The Horns put the clamps on North Texas (87 passing yards) and Rice (84 passing yards through three quarters with Texas holding a 45-0 lead). The damage has come from the likes of Ohio State and Iowa State (i.e., the quality teams on Texas' September slate). The Buckeyes were held to 79 yards rushing, but dissected Texas' pass defense as QB Troy Smith completed 17-of-26 for 269 yards. It can be argued that those numbers came courtesy of the Heisman front-runner who deftly picked his spots against a depleted Texas secondary. Last Saturday, the Cyclones managed all of 21 yards on 27 rushes while QB Bret Meyer was 24-of-43 for 274 yards passing.
"We're not used to those kinds of numbers during the past five years," Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina said, who also coaches the DBs. "We're working hard to get it all cleaned up. I really believe we'll get back to the standard that we're all used to."
Games against Sam Houston State and Baylor will give players time to build depth and work out the kinks. Oklahoma WR Malcolm Kelly is a big-time receiving threat who remains a little under the radar on the national scene, but there's little doubt that the Sooners will hitch their schooner to junior RB Adrian Peterson during the annual renewal of the Red River Rivalry on October 7. It means Texas' pass defense has about three weeks to fortify its pass defense before encountering Nebraska's West Coast offense on October 22 and then Texas Tech's freak show aerial assault the following Saturday.
"There are not coverage busts," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "There are just mistakes being made. It's not just the secondary; it's everybody. You can never pinpoint just one group of people. There are just some adjustments that we've got to make as a whole. It doesn't start with the secondary."
It's starts with an honest pass rush from the defensive front, and Texas coaches have found a silver lining from the Iowa State game. The UT defense notched seven sacks and 15 knockdowns against the elusive Meyer, who attempted to throw 50+ times on an afternoon when his ground game was handcuffed, averaging just .78 ypc.
"It doesn't show in the stats because some of the sacks count as rushes," Chizik said. "If you do the math, he was on the ground half the time. Any time you can put a physical hit on the quarterback early in the game, it sends a message not only to your opponent but also to your defense that this is how we're going to play tonight."
Those who point fingers exclusively at the Texas secondary for the passing yards it has yielded fail to account for the role linebackers have in providing coverage. The Horns welcomes the return of WLB Drew Kelson, easily the team's best cover-linebacker, after missing the first three games with a high ankle sprain. The converted SS logged about 20 snaps and contributed three tackles. MLB Rashad Bobino assignment was to 'spy' on Meyer throughout the contest. The biggest plays in the passing game typically result from when a mobile QB like Meyer breaks the pocket, Chizik believes.
"We felt like the quarterback was such a threat in the passing game at the edge," Chizik added. "We had (Bobino) tracking the quarterback all day on scrambles or anything that was out of the pocket. That's when you usually worry about giving up big plays. When he comes off of play-action, and you're standing there alone, and he's got time to pass the ball around, that's when big plays happen. Then, you start scrambling around and you lose your man coverage, that's a potential for a big play. That happened a couple of times Saturday, but that's the nature of a scrambling quarterback."
Texas hasn't had its starting secondary on the field at the beginning of a game since the September 2 home-opener against North Texas. RCB Tarell Brown, of course, was held out of the Ohio State game to tend to off-the-field issues while FS Marcus Griffin missed the Rice game, and approximately half of the Iowa State game, with an ankle injury. SS Michael Griffin was also limping at the end of Saturday's contest. It's part of the reason why coaches lifted the redshirt off true freshman CB Deon Beasley, who was considered just on the cusp of Five-Star status by most recruiting services.
"We felt like Deon could contribute this year," Chizik said. "He's mature enough right now to step in. We just went ahead and pulled the trigger on him. He held his own out there. He did what we asked him to do, arguably against some of the best receivers in the league."
FS Robert Joseph may also get a closer look as the season progresses. For now, Texas' pass defense is ranked No. 81 nationally and, statistically, tied with…Baylor.
"Pass defense is one of the last statistics that you get concerned about, though we all have pride," Akina said. "We've been used to being in the Top 10 in all those numbers for a long time."
And, for Texas' sake, it won't be a long time before those numbers are restored.