Game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in their 41-7 win over New Mexico State:

In its opener a little over a week ago vs. North Carolina, Oklahoma made a statement on its first defensive play by swamping the Tar Heel ball carrier in the backfield for a four yard loss. The play seemed to set the tone for the Sooners, who punished North Carolina for the remainder of the half. Sitting in the press box before the start of the Horns' opener with New Mexico State, that play lingered in my mind. Would the Texas D match the intensity level shown by the OU defenders in their opener, I wondered, or would the Horns' '00 "Survive the surge" mentality remain for another season? Although that question was arguably answered on the opening kickoff when Reed Boyd separated the Aggie return man from the football, the D's first play would probably offer another indication. And it did. A good one. SAM 'backer Tyrone Jones, starting in place of the injured Lee Jackson, sacked K.C. Enzminger for an eight yard loss after the NMSU QB faked an end around handoff. Maurice Gordon, who started alongside Marcus Tubbs at defensive tackle, assisted Jones in bringing down Enzminger. One of the things the defensive coaches stressed during the week leading up to the game was keeping the Aggies behind the chains, and that's exactly what I'd call a second-and-18 on the second play of the game. Great tone-setting play. After a two-yard fullback dive, Gordon on third-and-long turned in a QB pressure, forcing Enzminger to throw the ball away and the Aggies to punt. On NMSU's third possession (Gordon's next action), the Texas tackle again got to Enzminger, dropping him for a nine yard loss. Gordon finished with four tackles, including 1.5 sacks for negative-13 yards. Early on, the senior showed the same knack for getting into the backfield from the tackle spot as he did in limited action last fall as an end. Particularly against predominantly passing teams, Gordon, with his quickness and penchant for finding the opposing QB, could be a playmaker.

Adam Doiron replaced Gordon on UT's second defensive series, but Tyrone Jones again made the first-down, behind-the-line stop. Jones and DE Kalen Thornton forced the option play to the left and tracked down tailback Walter Taylor (starting in placed of injured starter Kenton Keith) for a five yard loss. Taylor followed with an eight yard burst through the middle of the Texas D, but because of the first down play by Jones, New Mexico State still faced a third-and-long (which they did not convert). Doiron played a part in causing one of the Aggies' two turnovers when his line of scrimmage tackle of back-up tailback Tony Bostic late in the first quarter ended up leading to a fumble. TV replays seemed to show, as Doiron brought Bostic to the ground, an NMSU player's shoe knocking the ball loose from the back's grip. Regardless, the fumble certainly doesn't happen without the solid run-stop play by Doiron. The play changed the field position battle (the Aggies were at the Texas 33 following the UT O's inability to push the ball off the goalline on the previous series), eventually leading to a Dusty Mangum field goal.

New Mexico State ran less option than D-coordinator Carl Reese expected, which could partially explain left DE Cory Redding's quiet night (one tackle on the game-night stat sheet -- FYI, Gordon's totals above and Thornton's below are adjusted based on the game film). Reese earlier in the week explained that the DEs job in defending the option is to stop the QB on option plays, which limits his ability to pass rush or run stop. The only problem with the theory as it applies to Redding's numbers? Thornton, Redding's opposite number at right defensive end, registered six tackles, including two TFLs for negative-four yards. The only tackle for Redding I show in my notes was a stop of QB Enzminger after a two-yard gain in the second quarter.

Along with starters Redding, Tubbs, Gordon, Thornton, Jones, WILL 'backer Everick Rawls, MLB D.D. Lewis, corners Quentin Jammer and Rod Babers, SS Nathan Vasher and FS Ahmad Brooks, Doiron at DT and Dakarai Pearson at both safety spots rotated in enough to also be considered "starters." Several other defensive players also saw substantial action with the first team, including true freshman WILL 'backer Derrick Johnson (he first saw the field on the kickoff after the Horns went up 14-0 and played his first defensive snap on the series after Texas extended its lead to 17-zip), LDE Marcus Wilkins, RDE Jermain Anderson, and Phillip Geiggar at free safety. To become a better defense against the run, Texas needs DT Stevie Lee, who played sparingly Saturday night, to join that list.

Like Cedric Benson on offense, Derrick Johnson announced his presence almost immediately upon entering the game. Facing a second-and-11 from their 48, the Aggies set up a screen pass to RB Taylor, who took the pass and looked to have running room. Johnson, though, the only Texas defender in the area, shed a blocker and brought down Taylor for a three-yard loss. "Derrick Johnson is a man out there," Babers said post-game. "Everywhere he goes he makes plays. He's a great athlete, he's a great linebacker and he's a future all-American." The true freshman from Waco totaled six tackles, including the TFL described above. With continued play like that, Johnson may soon join Doiron and Pearson in the alternate starter category I mentioned above. Aside from Johnson, the only true freshman defender to see action was MLB Aurmon Satchell.

Rod Babers is going to be a busy man this fall. With Thorpe candidate Jammer at the opposite corner, teams are almost certain to test the junior from Houston Lamar rather than the senior from Angleton, and NMSU did just that. Babers, though, was up to the task, staying stride-for-stride with and then batting passes away from the Aggie receivers who tried to take him deep. "Rod's gonna get a lot (of chances) because people aren't going to throw at Quentin," Brown said Sunday. "I think having Quentin on the other side has forced Rod to be a better player." Babers finished with three solo stops and a team-high two pass break ups. The only pass completed on Jammer that I can find in my notes is a little six-yard quick hitter in the right flat to P.J. Winston. The Aggies' top receiver only managed one other catch, a two-yarder, on the day. NMSU's longest completion went for 23 yards to tight end Alex Davis, who was the beneficiary of a great play action fake by Enzminger that froze Vasher. The Aggies' only other long completion came on an 18 yard Manwell Talbert route through the middle of the Longhorn D (the Horns may have been in zone on the play). Vasher gave up a couple of plays on the day, but he also made a great open field tackle early in the game on Taylor, who would prove his shiftiness later in the game. Taylor finished with 113 yards on 13 carries and broke runs of 43, 11 and 24 yards after the break. On the 43 yarder, the defensive breakdown was not in the line but rather at middle linebacker and safety. And simply credit Taylor with great evasive running on the 24-yarder that set up the Aggies' lone TD.

[Editor's note: More Game notes and analysis on the Horns' special teams performance is on the way Monday morning.]

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