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Texas-BYU Defensive Notes: Fixing Run Fits And More

Quandre Diggs. Grown man. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
Quandre Diggs. Grown man. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
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Heading into the BYU game, the primary point of emphasis for Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was to fix the run fits that often let the Longhorns down against Rice and caused to Owls to find some seams in the Texas defense. After BYU ran for only 43 total yards -- and less than two yards per attempt -- consider the problem fixed, for the moment at least.

It wasn't so much about technique or missed assignments in the first game, it was about the players trusting Diaz about where they were supposed to be, about playing quickly and with confidence. The Longhorns played both quickly and with confidence against the Cougars and it made a tangible difference. The long-held cliche in college football is that the greatest improvement occurs between Week 1 and Week 2 and that certainly appears to be the case for the Texas defense.

The return of sophomore defensive tackle Ashton Dorsey to the lineup played a role, as the big youngster drew praise from his teammates and coaches after the game for his ideal low pad level that resulted in a tackle for loss and the team's only sack this season. Fellow sophomore Calvin Howell wasn't a detriment to the team against Rice or in more limited action against the Cougars, but he also hasn't flashed this season like Dorsey. It appears that the 'Horns may have finally found the second defensive tackle to play next to Kheeston Randall.

Here are some other scattershot thoughts after watching the game again:

  • When Texas had problems in the first half against the BYU passing game, it was a result of the linebackers and safeties losing Cougar tight ends in the intermediate passing game. The zone coverage Manny Diaz was employing early flat-out didn't work, but he made the necessary adjustments and the Longhorns were nails on defense for most of the second half. Stick to man coverage, Manny.
  • Texas held BYU lead running back JJ DiLuigi to only 39 yards on 14 carries, an average of less than three yards per pop.
  • Jackson Jeffcoat needs to step his play up a level. After naming him one of My Guys this season, I didn't think that there was any doubt that he would become one of the best defensive ends in the conference. Still waiting for that. Jeffcoat committed a brain-dead personal foul to extend a drive by BYU late in the half when he hit BYU quarterback Jake Heaps ridiculously late and then had an offsides on 3rd and 3 in the second half trying to guess the snap count. Add to it the fact that he lost contain twice on running plays, lost coverage on a bootleg and then jogged downfield afterwards and his play was flat-out not good enough. He's too smart, too talented, and he knows the game too well to be making the types of mistakes that are happening right now.
  • The Texas linebackers were much better in this game, with far fewer false steps and poor run fits. Jordan Hicks had 11 tackles and consistently put himself in position to make plays by playing much more quickly than he did against Rice. Expect some interceptions soon from him, as his deep drops in pass coverage can easily be overlooked by opposing quarterbacks.
  • Speaking of overlooked, it's easy to overlook veterans like Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, but both looked more confident and played faster than they did in the first game and the result was better and more consistent production. Acho had 11 tackles and the two combined for three passes broken up that could easily turn into interceptions down the road.
  • Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom, and Adrian Phillips are already proving that they are grown men out on the field. The playmaking is already happening from Diggs and Phillips with two interceptions and a forced fumble between the two, far ahead of the curve experienced by the young Texas defensive backs in 2008. All three are more than willing to tackle receivers, tight ends, and running backs, with Diggs showing some serious pop for such a small guy. Flat-out football players all and guys who will continue growing. Texas fans have to be happy with their contributions already -- a possible team weakness is quickly turning into a team strength.
  • Steve Edmond had three tackles and a forced fumble on kickoff coverage. Is it too soon to ask him to get some time at middle linebacker?
  • Blake Gideon had three tackles and three missed tackles.
  • Kenny Vaccaro -- aka Machete -- had five tackles and drew praise from color guy Ed Cunningham as a "special player" multiple times during the broadcast. His ability to cover slot receivers, running backs, and tight ends gives Manny Diaz a great deal of freedom in his coverage schemes and his sure tackling in run support can clean up plays that the linebackers and defensive ends miss. As much as I want to see him at Texas next year, I don't see it happening at this point -- he's that good. Have concerns about him as a player? Point me to the film.
  • The Longhorn defense was faster and stronger than BYU in the fourth quarter and a tremendous amount of credit has to go to both the team's depth and Bennie Wylie for getting the team in superb physical condition entering the season. BYU gained only seven yards during the fourth quarter and went three-and-out on each drive, a major difference from the Rice game when the Longhorns forced a three-and-out on the first possession and then failed to do so again until the fourth quarter. Major improvement.
  • The depth along the defensive line helped Texas tremendously late, as Greg Daniels, Desmond Jackson, and Chris Whaley all contributed late. Now the question is whether or not Reggie Wilson needs some more time with Jeffcoat failing to play up to his potential. You're on notice, Jackson.