Vance Bedford: The man with a plan

If Texas players needed any more validation that Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford know a little something about defensive football, they need only look at the resume of the Louisville Cardinals’ D last season.

No. 1 nationally in total defense (251.5 yards per game)

No. 1 nationally in rush defense (80.7 ypg)

No. 1 nationally in fewest first downs allowed (183)

First-round NFL draft picks - S Calvin Pryor and DE Marcus Smith - both of whom arrived at Louisville as three-star prospects. Smith was a QB, who moved to DE because he was behind Teddy Bridgewater and ended up leading the nation in sacks last season (14.5).

Louisville was also No. 2 nationally in scoring defense after giving up 12.2 points per game, second only to national champion Florida State, which gave up 12.1 ppg.

If not for six fatal minutes in the third quarter of the Louisville-Central Florida game, when a 28-7 lead against UCF evaporated in a rare rash of mistakes (a key fumble in UL territory as well as four big plays given up), Louisville would have had an undefeated season.

Still, despite the defensive pedigree of Strong, the defensive coordinator at Florida during two national championship runs in 2006 and 2008, and Bedford, the Texas coaches are hearing you can’t win with defense in the Big 12.

Charlie Strong came back from Big 12 media days, and they were telling him, ‘What you guys did at Louisville, you can’t do that here.’ And they are exactly right. We can not do it,” Bedford said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I totally agree with what they’re saying. So, what we’re going to do is rush three and drop eight. We’re going to rush two and drop nine. We’re not going to pressure anybody, anytime, anywhere. We’re going to play it safe.”

Thank God for Vance Bedford, by the way. How refreshing it is to hear people speak their mind at UT and show their personality. Can we have a 30-minute show on LHN of Bedford’s best quotes from practice, player meetings and coach meetings? Please?

Last year, when Louisville put up some nation-leading defensive numbers, the best offenses it faced were Central Florida (34.6 ppg), Houston (33.2 ppg), Cincinnati (32.1 ppg) and Ohio (27.4 ppg).

But there were a lot of inept offenses on Louisville’s schedule as well: Florida International (9.8 ppg), South Florida (13.8 ppg), Memphis (19.5 ppg), Kentucky (20.5 ppg) and UConn (20.6 ppg).

Bedford knows he’s stepping up in weight class in terms of the offenses Texas will face every year in the Big 12.

Baylor averaged 52.4 points per game last season; Oklahoma State averaged 39.1 ppg; Texas Tech 35.8 ppg; Kansas State 33.2 ppg; Oklahoma 32.8 ppg. And that UCLA team UT faces on Sept. 13 at Jerryworld featuring Heisman Trophy candidate QB Bret Hundley averaged 36.9 points per game last season.

Bedford said he’s been studying Texas’ opponents “from day one, since I walked into this building (Moncrief-Neuhaus).

“I’ve been studying other team’s defenses and how they defend in this league,” Bedford said. “I’ve looked at the other offenses, over and over again. And you have to do that, because I think the Big 12 is the best offensive conference in the country. It doesn’t matter who they play, offenses in this league move the ball.

“There’s a lot of experience at quarterback. You look at the speed these teams possess, it’s a scary situation.

"A lot of people don’t want to play teams from this conference because of the offenses. It gives you headaches already. I’m concerned about it.

"How do you slow these guys down, so I’m saying, ‘Coach Watson, can you help me out?’ That’s how we’re going to slow them down.”

That’s where all the references by Strong about “complementary football” kick in.

The defense is going to attack. And the offense of Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline wants to grind the clock with a running game led by Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray and a short, controlled, West Coast passing game.

The Texas offense will likely be the contrarian in the Big 12, preferring to huddle, instead of going up-tempo.

There will often be two tight ends on the field doing a lot of movement before the snap to either set them up as H-backs to block in the running game or to serve as a safety valve on a drag route.

The bad news is senior TE Greg Daniels (knee) is probably out the month of September, leaving senior Geoff Swaim and junior M.J. McFarland as the only tight ends with any game experience. The good news is freshman Andrew Beck’s move from linebacker to tight end has been a hit, according to Watson.

“He (Beck) has talent at tight end that could take him beyond college,” Watson said.

The plan is to use a lot of misdirection to help establish the running game behind an offensive line that has been shuffled more than decks in Vegas. Watson will also use a lot of nakeds, boots and rollouts to give Ash some run-pass options while buying him time. (Remember all the times in 2008 and 2009 Colt McCoy rolled out behind a questionable line?)

This year’s O-line – perhaps the key to the whole Texas season – needs to prove it can open holes in the running game beginning Saturday against a North Texas defense that returns only one starter in its front seven from a team that went 9-4 in 2013.

If Texas can’t run the ball against North Texas, it could be a really long season, and any talk of “complementary football” could just turn into the Longhorns’ defense trying to hang on for dear life.

The Texas players love Bedford, because he’s constantly telling them to have fun and talks more trash than they do.

“Vance always talked as a player, too,” said former Texas defensive end John Haines, who played with Bedford at UT in 1980 and now has a son, Dylan, who will see playing time as a walk-on safety this season.

“You could always feel Vance’s passion for the game as a player, and now these players can feel that passion from him as a coach,” Haines added. “And that makes a big difference on defense. That and knowing what you’re doing, and Vance knows what he’s doing.”

Bedford always speaks his mind (thank goodness!), whether it’s tweeting about wanting to play Texas A&M or tweeting about Johnny Manziel’s pro prospects.

On Wednesday, Bedford told Texas fans to “get off your duffs” and buy up 9,000 tickets remaining for Saturday’s game.

“North Texas shouldn’t be able to check on offense it’s so loud,” Bedford said. “It should be 105,000 fans with the fire marshals yelling ‘Get out.’”

When you cut through Bedford’s bravado, you can tell he feels like he’s got some war daddies up front who should make life better for the rest of the defense.

And he knows war daddies after coaching the likes of Charles Woodson on Michigan’s national title team in 1997; and Joe Haden on Florida’s 2008 national title team.

Bedford said senior LB Jordan Hicks should have an all-conference year playing behind DT Malcom Brown.

“That number 90 (Brown) is special,” Bedford said.

Bedford also said nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs should lead the team in tackles and interceptions this season.

“If that happens, we have a chance to be a pretty good defense,” Bedford said.

Bedford will ultimately find five defensive backs who can man up on a team like Baylor and try to get physical with receivers at the line to disrupt routes and buy time for the pass rush.

When you’re facing a schedule that includes experienced, big-game quarterbacks Taysom Hill (BYU), Bret Hundley (UCLA), Bryce Petty (Baylor), suddenly hot Trevor Knight (OU) and Jake Waters (Kansas State), you never feel comfortable.

Confident? Yes. Comfortable? No.

“I’m a secondary coach,” Bedford said. “I worry all the time. I’m surprised I still have some hair. It’s turning gray. I worry about everything back there. It just takes one slip, especially in this conference.

“The other team may have a guy in the slot who runs a 10.3 100 meters, and I’ve got a guy covering him in the slot who runs 4.6. On paper, that’s a bad matchup. So Malcom Brown and Ced Reed better get to work, otherwise I might lose all my hair by the time this season’s over with.”

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