Mizzou game notes and analysis: defense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive performance in their 35-16 win over Missouri:

The Texas D opened in a 4-3 defense and held the Tigers to six yards on a three-and-out opening series and then nine yards on three plays on their second series. After those solid defensive series, though, the Horns gave up two long drives (as well as another three-and-out) before the half -- an 11-play, 76-yard, 4:21 drive giving Missouri a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter and a 10-play, 64-yard one-minute offense drive just before the half that cut the Texas advantage to 14-10 heading into the lockerroom. The UT D barely slowed the Tiger offense, much less stopped it, on the 76-yard drive. Here's a rundown of the results of the 11 plays on the drive: run for nine yards, run for five, run for five, pass for five, pass for 28, run for five, incomplete pass, pass for six, incomplete pass, and a TD pass for eight yards. Mizzou TE Dwayne Blakeley caught consecutive passes on UT SLB Tyrone Jones in the middle of the drive for 33 yards, prompting DC Carl Reese to go to a nickel package with DB Dakarai Pearson replacing Jones in the line-up. The Tigers' TD pass ending up going to back-up TE Ben Fredrickson, with Pearson in coverage.

After Mizzou's first scoring drive, Reese went to a 4-2-5 alignment for the Tigers' next possession, and the Horns' D responded with a three-and-out stand. On Missouri's next possession, though, the Texas D went mainly with a 4-3 look and quickly gave up another long drive highlighted with big gains on the ground and in the air. Powerful RB Zack Abron opened the drive up with a 16-yard gain, Texas native WR Thomson Omboga hauled in an 18-yarder on a slant while cover man SS Nathan Vasher trailed behind, and Abron ripped off another 16-yarder, this time slipping at least four would-be UT tacklers down to the Longhorn five, setting up a first-and-goal. The Texas D tightened, forcing a Tiger field goal attempt and a 14-10 halftime score after three plays from the five netted Mizzou just one yard.

After the break, Reese went almost exclusively with a 4-2-5 scheme in an attempt to stop the rush and keep TE Blakeley in check. In the third quarter, the Tiger offense ran 10 plays over its three possessions and totaled a whoppin' eight yards. Abron had an 11-yard run and back-up tailback Zain Gilmore picked up four yards on another carry, but on the other eight plays of the quarter, the Texas D stuffed Mizzou for no gain or negative yardage. On perhaps the most impressive defensive play of the day, Cory Redding stayed home on a misdirection play (!), a reverse to WR Marcus James, catching the wideout deep in the backfield for a seven yard loss. Vasher also snagged his third INT of the season and broke up another attempt in the third while shadowing Omboga on a slant. The Missouri wideout had burned the Texas safety on the same play earlier in the game.

The switch to the 4-2-5, although successful in slowing TE Blakeley -- he did not catch a second half pass until late in the fourth quarter after the outcome had been decided -- showed mixed results against the run. After a lot of first half success in the running game against the 4-3 (15 carries for 73 yards, almost five yards per carry) and some early third quarter success against the 4-2-5 (Abron's 11-yard run came on the Tigers' first offensive possession of the third), Missouri inexplicably abandoned the run till the Horns took a commanding 28-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Of its 10 third quarter plays, the Tigers attempted six passes, all incompletions, and handed off to a back just three times (the other play was the ill-fated reverse). Early in the fourth quarter, the Missouri offense drove 61 yards, with 56 of those yards, including an untouched seven-yard TD jaunt, coming on four Abron runs and an 11-yard scramble by back-up QB Darius Outlaw. On Abron's runs in particular, the Texas defenders missed tackle after tackle. Reese said he got on his guys pretty hard at halftime about doing a better job of tackling the 5-10, 225-pound "cannonball," but that lesson must have been lost by the fourth quarter. "We've gotta tackle (better)," the DC said postgame. "Guys were sticking their arms out hoping to bring him down. That's something to work on down the stretch." Mack Brown said he thought the defense "went to sleep a couple of times" down the stretch. After the performance in Columbia, the D's ability to consistently stop a strong running attack, particularly in a close game, remains in doubt. Luckily for the Horns, the three teams remaining on the regular season schedule haven't exactly run roughshod over opponent's Ds. Baylor is last in the conference in rushing, averaging just 79.9 yards per game, while Kansas is ninth with an average of 117.4 and A&M is eighth with an average of 120.8.

Senior corner Quentin Jammer had perhaps his best outing of the season, limiting Mizzou's Justin Gage to just two catches for 14 yards. Gage came into the game averaging seven-and-a-half catches per game and had 11 receptions for 148 yards a week earlier vs. Kansas. For the first time at Texas, Brown and Reese elected to have one of their corners play on one receiver the whole game regardless of which side of the field he lined up on. "We thought we'd put our best on their best, and we won that battle today," Brown said. Jammer was called for pass interference once in the fourth quarter while covering Gage, and he also missed a possible interception in the end zone at the end of the first half, but overall the senior played a Thorpe-candidate-caliber game. With Jammer shutting down Gage, the rest of the secondary may have also played its best game. The Tigers completed just nine passes for 97 yards for the game, and as mentioned above, much of the yardage went to TE Blakeley before the Horns switched out of the 4-3 scheme that set up the Mizzou TE with favorable match-ups. Texas played almost exclusively man coverage for the first time since early in season.

Kalen Thornton, after missing the Colorado game with a sprained knee, returned to the starting line-up against the Tigers. Thornton registered one solo and one assisted tackle.

Everick Rawls got the start at the WILL LB spot but alternated throughout the game with true freshman Derrick Johnson. Over the last three games, Johnson's statistical production has dropped significantly after an amazing opening five games in which he far-and-away led the team in tackles. Why the drop in production? A lot of it can be explained by the type of team the Horns have faced and the consequent defensive shifts the coaches have made. Johnson has been most effective against passing teams and in 3-4 sets. The true freshman is a great pass rusher and he's particularly strong at making plays in "space" -- i.e. chasing down QBs and RBs in the backfield and running backs and receivers in the flat -- something offenses allowed him to do much more of over the first five weeks of the season than over the last three. The last three weeks, OSU, CU and MU have been more physical teams, particularly in the running game, forcing the Horns into more two and three LB formations and the inexperienced Johnson into more difficult reads (and less opportunity to play in "space"). Johnson had one tackle against the Tigers. Despite the drop-off in tackle numbers recently, the true freshman still leads the team in that category with 56 (39 solo). FS Ahmad Brooks ranks second with 54 (36), followed by D.D. Lewis 46 (25) and Rawls 46 (24). Johnson also still leads the team in TFLs with eight (tied with Redding and one ahead of Thornton).

Texas only got to the Missouri QB once Saturday and that one sack came from Lewis, continuing the season-long trend of little-to-no pressure from the Longhorn DL. Here is the Horns' sack breakdown (18 total) through the first eight games: DT Maurice Gordon and LB Johnson (3.5 each), DE Thornton and MLB Lewis (3 each), DE Redding (1.5), DE Jermain Anderson, DT Stevie Lee and WLB Rawls (1 each) and SLB Jones (.5). Given those numbers, Texas is on pace for just 25 sacks in 11 games, well off pace to even remotely challenge last year's total of 43. Interestingly, the D returned guys that accounted for all but nine of those 43 '00 sacks. Of course, the mere presence of Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers, who each had 3.5 sacks last fall, enabled guys like Redding, Thornton, Gordon and Tubbs to rack up some pretty decent sack numbers last year. With Casey and Shaun gone, the going has suddenly gotten a lot tougher for those four. Reese's use of the 3-4 defense and more zone coverage packages account for some of the drop-off but, so far this season, the front four (or front three, depending on the D' scheme) has provided only sporadic pressure on opposing QBs. [Editor's note: For a more detailed look at the D-line's sack numbers and possibility for improvement in that area, see the thread Look of the Texas D-Line in 2002 on the new Inside Texas (Members only) message board. At this new forum, you can get your personal questions answered by IT's Clendon Ross, plus, it is the place to discuss confidential and exclusive information about the Horns. No outsiders or other team premium members have access to this private board! For IT subscribers ONLY!]

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