Chizik's No-Huddle D Is All About Gap Control

We'll know more about Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik's defense on Saturday, even though No. 2 Texas' home-opener comes against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that is looking for its first winning season in nine years.

Conceptually, at least, most of Chizik's defense has been taught to a unit that returns nine starters from last year's Rose Bowl champion. Former Co-Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson was labeled a 'read and react' coach who directed his front four to hold on to offensive linemen, establish containment and direct the flow of the play to backside support. Philosophically, Chizik predicates his defense upon gap control and penetration simply because he sees it as the best way to disrupt an offense's rhythm.

"The main thing, whether you're blitzing people or not blitzing people, everybody's got to have gap control," he said. "That's where everything starts. If we can't do that, then it's really hard to stop the run."

We've mentioned, periodically, that guys like LDT Rod Wright are absolutely giddy in Chizik's scheme because it allows down linemen to fight off blockers (rather than hold them) in order to become the front line of pursuit. On Tuesday, Chizik commented, "Everything you do starts with them because if you don't have it there it just gets harder as you go back. It gets harder on the linebackers and it gets harder on the secondary. I think that's the starting point always. We're hoping that it will develop into a very dominant defensive line."

Chizik's defense will be a "no huddle" unit at all times.

"In this day and age, I think there's a lot of credence to doing that," he said. "There are no-huddle offenses, and I think this week (Louisiana-Lafayette's offense) will be one that is no huddle. They could change the tempo on us at any time. When they start speeding up tempos and things of that nature, you have to be ready for that. What we do, from day one, is to try to build that in where that doesn't become an issue in terms of affecting what we call."

It was part of Chizik's M.O. when his Auburn Tigers led the nation in scoring defense (11.3 ppg) last season in the rugged SEC on the way to a 13-0 slate. Does he worry that the approach might lead to confusion, especially with him up high in the Memorial Stadium press box? Absolutely not.

"We're putting it on every individual to be accountable for what we're asking him to do," he said. "It's on every one of them."

Maybe not this week but, throughout the course of the season, fans will likely see the Horns in a nickel defense or in a dime packages more than at any time in recent memory.

Also, Chizik does not carry the reputation as a blitz-happy coach, but said "it all depends on what you're trying to take advantage of. If you see their protection and know that blitz can come free every single time, then I'll run it 100 times. I don't think we'll play seven or eight people deep every snap but if that's what's working at the time, if you feel like you can get a great four-man pass rush, it's more what we can take advantage of right now. That's what we'll try to do."

So, what's on the top of Chizik's agenda, given that Texas' overmatched opponent has a less-than-zero chance of pulling the upset in Austin?

"What we've really been discussing is how to substitute," Chizik said, "because the way you substitute is very crucial to how you play not only at the end of the game but at the end of the season as well. So, we're really trying to get a good mix of people to be able to play two-deep and to get a lot of guys not only into this game but every game. If you can do that, if gives you a chance down the stretch to stay as healthy as you can."

The rhetoric throughout the preseason was that there were at least "five starters" at linebacker. Chizik reports that he honestly doesn't know which backup will be first off the bench.

"It's really going to be a 'feel' thing," he said, "and a lot of those guys are on special teams so you really have to be geared in on how many times did they cover the punt, how many times did they cover a kickoff. You go in with an initial plan but, as the game flows, you get a feel for it. Between every series, I'm on the phone with every one of them and talking about 'How do you feel?' and 'Where are you at?' and those types of things."

Finally, to be around Chizik is to be with a guy who is as excited about the start of football season as any hard core fan.

"It's an exciting time for me, personally. I sometimes have to get up and blink, trying to figure out that I'm really here at The University of Texas. I just think it's a great place. I know the expectations are very high, and the expectations (are high) more so here than any place I've been. But I'm just excited. Football season is fun for me. I like the challenges of being in a league that I have not been in before. I'm excited about game day. I really haven't changed in how I see things or how I've done things for however many years I've done this."

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