This group has everything you want from a defensive line. You have three ends with elite pass rush potential and a big nose tackle in Randall who can clog things up against the run. Now, with Okafor emerging as a potential player at the other tackle spot, Texas could have one of the most active lines in the country. A bit more depth would be nice, but with so many young players, Texas will play its way into a deeper group as the season continues.