Texas Defensive Notes: Manny Diaz's Semi-Controlled Chaos

Since I'm still in process of reviewing the Rice game film (downloaded it last night), here are some notes on the first two Rice possessions. Hopefully will have more later on the breakdown in run fits that allowed the Owls to successfully pick up some yardage on the ground.

1st Rice Possession

1st play -- Completion to Tyler Smith for 8 yards

Rice started out the game in a five-wide formation. The Texas defense responded with only two downlinemen, Jackson Jeffcoat and Kennan Robinson standing outside the tackles, and defensive end Alex Okafor lined up as a linebacker. Despite the impression that Texas didn't get pressure on McHargue during the game, Okafor sliced through the left A gap untouched to the quarterback, while. Robinson dropped into coverage against the running back and nearly broke up a pass that he would have intercepted had it been inches further into the middle of the field. An early glance at the different looks Diaz will throw at an offense.

2nd play -- 14-yard loss on fumbled snap

The Longhorns show another unique front, now with Kheeston Randall, Jeffcoat, and Okafor all standing and left cornerback Adrian Phillips showing blitz. During the game, it appeared to be an unforced error by the Rice center hiking the ball over McHargue's head, but on review, it looked like his attempt to help the right guard out blocking Randall may have impacted the poor snap. McHargue was unable to secure the ball on his diving effort to retrieve, which almost left it up in the air long enough for Phillips to get there.

3rd play -- Pass completed to Tyler Smith for 3-yard loss

On third and long, the Longhorns once again show an unusual defensive front, with Kheeston Randall as the only downlineman. Linebacker Keenan Robinson dropped into deep center-field coverage, with Phillips and Blake Gideon blitzing and Jackson Jeffcoat twisting behind Randall. Coming from the left, Gideon actually did a nice job of re-directing when he read the quarterback's eyes and his intentions to throw the swing pass to the offense's right side and nearly got a hand on the ball to break up the pass. As it happened, Carrington Byndom closed on the play to make a physical tackle with Emmanual Acho closing in support.

1st Possession Thoughts

Call it semi-controlled chaos. On his first three plays as Texas defensive coordinator, Diaz quickly evidenced his desire to show offenses unusual fronts with the intent of confusing the Rice blocking schemes and putting pressure on the quarterback. On those three plays, Texas got pressure once and nearly broke up/intercepted the pass, forced a snap miscue by forcing the center to move down the line to make a difficult block, and forced a negative play by making the quarterback get rid of the ball quickly. It's not hard to believe after re-watching those plays that the Rice offensive linemen left the field after that possession with their collective heads spinning trying to process what just happened. An extremely impressive start to the Manny Diaz era on defense.

2nd Rice Possession

1st play -- Incomplete pass broken up by Kenny Vaccaro

In a more conventional look defensively with three linebackers and four linemen, three in three-point stances, with only Alex Okafor standing. However, Diaz once again dialed up a blitz, bringing Kennan Robinson. Robinson pressured the quarterback into throwing the ball more quickly than he wanted, giving Vaccaro a chance to break up the pass and, as with Robinson on the first drive, come close to intercepting it.

2nd play -- Completed pass to Luke Willson for 7 yards

Again a more conventional look from Diaz, but again he brought the blitz with Keenan Robinson against the Rice zone read with a swing pass out to the tight end built in. With Texas defending both the running back and quarterback, McHargue threw the ball out to Luke Willson, who broke Gideon's tackle on his way to picking up seven yards.

3rd play -- Completed pass to Randy Kitchens for 4 yards

Facing a 3rd and 3 after the missed tackle, Rice went four wide, with the Longhorns bringing four defenders and getting only minimal pressure on the three-stop drop from McHargue, who was able to find Kitchens on the slant in front of Byndom for the first down. With a linebacker inside, Byndom could have been more aggressive in jumping the route, but was still there to make the quick tackle. A step faster and Byndom could have broken up the pass.

4th play -- 11-yard rush by Tyler Smith

With the Longhorns showing blitz from the left side of the defense, Rice ran the speed option to the strong and wide side of the field, catching the Longhorns outflanked. Since both Robinson and Acho were blitzing, Jordan Hicks was the only linebacker on the strongside, but was matched up in coverage, leaving no one responsible for the quarterback or running back -- Rice had Texas outnumbered 5-3 on that side of the field. Jeffcoat was unable to get off his block and when Hicks beat his, he could only force the pitch two yards past the line of scrimmage. By the time Quandre Diggs beat his block, Smith was already near the first-down marker and past it when Gideon arrived to help Diggs finish the tackle.

5th play -- Completed pass to Randy Kitchens for 5 yards

Jordan Hicks comes inside from this strongside linebacker position on a possible run blitz, biting on the zone read fake and taking two bad steps before reading the swing pass outside to Kitchens, the same play Rice ran earlier when Gideon missed the tackle. With Hicks headed inside, Rice was 2-on-1 with a blocker to account for Carrington Byndom, who was being "legally" held by Donte Moore.

6th play -- Incomplete pass to Donte Moore

Another blitz from Keenan Robinson from a conventional four-man front, with the Rice offensive line protecting well and providing a nice pocket from which to throw for Tyler McHargue. However, despite the lack of pressure, McHargue opted to sail the ball out of bounds over the head of Moore, who was well covered by Diggs.

7th play -- Pass interference on Carrington Byndom

The Texas front included eight men along the line of scrimmage, with only the three defensive backs in off man coverage against the three Rice receivers. Responsible for the running back, Robinson didn't blitz, but the other seven doid and forced a quick pass from McHargue targeting Kitchens. Byndom was in position on the play, but made contact with Kitchens as the Rice receiver flailed in the direction of the ball to exaggerate the contact and draw the flag. Though it's debatable whether or not the ball was catchable and whether or not it was really even pass interference, Byndom would be better served in the future to find the ball and try to make a play on it.

8th play -- 8-yard rush by Taylor McHargue

As Rice did on the first speed option play, the Owls lined up in the Pistol and it looked like the Longhorns might have read the play, as Jordan Hicks shifted outside the tackle box on the strongside. However, Rice once again achieved a two-man advantage on the outside, with two blockers for the two Longhorns on that side of the field. Hicks did a solid job of using his hands to push down the lunging tight end, but the tight end tripped him as he was attempting to break away to force the pitch, probably worthy of a penalty had it been spotted by an official. Vaccaro was the other player on the strongside and he was also unable to beat his blocker and disengage, as the Rice blocker had two handfuls of his jersey inside his shoulders.

9th play -- Incomplete pass to Michael Patterson

To put it simply, this was a strange-looking play by Rice, as it appeared that McHargue changed his mind about his target at the last second. It looked like they were running a complementary play to the swing pass used twice before, instead looking this time to find the blocker coming from the boundary on a slant. Initially headed towards the swing pass, Hicks noticed the receiver leaking out and re-directed into the passing lane, getting hit with the ball a spit-second before he could have turned and intercepted the pass. Really nice instinctual play by Hicks. The odd thing about the play was that McHargue looked like he stepped towards the swing pass and then threw the slant.

10th play -- 8-yard loss on run by Jeremy Eddington

On 3rd and 2 with a two-tailback set, it looked like Rice tried to run a zone read, but the left guard could not take his big step right and block Kheeston Randall, who got into the backfield unmolested and blew up the play. Though Randall missed the tackle on running back Jeremy Eddington, the pursuit for Texas got there to make the big stop to force the field goal.

2nd Possession Thoughts

Obviously, the two plays that helped extend the drive are extremely disappointing and were covered on Tuesday in a bit more detail, along with several other plays that hurt the Longhorns on Saturday. Otherwise, the major adjustment from the Rice perspective was going with the speed option to the strongside, where they found serious numerical advantages and gained 19 yards on two carries.

On this drive, Diaz went with more conventional fronts, but still brought pressure, often at least five and in the case of the third-down play that resulted in the interference, seven. It seems as if he is not content to let his four down linemen take on five blockers and despite the youth of his cornerbacks, he often left them in man coverage, allowing them to close on passes forced out by the pressure.

With Diaz, it's clearly about dictating to the offense as much as possible, even changing calls late when Rice would line up and then receive a play from the sideline based on the look given by Texas. As the broadcast mentioned, Diaz doesn't like the offense to have the final say in those situations and wants to make the final adjustment, which requires quick and precise communication among members of the defense.

Overall Thoughts

Even though Texas failed to record a sack in this game, Diaz and his defense did manage to get some pressure and force some passes from McHargue to come out more quickly than he wanted. With all the different looks Diaz can give defenses, his propensity to bring blitzes, and the pure talent at defensive end, the Longhorns should be successful recording sacks moving forward, something the quick passing game of Rice was schemed not to allow. It may be a bit of an overstatement to say that it would have taken a miracle to record a sack, but it wouldn't be entirely far from the truth.

During these two possessions, the Longhorns were also close to forcing a turnover on several occasions -- the fumble, the first completed pass, the pass broken up by Vaccaro, and the pass broken up by Jordan Hicks. That was the story in 2008 as well and those plays turned into turnovers by 2009. The question for this team is whether those turnovers will come later in the year with more experience and a better understanding of the Diaz scheme or whether it will be 2012 or 2013 when those plays get finished.

Besides the inability to finish turnovers, as mentioned earlier, the biggest concern coming from these two possessions was the ease with which Rice outflanked Texas on the speed option. Diaz will be working the find a counter to those plays, but the fortunate news is that the 'Horns might not face another team running the speed option until Baylor, though it's possible that teams like UCLA could use it given the success of Rice with the play.

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