OSU game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in their 45-17 win over Oklahoma State:

For the first time this season, the Texas defense held an opposing offense to less than 200 yards. Last fall, Carl Reese's unit did so three times, against Houston (198), Colorado (133) and Baylor (134). Oklahoma State managed just 162 yards on its 53 offensive plays, a mere three yards per snap. As important as the yardage figure is the number in the turnover column. The Texas D created four TOs (special teams also snagged a fumble), two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

One of those turnovers might be considered the game-changing play. With the score 10-0 OSU mid-way through the first quarter, the Cowboy defense forced the Horns to punt from deep in their own territory, setting up the Oklahoma State O with a first down at the Texas 49. At that point in the game, a two-score deficit is easily overcome (as the Horns would soon prove), but a three-score advantage would have been worrisome and certainly emotionally huge on both sidelines. Nathan Vasher ensured that that wouldn't happen. The sophomore strong safety plucked out of the sky an Aso Pogi attempt for Cowboy receiver Rashaun Woods running a fade route near the left sideline, putting the ball back in the hands of the UT offense, which then drove the length of the field for the momentum changing TD. Woods had smoked the man-coverage-playing Texas secondary on OSU's opening TD drive, catching three balls, all on third down, for 53 yards and a TD. Both Rod Babers and Quentin Jammer tried in vain to cover the 6-2, 195-pound receiver man-to-man but the sophomore from Oklahoma City burned both of them, Babers for 18 and then nine (for the TD) and Jammer for 26. In man coverage this season, neither Jammer nor Babers has exactly been what you'd call a shut down corner. Luckily, the new Reese-Duane Akina coverage schemes involve a lot of zone, and Texas went to far more zone after that successful opening OSU drive, resulting not only in the Vasher INT but in almost complete domination of the Cowboys' passing attack. OSU gained just 37 yards through the air after that first drive.

One of the other three defense-induced turnovers came early in the second quarter with the score 10-7 OSU on a Tatum Bell fumble several yards deep in the backfield. DT Marcus Tubbs forced the fumble by pushing C John Vandrell into Bell's running path. Bell hit Vandrell and coughed up the ball, which Ahmad Brooks pounced on at the 15, setting up the offense for the tying field goal. On the last play of the first half, Brooks also INTed a jump ball Hail Mary to preserve the Horns 31-10 lead going into the break. Finally, on the next to the last play of the third quarter, Vasher recovered a Richard Schwarz fumble at the UT 22 one play after Chris Simms threw an INT to Cowboy Chris Massey. Vasher's recovery led to a length of the field drive by Texas for its final points (45-10 at the time) of the game.

Reese said the turnover turnaround from last week didn't result from a scheme change, but from simple execution. The DC did say that the coaches and the players "concentrated on (inducing TOs) more" over the last week, but INT and strip drills are always part of the Texas practice routine. But to highlight the unpredictable nature of turnovers, look at the Bell fumble early in the second quarter. Tubbs didn't strip the ball from the back and the stat sheet won't credit him with a caused fumble, but by manhandling Vandrell and pushing him into his own running back's running lane, the sophomore DT was wholly responsible for the fumble. Vasher's early INT could probably be considered both a scheme and an execution pick, because he probably wouldn't have been in position to make the play had Reese not switched his secondary to zone rather than man coverage.

Texas opened the game in a 4-3 defensive alignment with Cory Redding at LDE, Tubbs and Adam Doiron at DT, Maurice Gordon at RDE and D.D. Lewis, Tyrone Jones and Everick Rawls at the three LB spots. Jermain Anderson rotated in at RDE throughout the game, including on the first defensive series and true freshman 'backer Derrick Johnson split time with Rawls in 4-3 sets and started in the Horns' 3-4 alignments. The Cowboys marched down the field in 12 plays for the 65-yard, opening-possession scoring drive. As mentioned above, WR Woods was responsible for 53 of those 65 yards. After Cedric Benson's fumble set up OSU at the UT 30 two plays after the first Cowboy score, Johnson replaced Rawls in the 4-3 set. Oklahoma State kept the ball on the ground on its first two plays, which the Horns stuffed, before going back to the air (with the Texas D switched to a 3-4 set) with a jump ball attempt for Terrance Davis-Bryant covered by Jammer. Apparently, Jammer had enough of OSU's passing success, almost getting his second pick of the season. The Cowboys settled for a field goal. "After Cedric's fumble, we sent a message to them (with the stop) that they were going to have trouble moving the ball," Mack Brown said post-game. Indeed. Following the 65-yard opening drive, OSU managed just 97 total yards, including minus-one on the post-Cedric-fumble possession.

Reese said post-game that the Horns used the 4-3 and the 3-4 approximately an equal number of snaps, but a review of my play-by-play notes shows Texas in the 4-3 a little over 60-percent of the time. The defensive coordinator said he sent his D out in the 4-3 backed by man coverage on the opening series in an attempt to stop the run, but when the Cowboys took to the air, the DC went more with both the 4-3 and the 3-4 backed by zone coverage. With one of the best running teams in league coming to town this weekend, it'll be interesting to see what scheme(s) and coverage(s) Reese employs against Colorado. If the OSU game is any indication, it'll be both the 4-3 and 3-4 with a mix of zone, man and man free coverage behind it, with one coverage often disguised as another to confuse the offense. Against the Cowboys, the Horns seemed to get the most pressure on the QB when in the 3-4, but Texas defenders seldom got to Pogi, sacking him just once on the day and registering no QB hurries on the official stat sheet.

With results like 162 yards and 10 offensive points surrendered, it's tough to fault the defense in almost any area, but several are still of concern. The Texas defenders didn't miss many tackles, but they missed enough to keep tackling as a concern against the better, faster teams on the schedule (Colorado is one of those). The scrambling of QB Craig Ochs this weekend is of particular concern vis a vis UT's tackling ability. Plus, the Horns' great defensive speed stifled the outside run Saturday, but the belly of the Longhorn D continues to be soft at times. Much of the Cowboys' rushing success came up the gut, gaining about four per pop on those middle runs against the Texas defense, and Colorado will surely look to exploit that softness Saturday.

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