Saturday's game against Tulane was not without its crowd-pleasing or spectacular moments…it's just that all of the ugly, ugly plays that occurred overshadowed them. I'm not going to waste your time going over all of those ugly plays -- dropped passes, busted plays, a poor throw or two, senseless penalties -- because you know them all too well. Therefore, I have chosen this week to write about the Longhorn defense.
Wow, what a defense! (I'm starting to feel better already!)
In particular this week, I would like to delve into the Horns' newest defensive wrinkle, what I will call the "Funnel Everything to Derrick Johnson" Defense. Maybe I need to find something shorter. Maybe a better name will come to me as I describe it.
There are several variations of the defense. One variation has a noseguard, two defensive ends/tackles playing on the outside eye of the tackle (the 5 technique), two OLB that play as ends, and Derrick Johnson as a middle linebacker about five yards deep. Another variation is very similar except that the outside linebackers switch spots with the defensive ends/tackles. Those are not the only two variations but they are the two that are run the most. Different wrinkles can be thrown in to counteract different offensive sets. A safety can be brought in if a TE is present, or in a five-wide set, one of the OLBs can stem out to jam a slot.
The Longhorns are running this defense with more and more frequency, and for good reason. The main selling point of this defense is the fact that Derrick Johnson gets to run free and make plays. That has me sold right there. The fact that Marcus Tubbs demands double-teams from a center and guard at the nose tackle position means that no one is available to block D.J. on a strong side running play. If the opposing offense chooses to single-block Tubbs to release the guard on D.J., it will face the consequences (watch Tulane's running offense in the first half). This Derrick Johnson-centric defense puts opposing teams in a choose-your-poison situation. Either Tubbs will beat you or Derrick Johnson will. Since the block against Tubbs is a much higher percentage block, I expect that most teams will choose that option. However, that doesn't guarantee success against the Texas DT. I don't know of any tackle in America that is having the success that Marcus Tubbs is having.
So, you have D.J. running free and Tubbs at the nose position. The other great thing about this defense is the speed and athleticism that the alignment puts on the corners. Reed Boyd continues to impress and Lee Jackson is playing very well right now. Jackson does an outstanding job of taking on the fullback or pulling lineman with his inside shoulder and holding his ground. That's an important part of this defense, because it still allows the outside linebackers to maintain contain with their outside shoulder free.
When Boyd and Jackson are on the outside, you will see a ton of zone blitzing from the Longhorns. Out of this one package on Saturday, I noted six different zone blitzes. Sometimes the OLBs would rush, and the ends would drop in coverage. Sometimes the corner/safety would blitz and the OLB would take the flats in coverage. To my surprise, I saw D.J. come on the blitz twice while Marcus Tubbs dropped into his zone. (Tubbs is amazing — have I said that yet?)
With this package, Carl Reese can blitz from any direction with as much pressure as he needs. He can rush three (Tubbs, Cory Redding, Kalen Thornton/Austin Sendlein/Bryan Pickryl) and drop three (D.J., L.J. and Boyd), or he can bring five and drop one. If he so chooses, and he often does, he could bring all six. The key to this defensive package is the flexibility it gives the defensive coordinator and the confusion it sows in the opposing teams' quarterback. Imagine, as a QB, looking over this defense and not having a clue where the blitz is coming from, then possibly throwing your hot route into the blitz or into the arms of a dropping defensive lineman. It truly is a thing of beauty.
I don't like the other wrinkle -- with L.J. and Boyd playing head up on the tackles -- as much. One, I think it limits their athletic ability and their ability to use their speed on the corners. Two, it ties them up with a larger offensive lineman. Three, it opens up cutback lanes. Finally, if Tubbs gets moved back in the center, it hampers down-the-line pursuit by Boyd and Jackson. However, when you have the nation's best defense, you must be doing some things right. Therefore, in Reese I trust.
This defense will be particularly good against OU, because Tubbs will give the Sooners fits. I hate to downgrade anyone who is out there playing on the field, but OU needs to find a center and a right guard in a hurry. Otherwise, Tubbs will live in the Sooners' backfield. South Florida consistently pushed the OU offensive line into the backfield, limiting the effectiveness of the linemen pulling. If the Sooners can't pull, their ground game is dead (see 33 rushes for about 50 yards). But, enough about OU…
With Derrick Johnson free to run and make plays, I don't see this defense being unsuccessful. Thoughts like that put a smile on my face.
Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University. His 'Technical Analysis' column will appear each week on InsideTexas.com.