At the end of the first half, you would have to have graded out Texas' defensive line at, what, A++? They simply dominated the line of scrimmage, obliterated Nebraska's running plays, and harassed Zac Taylor until he was visibly frustrated. Derek Lokey, Tim Crowder and Aaron Lewis had as outstanding a defensive half as I've seen in quite some time.
The second half was a different story, though the line still played well. Nonetheless, when Lokey went out with injury, the unit lost some of its effectivenes - he was playing that well. Let's turn back to Lewis and Crowder for a moment, who were both outstanding. The duo combined for four tackles for losses, and Tim Crowder forced a fumble. Lewis got credit for forcing the fumble in the official box score, but watching the replay closely, you can see that Crowder gets his hand in there to strip the ball right as Lewis comes in to crunch Taylor. Either way, it was a terrific play by both players, and emblematic of both ends' play all day.
With Nebraska trailing in the second half, Texas turned more to Brian Orakpo, who did what he does best - rush the passer. On the interior, both Roy Miller and Frank Okam were very solid. The only player who had a quiet day - for once - was Brian Robison. There was one point in the game where I thought he wasn't playing for the day - he'd been that quiet.
Overall, though, the unit proved to be one of the biggest keys to victory, as we predicted. Grade: A
Let's start with the hero of the day in the group - Scott Derry. Raise your hand if, as the Longhorns began losing linebackers to injury - you were anxious when a lanky white dude started getting minutes. Yeah, me too. Well, the fact is that it's becoming hard to keep him off the field. He takes excellent routes to the ball, is a sure tackler, and has surprising speed. He was in on the tackle or near every single Nebraska rushing play, and while he's only an average pass defender, his nose for the ball is outstanding. Color me uber-impressed.
Bobino and Killebrew had solid, if unspectacular, afternoons. The loss of Killebrew to injury, in fact, proved to be critical, as freshman replacement Sergio Kindle was the man most responsible for that godawful shovel pass for a 55 yard touchdown. Kindle took a bad route to the runner, then dove at him, missed, and woosh off the Husker went. (Mike Griffin missed, too, but more on him later.) Killebrew isn't the best linebacker I've ever seen - his instincts just aren't that great - but he's a sure tackler and a physical specimen. Kindle will improve, no doubt, but for one game, anyway, Kill's absence was critical.
In any case, the unit did a fine job, helping to neuter Nebraska's rushing and keeping the underneath passing stuff to a minimum. Derry once again led the team in tackles, to give you some perspective on his performance. Grade: B+
On the one hand, we have Aaron Ross, who had another All American game - and a near flawless one at that. Save the stunning, over-zealous, total collapse of a play where he abandoned his receiver to blitz on the sweep toss to Marlon Lucky (whoops!), he was perfect. He broke up passes, tackled surely, forced a game-saving fumble, and so on. At the beginning of the season, we all talked about Mike Griffin (Mike Huff's replacement) as the potential Jim Thorpe Award winner. NSFMF! It's been Ross that's performed at the elite level. Frankly, I'm not sure any cornerback in the country can claim to have played as well as Ross has this season. Even his cover skills, which were B+ coming into this season, have improved, as he's truly taken on the challenge of being The Best on every play.
And what of Mike Griffin? I hate to single him out, because he's meant so much to this Texas Longhorn football team over the years, but he just killed Texas yesterday. Yes, he was his usual excellent self on run support, but there have been times this season when he's looked like a one-trick pony: aggressive run supporting terror. In pass defense, he's been positively average. He was (at least) half responsible for the first touchdown, as he collided into Beasley without tackling the pass catcher (touchdown, Purify). He was partially responsbile for the second touchdown - the shovel pass - as he whiffed on his tackle of the Husker tailback. And he was half responsible for the Marlon Lucky halfback pass, as he came tearing up to the line in run support as Swift streaked down the sideline and into the end zone for a wide open catch. I absolutely appreciate what Griffin does for this team, but he's been only so-so in coverage this season, which partially negates his excellence in run support. I'm sure Chizik's a bit puzzled, too. Mike did do a nice job hauling in an interception, but that was a gift from Taylor, courtesy of Texas' outstanding blitz.
If Mother Griffin reads this blog, please pardon me for piling on, but the Other Griffin wasn't spectacular yesterday, either. He deserves credit for falling on the fateful fourth quarter Terrence Nunn fumble, but he was also the dog on two separate occasions. Again, not to pile on, but it should be said. Outside of Ross, the secondary just wasn't very solid yesterday. Even Tarrell Brown was mediocre yesterday, missing two tackles and playing rather soft coverage.
For Coach Akina, who's been so good with this unit for the Longhorns, there's still more to work on. At this point: the only chink in the armor. Grade: C- And only because of Ross.
Defensive Game Plan
The gameplan by Chizik was superb. Texas did a fabulous job of taking out everything Callahan tried to do with the run, and even put his secondary in the position to limit big plays. They didn't, but that wasn't Chizik's fault. He can only design the defense and call the plays. He can't make the tackles.
The Horns were, on the whole, outstanding defensively, and save the three big plays, not phased one bit by the whirlwind of motion that was Bill Callahan's playbook. SMQ was equally unimpressed with the Callahan presnap ballet, writing whimsically that he was disturbed by "the absurd complexity of Bill Callahan's playbook, which is like a parody of a playbook, with incomprehensible commands from another dimension, and the crazy motion that never seems to lead to a mismatch or even confusion from the defense, which pretty much just watches like Indiana Jones before he unceremoniously shoots the psyched-up sword-wielding turban guy in the market in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Look, over here! A fullback - in the slot! No - whoosh! - he actually is a fullback! Gotcha! This is complexity for the sake of complexity and not worth much."
Texas' defenders weren't bothered by all the motion, staying in their base defense and playing excellent gap-control football. Had Nebraska not enjoyd three very big plays, they might not have cracked the 10 point barrier. Grade: A-
Texas did a fine job on defense, save the big plays. And, really, that's something you can legitimately expect to work on. One worries a little bit because the Big Plays are becoming the norm, rather than the exception, and the only thing standing between this defense and Holy Crap Scary, as opposed to just Really Good. It's a fine line, though, and there's more to be excited about than there is to lament. Grade: B+