Defense's Mid-Term Grade: 'P' for Physical

Texas' defense just pitched a second-half shutout against Oklahoma, is finally getting an honest pass rush from its front four, has produced nine turnovers in the last two games and boasts one of the best run defenses in program history. So, why isn't Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik smiling?

"I'm not totally happy with anything on defense until we play a perfect game," Chizik said. "We haven't yet. We haven't even played a perfect half yet. I don't know that you can, but I know that we can get better at a lot of things on defense."

While every Horns fan wants to believe that Saturday's performance means that the defense has come of age, Chizik's perspective is decidedly narrower.

"It means that, on Saturday, we played well."

It also means Chizik isn't about to let the defense peak at mid-season. To be sure, Texas' defense has gotten better at a lot of things since the Ohio State game. We knew Texas would be rock-solid against the run. But if there was a rub against the defense on last year's national champion, it was because the unit failed to generate consistent surge from its defensive front and produced just 12 INTs. Manufacturing more turnovers was a defensive priority during spring football and August camp. Meanwhile, DE coach Oscar Giles was so intent on upping the pressure on the QBs that he instituted everything from friendly wagers between players to extra drills if the pass rush was sub-par.

The Horns have produced 11 turnovers in the past three ballgames, after notching just three in their first three outings of the season. Each of Oklahoma's final four possessions resulted in a turnover (two fumbles, two INTs).

"The thing that I liked Saturday was that I thought the turnovers were truly caused," Chizik said. "There's a difference between a tailback missing a handoff on the exchange and you knocking the ball loose. I thought Saturday we forced the ball on the ground."

The defensive front was responsible for six TFLs (26 yards) and two sacks (20 yards) Saturday. The pressure from the down linemen is in such a stark contrast to recent history when Texas had to rely so heavily on blitzes that DE Brian Orakpo laughed when watching game film from just three years ago.

"They expect (a pass rush) from the front four," Orakpo said. "They know we're great players and can get after the quarterback. We don't need (Rashad) Bobino, (Robert) Killebrew or the other linebackers to help us."

No small part of the reason for the upgrade is Texas has never been this loaded at DE since the inception of scholarship limits 25 years ago. Texas is almost three-deep at DE and, in big games, Chizik prefers to do most of his substituting in the first half so starters can be fresh in the fourth quarter. Versatile sophomore DE Aaron Lewis often checks in at DT on third-and-long to get more speed from the front four.

But Texas' defensive progress has less to do with schemes and half-time adjustments than folks might think, Chizik is convinced. It has to do with playing a physical brand of football, and that starts with believing that you are -- first and foremost -- a physical football team.

"The physical part is where it all starts," Chizik said. "We're definitely heading in the right direction after six games. We're getting to the point where we believe we are physical, and that we can play physical."

The old football adage is that turnovers always come in bunches. But Chizik believes they came Saturday because his defense may have played its most physical half of football since he arrived in campus last season.

"The thing we talked about at halftime was that the game was right where we thought it would be," Chizik said. "It was tight. They were either going to be more aggressive and more physical and beat us, or we were going to be more aggressive and more physical and beat them. We challenged them on that. We told them, at the end of the day, there wasn't going to be any tricks. They were either going to be more physical than you, or you were going to be more physical than them. We adjusted a couple of things on some new runs they schemed up during the last two weeks. Other than that, our kids were very focused and they knew it was going to come down to the end. We said it was going to be like a 15-round, Heavyweight fight. They kicked a field goal just before the half, and our deal was how we were going to respond to it. We came out with a three-and-out, we scored and the game changed."

RB Adrian Peterson was held to 38 net yards in the second half. Yet, Texas was so keyed on slowing Peterson that it was susceptible to play-action passes. Oklahoma was 8-of-16 on third-down conversions, including several third-and-longs.

"Some of those little dink-and-dunk things have turned into long gainers," Chizik observed. "There's a lot that went wrong Saturday, but one thing we always talk about is 'Don't ever let 'em see you sweat.' Don't change your body language. Don't change the way you look. Just line up and play. Human nature is to put your tail between your legs and go run and hide. That's what human nature tells you to do when three million people are watching you. We make sure that this is not their demeanor. If this had been our demeanor Saturday, we would have lost because it didn't go well for us the whole day."

Generally, Texas also denied QB Paul Thompson the deep ball.

"They tried to go deep numerous times. Even when they completed a few, it was a tremendous catch but they were always getting hit. If you continue to hit the wide receivers and the running backs, as the day goes on, you're going to get loose footballs on the ground. That's where you get turnovers, and it all goes back to being physical."

The team's blue-collar work ethic was evident to one of the series' most renowned participants. Former Texas coach (and former Oklahoma QB) Darrell Royal called Mack Brown after the game and said it was probably the most physical he had ever seen in series' history. For Royal, it was one for the Memory Book. But for Chizik and other Longhorn coaches, the defense's level of play Saturday is just the beginning.

Horns Digest Top Stories