The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp now has two games under his belt. It's enough for him to candidly evaluate his unit as the Longhorns prepare for Saturday's renewal of the once-heated rivalry against Arkansas.

Muschamp inherited the statistically worst pass defense in program history and placed a premium on generating a pass rush this past spring and summer. The Longhorns went more than six quarters without a sack to open the 2008 campaign; the flip side is Texas pressured Texas-El Paso QB Trevor Vittatoe 19 times in Saturday's 42-13 win. The defense hit him 10 times. Muschamp's crew gave up 411 yards to the Miners 267 through the air. But Texas' youthful secondary may be the most improved aspect of its defense between the first two ballgames, Muchamp believes.

"We did some good things on the back end. The game is slowing down for them. (UTEP) dropped back to pass 53 times -- they had 46 attempts -- but the net yards-per-attempt was less than five yards, and that's good. One of their big pass plays was on our linebackers; it was not on the secondary. They hit one fade on our sideline. Other than that, they didn't have a big completion until late in the game. I felt like we made some improvements. We did a much better job of communicating. We did a much better job of formation-recognition. We took some positive steps."

The 2007 Horns hung their defensive pride on stopping the run (93.4 ypg, NCAA No. 6); Muschamp's defense has yielded an average of 91 rushing ypg in two outings, but Miner RB Terrell Jackson found plenty of room to roam in the early going, running for 94 yards by halftime. Those holes collapsed following intermission.

"We missed some gaps and weren't as clean in the running game as I would like to have been," Muschamp said. "We were off here and there. We can execute better. I felt like we were in the right spots in the passing game but, in the running game, we got displaced early. We got a little bit better as the game went on."

The Horns have pitched second-half shutouts the past two ballgames, but that was only after yielding a scoring drive on an opponent's final possession just before intermission. The defense hit a lull Saturday after TE Blaine Irby's 29-yard TD reception put Texas up 28-6 with 3:59 remaining in the first half. The Miners manufactured a 76-yard drive in eight plays to trim Texas' lead, 28-13, at the break. The defense failed to comprehend the "urgency of the situation", Muschamp said, and the result poor tackling and failure to converge on the ball.

"We have a 28-6 lead but the game is still in jeopardy," Muschamp said. "It was still in the balance. We had three timeouts. We had the opportunity. If we get a three-and-out, they're punting and we have three timeouts left. You're looking at either a 35-6 or a 31-6 game at halftime. We need to understand that that's what we've got to do. I've got to call better. We've got to change something and play better in those situations."

UTEP relied more on seven-man protection in the second quarter. Muschamp opted in the second half to ease off from his blitz package and emphasized an honest four-man rush. The result was the first, and second, sack of the season.

"The best pass defense in America is the rush," Muschamp continued. "You can't make a living with little field coverage and playing max pressure. You've got to be able to get home with four. That's something we'll continue to work on and preach to the kids."

UTEP netted 35 yards on its first three rushes before jumping to a 6-0 lead after notching FGs on successive possessions.

"We've had two ballgames where we have not started well," Muschamp noted. "In the first (Florida Atlantic) ballgame, it was more of a matter of our execution. In the second ballgame, we executed but UTEP just made some plays. We had good coverage at time, but I was disappointed in how we played the run. After looking at the tape, we didn't play blocks well up front. We've got to improve there."

The opening frame was reminiscent enough of Texas' slow-out-of-the-gate approach in 2007 that the Horns got an earful from Muschamp.

"We talked about starting faster," DT Roy Miller said. "That's one of the things we're going to work on this week. I'm happy that we won the game, but there's a standard that we've got to play up to. It's something coach Muschamp keeps telling us. It's not that he's trying to be negative. He knows how much potential we have."


Horns Digest Top Stories