Horns Have No 'Option' But To Get Defensive

Moments after Texas held on to upend Texas A&M Friday, a partisan observer abruptly told Longhorn coach Mack Brown that Colorado would be wise to install the option when the programs meet this Saturday for the Big 12 title.

"I don’t think Colorado will put in the option," Brown said Monday, "but we’d be more prepared for it."

That’s good news for Horn fans since the Aggies ran for a season-best 277 yards in the 40-29 Longhorn win in College Station. RS-freshman Stephen McGee, subbing for injured three-year starter Reggie McNeal, sparked the A&M offense and kept Texas on its heels for much of the afternoon. And Brown knows his defense hasn’t heard the last of it.

"There will be so much talk this week about how bad our defense played against the run that we’ll probably play really good against the run," Brown said. "That’s what our defense will hear every day this week. I mean, that’s all they’ll hear."

Some A&M players said the near miss exposed some chinks in the armor of the Longhorn defense. However, Brown cautioned against focusing exclusively on Friday’s performance so that it overshadows the body of work that his defense has accomplished during an 11-0 regular season.

"I don’t think because we didn’t tackle well Friday that our defense can’t tackle," Brown said.

No, but the run defense has not been a constant this season relative to other areas. Gene Chizik’s unit leads the Big 12 -- and is ranked nationally in the Top Ten -- in every significant category except rush defense. The Horns are a middle-of-the-pack No. 6 in the Big 12, giving up 128.3 rushing ypg (NCAA No. 31).

"I have no concerns about the defense at all," said SLB Robert Killebrew. "(A&M) just came at us with some things we haven’t seen. They blocked us in a way we weren’t prepared for. We didn’t get a chance to adjust to it early enough to stop them."

Before Friday, Texas held four opponents this season to less than 100 yards rushing, and limited Big 12 Championship Game opponent Colorado to a season-low 45 yards when the two met on October 15. Heck, the Horns held Ohio State to 111 rushing yards on 36 attempts.

In fact, the teams to run for more than 150 yards against Texas this season were two of the most lightly regarded teams on the schedule: Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys ran for 250 yards on 46 carries as Texas had to overcome a 28-9 first-half deficit. Last Friday, Texas had to come from behind twice after allowing two runners (McGee, Jorvorskie Lane) to eclipse the century mark in the same game for just the second time in the 112-year history of the rivalry.

"That’s just two games out of the whole season," said MLB Aaron Harris. "Statistically, it wasn’t too good. I think it’s because they played well. They do have good players. Y’all think that because we haven’t lost a game that we’re not human."

No, but inquiring minds want to know if the porous run defense Friday had more to do with an ill-prepared unit that was unable to make adjustments on the fly, or if the team was simply disinterested in what everyone (present company included) had labeled as a woefully overmatched opponent.

"We didn’t know whether Reggie would play or not," Brown said, "and if you’re looking at a guy with a high-ankle sprain, you figured that if he played he probably wasn’t going to run the option. So, it caught us off-guard. In high school, Stephen McGee was a passer. He wasn’t a runner. He ran the ball at the end of the Oklahoma game so we knew it would happen some. When they started it, it worked, and they kept doing it."

A&M’s biggest plays came on quarterback runs up inside. McGee led all rushers with 108 yards.

"We did a better job of adjusting to it in the second half," Brown said. "We still took some wrong pursuit angles, missed a tackle or two, and let him have some plays. The first half caught us off guard. It’s harder to fix on the field because it’s about angles and taking on blockers. They did a good job of running three different options. So, when you fix one, they come back with the other one and they were getting our kids off-balance. We either tackled them for no gain or they made 15. That was the frustrating thing."

Part of the subplot for the Big 12 Championship game is that both opponents are looking for redemption. Texas wants to erase not only the perception that it under-achieved at Texas A&M but also the pall of falling to a Buffalo team, 39-37, in the 2001 Big 12 title game with a shot at the national championship. Colorado, meanwhile, is backing into Reliant Stadium after dropping its last two games by a combined score of 60-19.

It’s almost enough to put the unranked Buffs in the same category as Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. Almost.

"We’ve just got to block it out of our minds and go out there and play," LCB Tarell Brown said. "If we go out there and play to our ability, I don’t think there’s anybody in the country who can beat us."

The Big 12 Championship game is set for noon Saturday on an ABC national broadcast.


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