'Red Zone' D Was Bright Spot During Uprising

If Texas' 21-13 clipping of Arkansas State is a harbinger of things to come, then Horn fans are in for a wild ride this season. But if defense truly wins championships, coordinator Duane Akina's blitzing, bend-don't-break unit gave evidence that it will be counted on to compensate for offensive inconsistency and a sub-par running game.

Right now, Texas looks no better than a 9-4 football team. Every team Texas faces the rest of the season, save for possibly Rice and Baylor, is better and deeper than an ASU club picked third in the Sun Belt Conference. The Horns haven't seen their short-yardage running game since October and got stuffed, a-gain, on fourth-and-goal. (Four rushing attempts inside the three netted two yards, and the Horns turned the ball over on downs). For that matter, Texas has been looking for explosive runs (12+ yards) ever since Vince Young took his game to the NFL. On Saturday, RB Jamaal Charles rushed for 112 net yards on 27 carries (4.1 ypc), but his longest run of the evening was for 15. The game's ugliest stat, however, is that the Texas offense cracked the Red Zone just three times. It if wasn't for ASU's 151 yards in penalties, this one would have been dicier than it already was.

Texas is certainly not the nation's No. 4 team, and probably won't be when the polls are released Sunday. If it wasn't for Appalachian State's shocker at Michigan, then the national media would be fixating on the fact that a 38-point 'dog was attempting an onside kick at Texas during the final minute with a chance to send it into overtime. This one was right up there with last year's Alamo Bowl, and Texas can book passage to another second-tier post-season unless it fulfills the old adage that teams improve most between the first and second games of the season. (And, by the way, can WLB Roddrick Muckelroy and TE Jermichael Finley come out and play?)

Head coach Mack Brown's post-game comments reminded folks that it still boils down to 'scoring offense'. But Saturday's storyline at DKR had more to do with 'scoring defense'.

Until SLB Robert Killebrew's fourth-down, personal foul (face mask) on ASU's final possession, the visitors had managed just a pair of FGs from five trips inside the Red Zone. Killebrew's foul was a new lease on life for the Indian offense, resulting in a 93-yard TD march. Texas also limited ASU to 3-of-12 on third down conversions. Otherwise, the Indians moved the ball at will between the 20s, finishing with 397 total yards (the Horns managed 349).

Linebackers failed to wrap-up and were MIA on a couple of screens. An attacking scheme was prone to over-pursuit, resulting in missed tackles. Undersized cornerbacks gave plenty of cushion to Indian receivers that no one will mistake for those at, say, USC, Louisville or Georgia Tech. The front seven was susceptible to ball fakes and bit on zone reads. It obviously didn't help Texas' cause that DE Brian Orakpo exited the game in the first half (right knee) and returned later on crutches.

Akina conceded that he was surprised that ASU, ordinarily a ground-bound, clock-chewing offense, would mix the pass-and-run as early-and-often (not to mention, as effectively) as it did. The Indians put the ball in the air 37 times, completing 24, for 267 yards; they ran the ball 32 times for 130 yards.

Akina's D lived-up to the pre-game rhetoric that it would be an attacking, aggressive crew. Texas blitzed four times on ASU' opening, eight-play drive. MLB Rashad Bobino's slant blitz resulted in a six-yard TFL of QB Corey Leonard as the Indians settled for a 42-yard FG.

The argument, here, is that DT Frank Okam will eventually benefit most from Akina's all-to-the-ball scheme that unshackles the defensive front. The senior was credited with a PBU, followed by a solo tackle, on the Indians' second series. The defensive stand forced a punt from the back of the end zone, resulting in Quan Cosby's 30-yard punt return to the ASU 16. (It resulted in a one-play scoring toss to FB Antwan Coob, his first collegiate TD, on his first reception, in his first game. Cobb scored on an out-and-up, play-action pass out of the I-formation, spotting Texas a 14-3 lead with 2:49 left in the first quarter).

Okam rose to the occasion on ASU's next series after CB Brandon Foster bit on a play-fake, giving up a 50-yard completion. The toss put ASU in prime real estate at the Texas 17, but Okam threw QB Corey Leonard for a 13-yard loss. A roughing-the-passer kept the drive alive but then RS-freshman Eddie Jones (a consensus prep All-American who has the potential the top DE of the Mack Brown era) made what may have been the defensive play of the game. Akina called for a zone blitz when ASU operated with a 1st-and-10 from the 13. Jones covered 20 yards and came away with Texas' first -- and only -- INT of the evening. If Jones' doesn't make that pick, Texas is looking at a 14-10 halftime lead but, more significantly, fended off a TD that would have been HUGE if ASU recovers that onside kick.

Texas forced three-and-out to open the second half, coming with MLB blitz. But the Texas offense came away empty for the fourth straight possession when Charles got stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the one

NT Derek Lokey and DE Aaron Lewis teamed for a QB sack on a 3rd-and-four play to force a 34-yard punt from the ASU 28. The stop lead to Texas' final scoring drive, a nine-play, 58-yard drive capped by Charles' 10 yard scoring run.

Bottom line: it's a W. And you can at least credit Longhorn defenders for the resiliency, perseverance and wherewithal to keep even an out-manned opponent out of the end zone for 59 minutes and four seconds.

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