Tackling is among the most rudimentary concepts in football and it’s a point of emphasis from the lowest levels, yet the Texas Longhorns defense — one full of high-level recruits — has failed miserably at the elemental task in 2016.
On Saturday, the Texas tackling deficiencies were amplified quite embarrassingly against Oklahoma State.
“You still have guys around the ball that don’t make the tackle,” said Texas head coach Charlie Strong in his post-game press conference. “It wasn’t guys not in position, it was we just didn’t finish.”
From the very first drive on the game, and even the very first play when sophomore defensive tackle Chris Nelson couldn’t wrap up scrambling Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, Texas couldn’t find ways to get the opposing Cowboys on the ground.
It seemed like every play provided more missed tackles for the Texas defense — quite often multiple failed attempts on each play.
Opening drive, Malik Jefferson uncharacteristically missed on two chances to wrap the RB up. Kevin Vaccaro put in a spin cycle pic.twitter.com/NZef8vZQ2N— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 2, 2016
By the end of the Cowboys’ opening drive, which concluded after 75 yards and a trip to the end zone, the Longhorns had missed 12 total tackles, many of them inexplicable, as was the case on Justice Hill’s 30-yard touchdown scamper.
Texas had 12 missed tackles on the opening drive vs. Oklahoma State..3 on this TD run alone. That doesn't seem ideal pic.twitter.com/INVXQRo4o6— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 2, 2016
That’s what arm-tackling, or at least attempting arm tackles, will get you. Unfortunately, Texas is already quite familiar with those results.
Even considering how poor the tackling performance was for the Texas defense on the first drive, the defensive outing after a bye week to focus on fundamentals wasn’t much better.
On a 68-yard scoring drive that took only six plays, sophomore defensive end Charles Omenihu missed two separate sack opportunities, though neither cost Texas too greatly because of an Oklahoma State penalty and an incomplete pass.
However, those types of negatives plays still have a tendency to kill drives and the Cowboys did end up scoring after Omenihu’s misses.
Four plays later, the Longhorns defense once again displayed why tackling isn’t its strongest quality with senior cornerback Sheroid Evans and sophomore cornerback Davante Davis missing tackles to allow star Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington to walk into the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown reception.
Multiple missed tackles would hurt Texas again. This time, Sheroid Evans and Davante Davis in the secondary pic.twitter.com/qSeEzvQWJa— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 2, 2016
After two drives, 16 missed tackles by Texas had led to Oklahoma State’s offense totaling 143 yards and building a 14-0 advantage.
From that point on, Texas did see some notable improvement, though it did come in comparison to the struggles of the first two drives.
Oklahoma State’s second and third offensive efforts resulted in three and outs and 12 total yards courtesy of some much more sound tackling mechanics. Even then, a missed sack by freshman Fox end Malcolm Roach and near missed tackle from sophomore defensive back John Bonney nearly extended the drive once again.
All things considered, the second quarter in its entirety was a significantly improved tackling performance, aside from an increasingly common mass missed tackle in the secondary just before the half.
Gonna go out on a limb here and say someone on the Texas defense should have been able to tackle Jalen McCleskey pic.twitter.com/4be5oJO3m7— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 2, 2016
By halftime, 10 Longhorns had missed 21 total tackles.
Seven players missed multiple tackles, including Davis, sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson, sophomore linebacker Anthony Wheeler and senior safety Kevin Vaccaro, who all missed three. With that kind of performance, it’s not really a surprise that the Longhorns defense gave way to 396 first-half yards and 35 first-half points.
“That’s what was driving me crazy,” Strong said. “I said, ‘We have them stopped, guys, we’re just not tackling.’
“We have them sacked plenty of times and he gets out of there on a sack. Just finish. Just run through the guy. We’re trying to reach and pull him down instead of wrapping the guy up. Wrap him up and get him on the ground.
“When a guy is running on you and he’s an athlete you can’t break down on him.”
Strong understands the fundamentals. He’s attempted to impart them on his players. And yet, it’s not working, as the players aren’t taking those teachings and putting them to work on the field.
So does defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who said the ‘Horns spent time during the bye week working on those exact areas Strong mentioned as lacking against the Pokes.
“We had guys in great position to make a play and they missed the tackle,” Bedford said in his first post-game media availability since 2014.
“We spent two straight days going through our tackling station for that reason, work on our fundamentals and we didn’t get that done.”
When attempting trying to survive shoutouts, especially on the road, that’s a formula tapered towards the loss column, and Texas can thank its tackling issues for the season’s losses now equaling the season’s wins.