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Former Longhorn and two-time Super Bowl champion Dan Neil breaks down Texas' performance against Cal..

This season at HornsDigest, DAN NEIL, former Longhorns' All-American OL and two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998), is breaking down film of Texas games and passing along what he sees to you.

Post your questions for Dan in this thread, and he will answer them. Also catch Dan on LHN's "Upon Further Review" on Mondays at 6 pm CT.

Here's Dan's breakdown of the breakdowns he saw on defense in UT's 45-44 loss to Cal Saturday night:




Never let one loss lead to two!  This is the challenge after you lose a game like Texas lost Saturday night.

Recovering from a loss like that one can be difficult and this week will be a challenge for the coaches. 

The coaches will have to get this team to move forward and not spend too much time reflecting on the Cal game.  The nice thing is next week is the opening week of Big 12 play and the best remedy for a tough loss is a big game with the opportunity to redeem yourself.  

Texas controls their destiny and winning or losing the big 12 is up to the players. 

Mike Shanahan used to say, "When you are in charge, you have to make difficult decisions, and you need to trust your gut."

Charlie Strong showed his leadership skills when he decided to tell his friend Shawn Watson he was taking away his play calling duty and tell a 20 year old kid he was no longer going to be the quarterback at the University of Texas. 

I’m sure both of these were difficult decisions for Coach Strong and they both paid off.  The offense I saw Saturday night was amazing.  Both Heard and Norvell were outstanding and the whole unit played as well as I have seen them play since West Virginia last year. 

The optimist in me says that the offense is showing signs of life and might actually be a good unit soon. 

The pessimist in me says that Cal’s defense is not very good and this was not a physical unit. 

I think the players' takeaway needs to be, "We play who they schedule, and we outplayed Cal."  Texas lost because of their own mistakes, and you can fix your own mistakes.  It’s tougher losing a game when your opponent is more physical then you are. 

I had the joy of playing the 2000 Ravens in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. 

That defense was the best I ever played against. When that game was over, there was no question about who was the better team. 

That was a tough game to come back form.  By the way, we broke the 50-yard-line one time that game.  I’m still trying to block Ray Lewis!




Texas had to have a game like the one against Cal to help build their confidence and start to believe they have a playmaker on offense who can lead them to the Promised Land.

What is concerning right now is the defense.  

Everyone wants to know what’s going on with the run defense. 

Football is a simple game that requires all 11 men on a unit to work as one.  For the defense to be successful, every man must do their job. 

The secondary has to get in the right coverage and work together to cover every zone.  The front seven has to fill every game on the offense side of the ball to shut down the rush lane. 

If you can get everyone in the right spot, then the players have to play.  What I don’t understand is not being in the right spot!

During the game I thought the secondary played fairly well.  You had both safeties leave the game and a bunch of freshmen trying to stop one of the best quarterbacks in college football. 

Some of those throws by Cal QB Jared Goff to WR Kenny Lawler were pretty impressive.  

We knew Goff was a good quarterback and he was going to make a few plays.  You just hoped UT’s offense could make a few as well.  What has me and everyone else concerned is the way everyone is running the ball against the defense right now. 





When a defense can’t stop the run, you start with the three or four defensive linemen.  The two things you look for is 1) gap discipline and 2) tackling. 

Both are fundamentals of playing defense.

Gap Discipline:

Gaps are the area between offensive linemen.  On both sides of the center it is the “A” gap. Between the guard and tackle is the “B” gap, and outside the tackle is the “C” gap.

In a defense, everyone has a gap responsibility.  In a four-man front, it is a one-gap system.  The defensive lineman penetrates a gap and tries to disrupt the running back’s lane. 

This means everyone has one gap, including the linebackers. 

In a three-man or “odd” front, it is a two-gap system.  The three defensive linemen press the offensive lineman and get their body in the play-side gap and fall back into to the backside gap.  Their job is to hold the offensive lineman and not allow them to block the linebackers.  Press the play-side B gap and fall back to the play-side A gap - if the running back goes in that hole. 

The linebackers fill the gaps when the running back commits to a hole and make the tackle. 

If everyone is in their gap, then there should be nowhere to run.

Where this all goes wrong is if the offensive lineman is able to move the defensive lineman out of his gap. And sometimes a defensive lineman fills the wrong gap. 

If the right play is called and someone is not gap disciplined, the running back’s next stop could be the end zone (as we saw Saturday night in the third quarter with that 74-yard run by Cal RB Khalfani Muhammad). 

If a team has gap discipline, everyone is in the right gap. Then, the only way for a running back to make yardage is if there’s a missed tackle or a lack of physical play.

Missed Tackles:

This is pretty self-explanatory. Every defensive coach is always talking about tackling.  If you call the right defense and everyone is gapped disciplined and someone misses a tackle, it is pretty frustrating. 

If the defender is in the right position, they need to make the tackle.  Again, this is not always easy.  You try tackling Earl Campbell for 60 minutes. 

Good teams are gap disciplined and physical tacklers.  That Ravens’ defense I mentioned earlier was always in the right gap and never missed a tackle. 





When I look at the Cal film I see breakdowns in both these areas - guys in the wrong gap and not being physical tacklers.

I saw Cal RB Vic Enwere drag Tank Jackson 4 yards before going down. That is not a physical tackle! 

Against a good offense, it takes just one guy to be in the wrong gap and/or a missed tackle to keep the offense on the field.  Going into the Cal game, Texas was allowing opponents to convert 63 percent of third downs. 

Incredible!  Texas has to find a way to keep opposing offenses off the field.

I know everyone looks to the coaches and wants to know what’s going on? Let’s make one thing clear - coaches coach and players play.

It is the coach’s job to put the players in the right spot and the player’s job to make the play.


Here are a few examples of what I saw on film:

1. DT Poona Ford in the wrong gap two times in the red zone. 

2. DT Tank Jackson missing the tackle, and, then, on the very next snap Cal ran the same play, and Jackson made the tackle.

3. DE Shiro Davis does not spill the counter block.

To sum up this defense with one word, it would be inconsistent. 

Somehow, the coaches need to motivate everyone to start playing defense with a physical attitude.  Make sure their opponent never forgets their name!

This week, you are going to hear Charlie Strong talk about missed tackles and guys needing to be more physical. 

Now it’s time to see what Charlie does to make sure these guys are more physical and make the tackles. 

Charlie made some drastic changes on offense, and now we have an offense capable of putting up 44 points. 


He may have to make some drastic changes on defense if things don’t improve soon. 

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