GRADE: B -
BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: DT Malcom Brown
BREAKING IT DOWN: DT Malcom Brown is off to an All-Big 12 start and is probably moving up draft boards each week. With 3.5 sacks in three games from the DT position, he’s wrecking shop. His life will get complicated with Desmond Jackson out unless the players coming in for Jackson command a double team from time to time.
Hassan Ridgeway is capable of that. Offenses will probably commit the double team to Malcom Brown until another DT proves deserving.
And that’s where the criticism of the defensive ends starts. With Brown and Jackson taking up double teams in the first three games, there should have been more plays made by Ced Reed. He’s got that long-arm rush that makes life difficult for offensive linemen, and he’s been single-blocked through the first three games.
That won’t change until Reed makes offenses pay for single-blocking him (including making more stops in the running game).
Caleb Bluiett has a strong first step with a nice speed rush. Bluiett should just get better and better. Same with Bryce Cottrell.
BOTTOM LINE: Shiro Davis and Reed have both looked like they are thinking too much, at times, and just need to turn it loose.
Reed looked gassed in the second half of the BYU game, and if he was, they need to sub for him more often, because Bluiett and Cottrell are coming on.
Ridgeway needs to take the next step – consistency. If that happens, Texas can absorb Desmond Jackson’s season-ending injury. Paul Boyette is coming on, but Texas may now have to play one of its freshmen DTs (either Poona Ford or Chris Nelson) after hoping to redshirt both.
GRADE: B -
BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: WLB Jordan Hicks
BREAKING IT DOWN: Jordan Hicks has played at a really high level, so it almost didn’t seem fair that he would overpursue and miss the tackle on Paul Perkins’ 58-yard run to start the second half of the UCLA game.
Hicks’ life at WLB gets harder without Desmond Jackson on the field. Jackson knew how to eat up the center and guard at nose tackle, so that Hicks could run free and make plays. Hicks has rarely been reached by offensive linemen trying to scale to the second level.
Will that change dramatically without Jackson on the field?
Steve Edmond was very active in the UCLA game and came up with the huge forced fumble with 4:17 left to play. But he lacks lateral quickness and lower hip flexibility and thus lacks the ability to get off blocks a lot of the time.
Edmond is what NFL scouts call “cut high” – meaning he has long legs and a high hip point. So he lacks that lower center of gravity to use his legs to power through blockers and ball carriers. For as big as Edmond is (262 pounds), he doesn’t always play that big and can get pushed around if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.
BOTTOM LINE: The coaches are cross-training SLB Peter Jinkens in the middle. Texas needs a replacement for both Hicks and Edmond after this season. Could Jinkens be answer in the middle long term? We won’t know until we see him there.
Texas is desperate for an impact weakside linebacker in recruiting (paging Malik Jefferson …).
For those wondering where Dalton Santos fits into everything, he has less lateral quickness than Edmond and has fallen into the category of special teams wedge buster in this staff’s mind unless he does something to change that.
GRADE: C -
BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: CB/Nickel back Quandre Diggs
BREAKING IT DOWN: Diggs has been the best of an average group.
For every interception by Adrian Colbert or Dylan Haines, there’s been a notable missed tackle (Colbert had Myles Jack behind the line on fourth down on a UCLA, go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter; Taysom Hill’s high hurdle on his way into the end zone).
Duke Thomas is too smart and too talented to be baited into biting on a pump-and-go when the game is on the line. That’s when you play the receiver and turn your head to look for the ball.
At safety, Adrian Colbert is a classic Charlie Strong guy – a kid with a chip on his shoulder determined to make a better life for himself. Colbert has been in position to make more plays than he’s made. That needs to change. This defense needs every turnover it gets its hands on.
Dylan Haines is solid and had an interception against North Texas, but freshman Jason Hall clearly gives you an added dimension with his physical presence at nearly 6-3 and 207 pounds.
BOTTOM LINE: Hall certainly made his presence felt against UCLA in both good and bad ways. Good in that when he hits you the whole stadium knows it – a la Kenny Vaccaro. He plays with a lot of passion and energy that is contagious to the rest of the defense and to the fans.
The bad is he gets out of control as witnessed by his three special teams penalties in the last two games – two of which were very costly (negating a long kick return by Marcus Johnson vs BYU; and allowing UCLA to keep the ball by running into the punter).
The coaches will undoubtedly live with Hall’s mistakes as he learns on the job.
The rest of the secondary needs to pick it up around Hall. UT’s pass rush is too good for this secondary to be average. Texas could be embarrassed in the secondary by the likes of Baylor and Oklahoma if the DB play at DBU doesn’t pick up.
His physical presence (big, strong and fast is a hard thing to coach) makes him a valuable asset in the back end of a defense that has been average in the back seven.
BREAKING IT DOWN: The grade would be higher if Texas hadn’t given up touchdown drives to start the third quarter against BYU and UCLA. And if UT hadn’t given up 29 carries for 182 yards (6.3 ypc) in the second half of the UCLA game (after holding UCLA to 35 yards on 18 carries in the first half).
Allowing UCLA to run the ball in the second half effectively neutralized UT’s pass rush, which is the Longhorns’ strength on defense because of the depth at DE behind Ced Reed and Shiro Davis in Caleb Bluiett and Bryce Cottrell.
BOTTOM LINE: Charlie Strong, Vance Bedford, Chris Rumph and this staff are among the best in the business when it comes to defense. They will make adjustments. Losing Desmond Jackson is a big blow at DT. But they are getting more and more out of DT Hassan Ridgeway.
They’re trying to find ways to get more out of DE Ced Reed and to get more snaps on the field for high-energy LB Peter Jinkens, who has been cross-training at middle linebacker. And they are developing a young safety in Jason Hall. There just needs to be more playmaking in the secondary.
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And the Texas defense has to put an end to the two-game trend of opposing offenses opening the second half with a scoring drive. That first five minutes of the third quarter sets a huge tone for the rest of the game, and BYU and UCLA both executed 75-yard drives to a touchdown to start the second half.
BEST POSITION PLAYER SO FAR: P William Russ
BREAKING IT DOWN: There have been way too many mistakes and negative plays - from critical penalties (three committed by Jason Hall the past two games) to missed FGs (Nick Rose is 2 of 4 and has yet to make a FG longer than 34 yards this season).
Russ averaged 50.5 yards on 6 punts against UCLA and dropped three inside UCLA's 20. But even when he boomed a 58-yarder with 3:06 left in the game and Texas clinging to a 17-13 lead, UT's punt coverage unit gives up a 45-yard return.
That can't happen.
Not only has punt and kick coverage been inconsistent, but there's been no spark in the return game.
It's not all the returners' fault. Blocks haven't been set up, especially on punt returns.
BOTTOM LINE: There was an open tryout for kickers the Monday after the BYU game. But it didn't turn up any gold.
Remember when kickers seemed to fall out of ball bags at Texas?
Anyone remember walk-on Ryan Bailey winning a game at Nebraska in 2006 and then becoming one of the most accurate kickers in UT history? Only to be replaced by another clutch, big-game delivery man in Hunter Lawrence?
The importance of kickers has been evident every week this season - from Georgia failing to deliver against South Carolina to Clemson and Kansas State failing to deliver in losses to Florida State and Auburn, respectively, this past week.
As far as the return game, Marcus Johnson appeared tentative on kick returns against UCLA and might need to be replaced, perhaps by Armanti Foreman, Jacorey Warrick or Jermaine Roberts.
The punt return unit needs to do a better job of setting up blocks for Jaxon Shipley, who can help his cause by not calling for a fair catch on his own 4.
A top priority for the bye week better have been cleaning up special teams.