Chizik Might Be The Difference

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- In this corner, you've got the greatest offense in the history of college football. In the other corner, you've got D-I's top defensive coordinator whose personal winning streak is about as long as USC's. Texas' Gene Chizik was hired for this game. His game plan could make all the difference in the BCS National Championship.

The first-year Texas defensive coordinator has been intentionally vague all-season when it comes to his pre-game strategy. So, why would the most significant Longhorn game in a generation be any different?

"I could tell you but I'd have to kill you," Chizik said Sunday. "Here's what I'll say: you have to be careful when you have a month off because you become a mad scientist." (It was a light-hearted jab at Offensive Coordinator's Greg Davis' similar comment from the previous day.)

The point, Chizik said, is that there is no need to re-invent the wheel this week.

"People always try to make the game really complicated, but it's going to come down in every game to tackling, being physical and not making mistakes," he said.

Those who paid close attention in Texas' high-profile games this season can expect a menu of safety blitzes, zone blitzes, nickel and dime packages, the SLB cheating to the LOS and Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff assigned to Heisman winner Reggie Bush. But given the preponderance of blowout wins this season, it naturally raises the question about how much of Chizik's defense we have actually seen.

"I don't know what (defense) we'll play in this game but we want to go out there and play fast," said WLB Rashad Bobino. "We might play base, we might play nickel, we might play anything. It's whatever the head man calls. It doesn't really matter what kind of defense we play. What matters is that we go out there and execute the defense."

It was this time last year that Chizik's Auburn defense helped post a 12-0 record but was left out of the national championship game. It was part of the reason why Chizik came to Austin, despite Auburn's efforts to match Texas' offer.

"I always felt very strongly that if The University of Texas ever went undefeated, it would be in this game," Chizik commented, before adding. "I left Auburn because I thought The University of Texas was the best job in the country and I think Mack Brown is the best coach in the country. You come to a crossroads in your career when you've got to make a decision that's the best for your family and yourself."

Is there any doubt that Chizik is the best hire Brown has made during his eight-year tenure? (Vince Young, for example, credits the defense for his team's offensive success, alluding often to shortened fields the unit creates as well as the security of knowing the defense allows him to take risks regardless of the yard line). Chizik is the only D-I coach east of Los Angeles that is undefeated the past two seasons but now faces his stiffest professional challenge in trying to contain the two-headed monster that is Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Perhaps the best description of Bush's game comes from the San Diego Union-Tribune's Nick Canepa who says the Heisman winner "runs like a witch flies."

"I haven't seen a weakness in him," said SS Michael Griffin. "Everything I've seen him do is just perfect."

So, how does Texas knock Mister Perfect off his broomstick?

"You've got to stop the whole offense by playing sound defense," Bobino said.

Indeed, this is a sound unit punctuated by an emphasis on speed, wrapping up when leveling the hit and (as a first-among-equals in Chizik's emphasis on fundamentals) taking proper pursuit angles. It is the latter that will be particularly important to limiting Bush's damage.

"We're going to get people around the ball; we've just got to get them there at the right angle," he said. "Somebody is going to miss a tackle, but if you miss a tackle correctly -- I know that sounds funny -- you'll get some help from your friends. It can be a big play."

Against a big-play offense that has more weapons than some NFL teams, Chizik will likely scheme to attack the ball-distributor. Kill the body by chopping off the head. The Burnt Orange crystal ball says Chizik is going to try to batter Leinart like USC and LSU bloodied Oklahoma QB Jason White (with emphases on try).

"I think it's really important (to hit Leinart)," Chizik said. "They do such a great job of making everything very quick and getting the ball out of his hands. They do a great job of protecting him. There's not many people who get to him. If you have a chance to get to him on their drop-back game, it's not easy to do with four men... It all starts with the quarterback. That's the bottom line."

Said Bobino: "Y'all saw what we did to that Colorado quarterback." (Referencing the concussion that Joel Klatt suffered in the Big 12 Championship.)

Many forget that Chizik has already faced a Leinart-quarterbacked USC team. Granted, it came during Leinart's first start when the Trojans visited Auburn in 2003. To some extent, the previous experience is obsolete given Leinart's maturation and the obvious differences in personnel. Then again, "the whole system is in place," Chizik said. "There are some differences, but not many... You have a lot of recall from what you liked and didn't like. You go back and look through your notes to see what you did good and what you did bad. So, you have a better starting point when you play a team again."

Yet, the starting point when Chizik began schooling his troops last February wasn't so much between the hashmarks as it was between the ears. His modern-day Monte Kiffin influence is infused with the busted lip nastiness of an old Dick Butkus Chicago Bear 1960s defense.

"My theme, philosophically, is that you can't play defense anywhere without being physical and without playing with a mentality that is not a nice one," he said. "What we talked about the first week that I was here was that we were going to be physical. If you're not willing to be that, or if you can't be that, you're not going to play. That's where we started. We've had physical practices all year. We've had physical practices for the bowl game. I don't think we've backed off. There's no other way to play defense is the way I see it."

It's a mindset personified by a phrase that Chizik has adopted for this defense: Never let 'em see you sweat.

"It's about playing with passion and playing every down like it's your last down," DE Tim Crowder told Inside Texas. "It's just the terminology he uses. Just go out there and play defense like you're on your own 20-yard line. He preached it so much during the off-season that it's instilled in us right now."

It's a M.O. that is just as applicable off the field.

"He teaches us life-lessons insofar as any time you're in any type of situation where you're the head of your family, the head of an institution, the head of an organization, the head of your church, things aren't always going to work out the way you want," said Bobino. "So, what you need to do is step up and don't let anyone see you change. Don't let anyone see that you're scared. Don't let anyone see that you're anything except what you've always been."

And perhaps that is the most telling statement why, in this corner, the challenger has a solid chance to unseat the heavyweight champion: the Texas defense expects to be what it has been all season.

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