Texas Defense Looks for One Last Stand

SAN ANTONIO -- A Texas defense that finished the regular season with both the top run defense (58.8 ypg) and worst pass defense (233.0 ypg) in school history looks for, arguably, its first complete game of the season when it faces Iowa in the Alamo Bowl Saturday.

Yet, the last time we saw the Longhorn rush defense, it couldn't get in-state rival Texas A&M off the field. The Aggies drove 88 yards for the winning score, devouring 8:56 of the fourth quarter, with a simple option game and the occasional dump pass into the flat. The previous outing, Texas gave up 323 yards through the air to knock the Horns out of BCS title contention.

Much of it had to do with brainy offensive coordinators dialing up the right schemes, according to DE Tim Crowder.

"Offenses are smart," Crowder said Wednesday. "Teams got smarter and started using slide protections, double-teaming, max protecting, bringing the running backs to check on us. In those type of situations, it's hard for us (down linemen) to get there, but that leaves someone else open to get there."

It was an injury-plagued Texas defense, still ranked in the Top 25 (No. 22) in total defense, that suffered occasional lapses that proved costly. At least, that is Texas coach Mack Brown's assessment.

"The guys have hung in there and we played great defense most of the time," Brown said. "We've given up more big plays than we've wanted to, but we had to put our secondary in tougher spots than normal."

Former Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik never backed away from his determination to stop the run at (virtually) all costs. The team also set a preseason goal of improving upon the 11 INTs it collected during the National Championship season. The Horns had 12 picks in 2006.

"Except for the A&M game where they kept running the ball, we (DBs) got our hands on a lot of balls," SS Michael Griffin said. "Here and there, we could have had more interceptions."

Senior Drew Tate is a savvy, blue-collared QB who can give Longhorn pass defenders the fits. The Baytown product is only one of a trio of three-year starters to bark signals for the Hawkeyes. He has completed 192-of-327 passes for 2,349 yards and 16 TDs during a 6-6 campaign. Tate ranks second in the Big Ten in passing (234.9 ypg) and total offense (246.3 ypg). Yet, Tate insists the Texas defense ranks up there with the Big Ten's best.

"On film, the Texas defense is a lot like Michigan's," Tate said. "When we played Michigan this year, I thought they had the best 11 guys (on defense) that I had ever seen. Their size and speed was just incredible, and that's what I really see in Texas."

Texas' run defense ranked second only to Michigan's in 2006.

Dominique Douglas ranks first in the country among true freshman WRs in receptions (46) and second in receiving yards (614). He leads the Hawkeyes in both categories, as well. But just barely...

"They like to use their tight end a lot," Griffin said. "He's a great player. I don't really know his name, but I know he's a top receiver. He's a big guy."

That would be 6-7, 260-pounder Scott Chandler, a second-team All-Big Ten selection ranked second in team receptions (44) and yards (555) this past season. The senior from Southlake Carroll will end his college career in the same stadium where he ended his high school career. Chandler was a WR on a Dragons team that beat Smithson Valley, 45-14, to finish the 2002 season as the undefeated Texas 5A state champ.

Junior RB Albert Young led his team with 715 yards on 165 carries this season and who was the 2005 Big Ten rushing leader with 125.2 ypg. Young missed two games this season with a sprained PCL and will operate behind an O-line that relies almost exclusively on a zone blocking scheme.

"It's all about gap control," Crowder said. "You've got to fight back in your gap. The only way to beat a zone is to get penetration and stay in your gap."

Texas' injury-bitten secondary is as healthy as it's been since the home opener on Labor Weekend.

"(RCB) Tarrell Brown (broken toe) and a lot of those guys are running better," Brown noted. "The Griffins (ankles) are full speed for the first time in a long time, so we really feel like we're probably healthier."

The same goes for Thorpe Award winner LCB Aaron Ross, who was injured in a car wreck on his way to practice on December 21.

"He bumped his head and is fine," Brown said. "He is 100 percent and ready to go."

Texas practiced Wednesday morning before attending Alamo Bowl Team Day at Sea World. (Michael Griffin and TE Neale Tweedie were scheduled to feed the sharks). The Horns are slated to practice for the last time of the 2006 season, 10:20 a.m., at Blossom Athletic Center. There will be a pep rally, with players and coaches, at the Arnseson River Theater along the River Walk, 6 p.m. (CST), Thursday.

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