UH game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in their 53-26 win over Houston:

The Cougars moved 15 yards on their opening possession before punting, but the series portended ill for the Horns' defense. Houston QB Kelly Robertson, on third-and eight, had plenty of time to throw but misfired for an open Orlando Iglesias. On the play, the Texas D (with a starting front four of Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, Maurice Gordon and Kalen Thornton) not only didn't get much pressure on Robertson, it left one of the Cougar receivers open downfield. Both occurrences would be commonplace throughout the first half. Shifty and speedy RB Joffrey Reynolds also picked up eight yards on a pass in the flat on the possession, a play that the Horns did not defense well and that would on the next series result in a Houston TD. On that next series, the Cougs took just four offensive plays plus one penalty to cover 60 yards to cut the Longhorn lead to 10-7. Reynolds burst up the middle for nine yards off a fake end around and picked up a first down by getting outside and around left end for three yards on the drive's first two plays (Adam Doiron had replaced Gordon at one DT spot). After an incomplete deep ball intended for Brian Robinson, the Horns received a double-yellow-flag-whammy, jumping offsides, giving Houston a free play which it used to try deep again for Robinson. The refs flagged Quentin Jammer, who had what looked to be perfect inside position on the slightly underthrown ball, for pass interference, giving the Cougs 15 instead of five yards on the play. After a false start, Reynolds literally shot-putted the ball to Reynolds who turned it up the left sideline, and with the help of LG Rex Hadnot's downfield block on D.D. Lewis and Everick Rawls' missed tackle at the 15, scurried 38 yards into the end zone. More on the linebacker play later.

On Houston's next possession, Reynolds busted loose for another long gainer, this one for 20 yards to the O's right side. On his first five touches, Reynolds made the Texas D look clueless, totaling 78 yards of offense (46 on two catches and 32 on three rushes). After a short gain on a QB keeper, the Cougs went after UT corner Rod Babers, as they did much of the night, on the next two plays, completing one to Iglesias for five yards before an incompletion on third down forced a punt. On the next series, though, U of H would burn Babers for 35 yards on a jump ball that WR Brandon Middleton pulled out of the air (on another free play for the Cougars after the Texas line jumped offsides). On the drive, Reynolds also continued to dominate the D, picking up seven and six yards on separate up the gut runs. Finally, on second-and-four from the UT 19, the Texas D tightened on Reynolds, holding him to no gain on another middle run. At this point, the Cougar tailback had eight touches for 91 yards. On third down from the 19, Robertson's attempt for Iglesias (who all night, including on this particular play vs. Ahmad Brooks, was a master at the no-call push off of the Texas defender) sailed high and Houston had to settle for a field goal try, which the Horns blocked.

The Texas offense set up the Cougars with a short field on their next possession when Stanford Routt returned a Chris Simms INT to the UT 47. On the second play of the Houston drive, the Cougs totally fooled the Texas defense on a misdirection play. QB Robertson rolled left before throwing back to the right to TE Grover Thompson, who ran behind a couple of blockers before weaving his way through Longhorn defenders to the one. A downfield holding call brought the play back to the 31, but the before-penalty 44 yard catch-and-run exposed two glaring weaknesses in the Texas D: susceptibility to misdirection or "off-schedule" plays and poor tackling. If Houston was able to exploit the Horns in those areas, think what the Red Raiders or Sooners will do. On second thought, don't think about that. It's too depressing. The Cougars went on to cover the remaining 31 yards in 10 plays. Houston converted a fourth-and-six from the 27, a third-and-three from the 11 and a third-and-goal from the three. The touchdown came on a pass tipped at the line by Kalen Thornton that settled into the hands of Thompson just inside the goalline. Mack Brown said the pass would have been intercepted if Thornton hadn't have tipped it, but regardless, the end result was a 14-10 Cougar lead.

The Longhorn D played better in the third quarter, but Texas still couldn't consistently stop the Houston O. On the Cougars' opening play of the second half, Iglesias beat Babers on an out route for 15 yards. And despite facing a first-and-30 and then a second-and-27, UH converted for a first down when Iglesias toasted Nathan Vasher for 38 yards. A missed Jammer tackle two plays later allowed back-up tailback Leif Penn to pick up eight yards on a second-and-13. After a four yard gain on third down, Houston elected to go for the first on fourth -and-one from the Texas 26, but Rawls and Lewis got to Robertson in the backfield on his sneak attempt, forcing a fumble that Maurice Gordon recovered. So despite gaining 64 yards on the drive, the Cougars came up empty when the UT D finally made a stop.

One thing that has remained consistent defensively from the opener through the Houston game is the outstanding play of LB Derrick Johnson. The true freshman is the only Texas 'backer with great ball instincts, and as usual, he showed it from the minute he belatedly stepped on the field Saturday night in the second half vs. Houston. Johnson leveled Middleton on the opening play of the Cougars' second second half drive and he single-handedly blew up a Houston option play on the same drive by flying to pitchman Reynolds and dragging him down for a five yard loss while separating him from his helmet. And despite his limited use, D.J. finished with six tackles (tied for third on the team). Simply put and with no hyperbole intended, Johnson, three games into his true freshman season, is already the best linebacker on this Texas team, and possibly the best in a long, long time on the Forty Acres. On the same drive mentioned above, Johnson, screaming through the middle of the OL, would have sacked Robertson if not for a hold by one of the Cougars. Despite a seven yard gain on the play, the Horns declined the holding penalty, leaving Houston with a fourth-and-one from their own 44. UH coach Dana Dimel again rolled the dice, calling an option to the offense's right side, but Cory Redding sniffed out the play, sticking with Robertson on the keep and stopping the QB for no gain. Earlier in the drive before the big stop by Redding, though, Babers gave up a 13 yard reception to Iglesias on a play where the Texas pass rush was virtually non existent.

Finally, at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, the defense had consecutive solid series. On the first, with the Horns up 33-14, Gordon and Rawls pressured Robertson, forcing the Houston QB to hurry his throw and allowing Vasher to snag his first career INT. That play set up the Texas O for a short, 25 yard TD drive that basically put the game out of the Cougars' reach at 40-14. The D did its part again on the next series, forcing its first three-and-out of game. Stevie Lee sacked Robertson on the second down play and Redding bull rushed the Houston right tackle to apply pressure on Robertson's deep third down attempt for Keykowa Bell on Dakarai Pearson.

With the clock approaching midnight, the defense (albeit loaded with back-ups in the front seven) apparently decided to call it a night after that single three-and-out. Middleton got behind the Texas secondary on a busted assignment on the next series, hauling in Robertson's throw and cruising 80 yards for a quick score. Brown sent the front seven first-teamers back in on the following Houston possession and they took care of business, sacking Robertson twice (both officially by Thornton) and forcing a fumble on the second one that D.D. recovered. The secondary, though, remained fast asleep on the next series when Robinson beat Jammer for a 36-yard gain and then Iglesias, also on Jammer, hauled in a 22-yarder. On the play, Jammer had what looked to be a sure interception bounce off his hands and into the hands of the Houston receiver. Bell then rushed 15 yards, setting up Reynolds for a two-yard TD plunge. Four plays. Seventy-five yards. Jammer, who earlier in the season said his goal was to give up less than 50 yards all season in man coverage had that figure surpassed in Saturday night's single game. Not Thorpe- or All-American-caliber (and maybe not even All-Big 12-caliber) play yet from the senior corner.

With 432 yards in offense, Houston put up the most yards on the Texas D since OU totaled 534 last October.

Texas jumped offsides at least three times on the night, but Brown said it's a "hard thing to tell kids to get off the ball immediately and not have them jump some." The head coach attributed some of the penalties to Redding being "too hyper" because of playing in his hometown and against his brother. Luckily, neither of those two things will happen again this season, and it's a good thing, because the Horns can't afford to give a better offense multiple free shots at the secondary, particularly given the DBs propensity to give up the deep ball. Even if the penalties were a result of trying to get off the ball immediately, as Brown said, the DLs still didn't have much to show for it in the way of pressure, applying little during the bulk of the game. If the front four can't put some heat on Kliff Kingsbury next week or Nate Hybl in two weeks, and the Horns have to rely on pressure from blitzing, watch out. Houston's passing production (364 yards) could pale in comparison to Tech's and OU's. And as mentioned above, the UT D's inability to shut down Houston's anemic ground game (the Cougars rushed for just seven yards against Rice but surpassed that total on their third run, and on four individual runs, vs. the Horns) led to many of the unit's other problems. Much of that responsibility rests with the linebackers, who have proven again this year that they are solid, but a universe away from being spectacular. Except, of course, the kid from Waco. Regardless, Carl Reese has a lot of work to do this week.

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