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Texas vs OU Game Review: Defense

As one-sided as was the game, the performance of the defense wasn't nearly as bad as the 55-17 final score suggested. The Sooners defense scored 21 of those points, while the OU offense picked up another 10 points on short fields following turnovers.  Whereas the Oklahoma defense thoroughly dominated the Texas offense, Landry Jones and the OU offense merely got the better of the UT defense over the course of the game.

I haven't reviewed the tape for the defense like I did for the offense, but let's talk a little bit about what Manny Diaz's unit did and didn't do well Saturday afternoon.

Horns_bullet_mediumRevisiting the keys to the game. Three of the five keys to the game that I laid out related to challenges the UT defense would face in trying to slow down the potent, up-tempo OU offense: (1) Texas' ability to pressure/hit Landry Jones without selling out, (2) Texas' ability to keep Ryan Broyles in check, and (3) OU's ability to rush the ball when it needed to.

On the latter two, although the Texas defense made one costly mistake on each count, it earned solid passing grades for both. The mistake with Broyles came on OU's first play from scrimmage, when Jones found the shifty wideout too-easily open on the right side and a 15-yard gain became 40 yards after Diggs missed the initial tackle, setting up the Sooners initial field goal. The lone mistake in rushing defense, of course, came on Whaley's 64-yard touchdown run mid-way through the 3rd quarter.

Although those two mistakes cost Texas 10 points, the defense held up well otherwise. Broyles caught 8 other passes in the game and drew one pass interference penalty, he netted just 82 yards on those receptions, 36 of which came on one pretty pitch-and-catch down the middle. In other words, outside that first big mistake, Texas didn't let Broyles beat them, forcing OU to win it with their secondary options.

As for shutting down OU's ability to pick up yards on the ground, the Texas defense held OU to 11 rushing on 11 carries in the first half, and outside the big run by Whaley a total of 12 yards on 5 carries in the second half. For the game the Sooners managed just 87 yards rushing on 17 carries, 80% of which came on a single run. Here, too, the Longhorns defense forced OU to beat it elsewhere.

That just leaves Jones and the importance of making his life difficult, and while the Texas defense did not completely fail to put pressure on the Sooner QB, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that Jones handled everything brilliantly from start to finish. When we broke through with pressure that spelled trouble, Jones immediately threw the ball away. When Jones was under pressure but had enough time to get off a pass, he very quickly made the right read and the right throw, usually for a completion. And when he had time, he found the open man and delivered strikes.

If you'd told me before the game we were going to keep Broyles from beating us with big plays and smother OU's rushing game, I would have liked our chances to keep Jones from beating us on his own, even with our youth and inexperience in the secondary. But he did, and it was a big-time performance a step above anything I've seen from Jones on the biggest stages before. Kudos to him on a masterful performance.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe Texas secondary. Facing arguably the best receiving corps in the country, our young corners had a rough day, and though no one was expecting them to shut down Ryan Broyles completely, their inexperience was on full display. Covering those OU receivers one-on-one is a tall order, and the Sooners did a great job of spreading the field to get at least one match up that they liked, and Jones consistently took advantage. Byndom, Diggs, and Phillips each took a turn or three getting beat in isolation, and there's not much to say about young and inexperienced corners losing one-on-one battles with such talented and experienced receivers, except that they'll get better.

As for the safeties, Oklahoma did a good job of taking advantage of Blake Gideon's weaknesses, and with OU's running game as thoroughly in check as it was, we absolutely needed better help defense from him over the top. Kenny Vaccaro had his moments, but his overall performance was uneven, while Christian Scott gave us a good number of positive snaps but didn't offer much in the way of pass defense support.

I'm sure I'd have a bit more to offer upon a close re-watching of the game, but it's hard to get too analytical about what happened today. We had, on the one hand, a very young group of DBs who had to cover some of the best receivers in the country one-on-one, and on the other, a veteran quarterback who flawlessly attacked every advantage that was to be had. Jones was great when he had a play to make, and mistake-free when he didn't.

Horns_bullet_mediumLooking ahead: Oklahoma State. The challenge for the Texas defense won't be any easier next Saturday, as Oklahoma State comes to Austin with every bit as dynamic a passing game as OU, and a better running game. It's hard not to prescribe a similar game plan -- get pressure on Weeden without selling out, don't let Blackmon kill you all by himself, and control OSU's ability to be balanced -- but it's easy to see the Cowboys lighting up the scoreboard if Weeden similarly avoids mistakes/negative plays when there's pressure, because there's no question he and his receiving corps -- which is as good as Oklahoma's -- can make things happen when there's time. 

Based on today and what I saw during OSU's game at A&M, I'd say it's more important to get pressure on Weeden, even if that means selling out a bit, and though Blackmon is as dangerous to score on any given play as they come, the rest of the Cowboys receivers are good, but not big-time touchdown threats. It's another pick-your-poison match up for the Texas defense, and if OSU executes as well as they're capable of, it won't be enough to try to control them -- we'll have to make plays and/or hope that our offense is up for winning a shootout.

Horns_bullet_mediumFinal thoughts... Losing to OU sucks, and getting routed by OU really, really sucks, but it really is a good idea right now to go back and remember how we were thinking about this season in August. After today's loss, it's not only a good idea for your sanity, but as a reminder of what it is, exactly, that it's important we see this team -- and this staff -- do well and get right. Heading into the season almost all of us thought that Texas was likely to lose to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but that the season could and would be successful if we saw the right kind of progress on a number of crucial process-oriented objectives.

Well, here we are, we've lost to Oklahoma, we might well lose to Oklahoma State, and whether this season is ultimately successful still depends on those same things. We knew that there would be difficulties, but what we care about is how the team grows and develops. Whether your pride likes it or not, that's the standard this year, and that -- not whether we win any particular game -- is the thing that matters most to our ability to compete for, and win, titles, year in and year out.

On an otherwise gloomy and discouraging day, that's worth hanging your hat on.

Hook 'em