Since the second half of last season's win over Oklahoma I have not seen such an effort by the Texas defense, and I mean all of them from every position. There were big-time hits from the Longhorn secondary in every quarter.
But it is the sure tackles after the catches that separate secondaries in this day and time, and right in front of my seats four rows behind the TCU bench, cornerback Ryan Palmer made a first down-saving tackle on one of TCU's bubble screens near midfield. It was a head-up, leg-driving beauty and it slammed the door on a Horned Frog offensive series. It was no Arkansas State arm tackle; it was big-time defensive play with the Horns trailing 10-7 in this ultra-physical contest.
This was an old-fashioned, smash-mouth football game played with modern day offenses and defenses. Both defenses knocked the slick pass receivers and cut-back runners backwards and in the first half Colt McCoy got a good idea of what it was like to play in the old Southwest Conference when it was among the nation's elite in the 50's, 60's and 70's.
Make no mistake, TCU could play against anybody; they were missing their outstanding running back Aaron Brown and in the second half got worn down on defense, but considering their quarterback was playing in his second college game, TCU put up a valiant battle. In my opinion, TCU was as good a football team as anybody Texas played last season with the exception of Ohio State.
For the first time in Mack Brown's career at Texas, I liked the overall linebacker play. I would get Jared Norton on the field as often as possible as the Longhorn middle linebacker. He can bring it, and bring it quickly. That is not to say Rashad Bobino doesn't play, but the Rowlett Rocket at 6-3, 236 takes on blocks and can chase down the ball sideline to sideline.
What I liked was the linebackers keeping their shoulders square working toward running plays. The cutback runs have been hurting the Longhorns in too many games. The backside linebacker can stop such nonsense if he is in position to do so, and that's what we saw Saturday. Roddrick Muckelroy and Robert Killebrew can play in space as well as stop the run.
In the secondary, safeties Erick Jackson and Marcus Griffin communicate and are developing nicely. And the Texas four deep was not fooled by play-action!
Up front, Aaron Lewis and Lamarr Houston make a good tandem at defensive end. Lewis was unblockable early, throwing off blockers and chasing the TCU quarterback. Derek Lokey came up time after time on the bottom of piles of bodies which represented the ruin of TCU's running game.
But can the Texas defense maintain this intensity?
It took a week of hearing how badly they played and questions about who the starters should be to bring the Longhorn defenders to such a ferocity of effort and concentration.
They won't hear the same criticisms this week, but perhaps reminders by coaches Duane Akina, Larry Mac Duff, Oscar Giles and Mike Tolleson that those starting positions are not set in stone will be enough to restart the hitting machines.
Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter has already earned a master's degree in shuffling players in and out of the line-up. When offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski went down it sent fans scrambling for numbers in the program as to who entered the game. It was Chris Hall, who played at just about every line position against the Frogs except left tackle, where Tony Hills did a good job against TCU's future NFLer Tommy Blake.
One nice help for the Texas offensive line in pass protection was Greg Davis' use of the two tight end set that forced TCU's two excellent defensive ends to line up wider.
Receivers Nate Jones, Jermichael Finley and Quan Cosby paced the Texas offense. Colt McCoy has to learn to get his shoulders down if he scrambles with the football. The play in the third quarter where he was stripped of the football was a result of the "don't hit the quarterback" era of coaching. How would Colt know to tuck the football and lower his shoulder when contact is imminent? Regardless, he showed determination and leadership with his play coming out of half time and on-field presence when he burned the Frogs with his feet late in the game when TCU was in max coverage.
Overall, though, the Texas running game is still a work in progress. Let's hope Jamaal Charles' 39-yard touchdown run will invigorate him and the entire ground game.
Central Florida in Orlando in the afternoon will be yet another learning experience on both sides of the ball. Texas 31, Central Florida 10.
Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.
Culpepper's Commentary: TCU Game
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