Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE
As he does every Wednesday, Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina met with the media to talk about the secondary.
More on Josh Turner
The standout performance defensively against Baylor was that of sophomore safety Josh Turner, earning him a spot on the list of five young Longhorns who are beginning to emerge this season.
As a result of his strong play, Turner was the subject of a lot of questions on Wednesday.
On the diving interception that initially appeared, from my seats in Section 7, to have been too difficult for Turner to have come up with, Akina said that Turner was one of the few players on the team who could have made the play:
It was a super catch, and he is one of the few guys out there that is capable of making that play. You know moving to his right, having to come back, ball off his body. He did a nice job of rolling. That is the key to that catch. You got to catch and roll and keep the ball up to really convince the judges that it was a catch.
For a guy who was an immensely productive wide receiver in high school, it probably wasn't the first diving catch that he's made.
In fact, Akina broke out some big names when comparing Turner's ball skills to those of previous Longhorns:
He has a knack for the ball. We’ve had a couple guys here that have that ability. You know Nathan Vasher had that ability. Aaron Ross, Quandre Diggs has got a little bit of that ability, and Earl Thomas had that ability. The ball just finds them. Josh is that way, and we are not surprised. He does that at practice, too. That is one of the things that really stands out with him. He has some nice natural instincts for the football.
Originally recruited as a cornerback, Turner made the switch to safety in spring practice to get more speed on the field, but it's not a given that he remains at that position:
Josh is a unique guy. We stretch him pretty good. He is a safety. He can come in and play corner. That is what he was last year. We give him some nickel work, and he is a guy we give a lot of work to. Our history, we cross-train a few guys so when there is an opportunity for them to go and somebody asks me, "Can he play nickel? Yes. Can he play dime? Yes. Can he play corner? Yes." We want to check all the boxes while they are here. And some you can’t do that and they are just talented in one area.
The loss of Kenny Vaccaro next season could push Turner into the nickel, where his experience in run support as a safety should help his physicality, as well as another offseason in the weight room, where he still needs to make some gains in terms of overall strength.
Akina went on to cite current Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chykie Brown as a player who was extremely talented in one area -- bump-and-run coverage -- but wasn't as versatile and was never asked to do more than while at Texas.
Turner fits more into the mold of what Texas fans thought they were getting with Adrian Phillips this season, and may already be playing on a level at or above the older player.
Akina happy with pass defense against Baylor
After finding what was probably a ridiculous amount of success last season taking away long passing plays for touchdowns, until the Baylor game that is, the Longhorns once again emphasized that against the Bears.
This season, the secondary was more successful, in Akina's view:
You know with a team like that, we took away their vertical throwing game, which was our lead play. The Baylor staff did a great job by late in the first quarter by finding a formation that could get one of our guys in a one-on-one with no over-the-top help. They ran a double move route on Quandre Diggs, who was in decent shape and came off stumbling. It was a tough job description on an NFL wide receiver who is going to be an early draft pick.
After that play, the Longhorns had to make an adjustment, which they did:
So once they found it, we had to change a little bit and give him margin for error because we had zero margins for error on that particular coverage. Then from there we did a great job of taking away the vertical throws. I can’t remember what it was when you eliminate all the bubble screens and the back screens. You eliminate that 82-yard throw - what did they say 32 attempts for 168 yards? Which is really what you want to do against an offense like that, which is so vertical.
Had Texas been able to either execute all the defensive line twists or abandon them entirely to better results from a more base defense, they may have been able to create more separation by the fourth quarter. In any case, forcing Baylor to run more plays instead of scoring quickly, especially on the last drive by the Bears, helped shorten the game.
It obviously didn't happen, in part because of the tough day for Quandre Diggs, who hasn't struggled that mightily since early in his freshman year, with the big body of Terrance Williams and some poor technique not using the sideline to his advantage resulting in two penalties and a handful of other catches given up.
Texas transitioning to pro-style Kansas offense
After five weeks of playing some of the top offenses in the country, Texas gets something of a respite this weekend taking on a Kansas team that features a more traditional attack helmed by Charlie Weis.
It also presents some different challenges:
This is a different offense where now you have to get off the ball because they will run the ball and do those things, which may not have all the vertical throwing game challenges and the one-on-one challenges out there, but it will still challenge your eyes with the play-action pass. So it is a different task.
One of the big changes will be playing in a base defense for the first time in weeks, which will put even more pressure on the young linebackers to continue the marginal improvement that they showed against Baylor.
Akina mentioned the play-action passing, meant to impact the linebackers. Against the Sooners, the linebackers busted several coverages that resulted in touchdowns, including the pass to Trey Millard from the Diamond formation following a run fake.
With Kansas running some split two-back sets, look for Weis to take a couple shots to the running backs out of the backfield if he thinks he can pull up the linebackers with play action. Which he probably thinks he can. And probably actually can.
The group has been vulnerable in those situations, as well as in misdirection and the quarterback run game, all of which have given the 'Horns trouble in recent weeks.
The blueprint for how to gash the Texas defense is out there, it just isn't as easy to translate for a team like Kansas as it was for Baylor or Oklahoma.
Still, given where the group is right now, there are still a handful of things that Weis can do to get his running backs the ball, and those backs are probably the most talented unit on the Jayhawk roster, and it might even be that close.
How the Longhorns are able to respond to those challenges will help set the narrative of the Texas defense heading into the season's final stretch.