Well folks, thats what were looking up the barrel at. For the first time in years, the Horns are facing a well-balanced Sooner offense. And I like it. I think one of UT's most glaring problems in the recent past was that Texas played the guessing game with the Sooners. Blitz, and they would run a screen; drop back deep, and they would run a draw; zig, and they would zag. This is no way to run a defense not against this level of quarterback play and coordinator talent. You cant just step on the gas and accelerate through the fog and hope you come out unscathed. You have to be aggressive and defensively sound.
Why did I say I liked it? Simple, I like it because there is no place to hide. Texas cant hide a weak link with risky play calling. That will last maybe, oh, one play. Nope, like Coach Royal used to say, we need to beat them "jaw to jaw." The more things change, the more they stay the same. Now, Im not saying the Horns dont need to find tendencies like pass on first and goal, or tips like a linemans weight more on his heels on pass plays or pulling, and more weight on his hands for drive blocking. Do this, and tell the guys to lean this way or that but Texas has to play the whole field, cover all five potential receivers, maintain contain and make sure tackles on every single first down, second down, third down, running formation, passing formation, run, pass, field goal, punt, kick return and extra point "watch everything" for sixty minutes.
How do you do this? Ive read libraries full of coaching books, been to countless clinics, coached with some great football minds and even had a lucid moment or two of my own. And, by far, the best coaching advice Ive ever heard one man give to a defensive player was this: "think small." Its more than just doing your job. Its the ability to detect any little thing that can help you while ignoring every little thing that can distract you. Have you ever wondered why a cornerback can tightly cover out routes and be successful on the wheel route (outandup)? And in the next quarter, he defends the post and then the post-corner. And he flies up on the hitch and screens, but doesnt get beat deep. Or how can an end who can squeeze the C-gap on a first down power play, still make the tackle on a tailback at the sidelines on a second down sweep? These players certainly are not guessing. Heres the kicker, neither are their coordinators. Theyre prepared.
Heres something I like to do maybe youll benefit from it as well. When the Longhorn defense is on the field, right when the ball is snapped, look at the Texas linebackers feet. They should take a small jab step towards their gap responsibility. This is called a read step. And their next step will take them to their responsibility. This could be forward into their gap, over to their pursuit/cutback gap or back into their zone for pass coverage or towards their man if the team's in man coverage. Any other direction equates to the infamous "false steps." Every false step has an exponent of two beside it because you have to retrace your steps to recover and then go to the play. One read step only. Think small. Zach Thomas is amazing at this. It made him NFL fast. Have you ever seen a linebacker hop or chop his feet while hes "waiting for the play to develop?" You can tell I hate that term. Some people think this looks cool, like hes really fired up. No, no, no! This is a confused player who is looking in the backfield for the ball, and will certainly be toast on counters, screens, tight-end pops and play action passes. Im almost ashamed as a Longhorn fan to admit this, but Ive seen the UT linebackers still drifting back to their zones while "Q" scored his fourth or fifth touchdown on that little draw play a couple of years back. Thats guessing. I havent seen much confusion this year. The Horns cant guess, they have to WATCH EVERYTHING.
Tom McLaughlin has coached high school football in the Phoenix area, coaching OL, DL, LBs and serving as both a defensive coordinator and head coach. McLaughlin also contributes on the Inside Texas message boards under the handle of Hitwrapdrive. His "Inside the Game" column appears after games during football season on InsideTexas.com.