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More Thoughts: Strong’s adjustment on defense was one of the keys to the ‘Horns win over Tech this past Saturday

Strong deployed a defense we hadn’t seen much of this season

Texas v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

The game may not have started exactly how Texas was hoping, but for the first time all season Coach Strong was able to rally his team on the road, make some key in-game adjustments on defense, and get a much-needed road win to stay alive in the “Strong Job-stakes Challenge”, as I like to call it.

— First things first, D’Onta Foreman was a man (though he isn’t 40 yet, in case Mike Gundy asks) among boys Saturday morning in Lubbock.

Going into this game, we knew Tech’s defense was as good at stopping the run as Ex-Lax is at, well, stopping the runs. But D’Onta Foreman made it feel like Tech’s rush defense wasn’t even on the field for much of the game.

Just marinate on this for a second - If we don’t count the eight runs of 10+ yards he had against Tech, D’Onta Foreman still would have ended the day with 25 carries for 98 yards, a touchdown and an average of nearly four (3.92) yards-per-carry.

Luckily for our entertainment, and for Texas’ sake, Foreman had eight more carries that added up to 243 yards and two more touchdowns. - Oh, and one whacky, weird, punch-in-the-gut-that-felt-better-after-the-game fumble on one of the more impressive 23-yard, third-and-goal running plays I’ve ever seen.

The fumble resulted in a 100-yard touchdown return for Texas Tech (though the Tech player CLEARLY stepped out of bounds on the return - thanks Big 12 refs)...

Regardless of that lone fumble, If D’Onta Foreman hadn’t already been known nationally, he absolutely should be now. And credit the offensive line for helping him with the big day.

Foreman currently leads the nation in rushing-yards-per-game with an average of 180.75. And he’s second in total rushing yards (1446) to San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (1581), though Pumphrey has 38 more carries on the season in part to Foreman missing the UTEP game completely due to injury that week.

Go ahead, jump on the campaign, “Foreman For Heisman”.

— Aside form D’Onta Foreman going off, the biggest key to this win probably came down to the adjustment Charlie Strong made on defense after the first three defensive series for the Longhorns.

To start the game, Texas Tech went touchdown, field goal, touchdown on its first three drives. During those series, Strong (for the most part) deployed his single-high safety look with man coverage across the board while using six players in the box to bring variations of pressure on Mahomes.

Frankly, against this defensive look, Mahomes was eating it up early. He was getting passes out quickly to open receivers who were in one-on-one coverage, and the Texas defense couldn’t keep up.

We’ve talked about the issues Texas has had this season when running a single-high safety look against an air-raid style of offense, and later this week I’ll do a dedicated post about the adjustment that was made in this game.

But after those first three drives for Tech, Strong switched to a defense that typically rushed just three down linemen, dropped seven into coverage, and had Malik Jefferson spying Mahomes.

After scoring 16 points (there was a blocked extra point in there) on the first three drives of the first quarter, the Tech offense would go on to score just two more touchdowns (or 14 more points) against the Longhorns’ defense in the final three quarters after Strong made the adjustment.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Strong made the adjustment because it was also a big reason Texas won.

But I can’t also help but wonder why it took three scoring drives from Tech for him to finally adjust. What did he and his staff see during the week of preparation that made them think going with a single-high safety look with heavy pressure up front was the way to start this game? It’s not like Tech was the first air raid offense this staff had to prepare for all season.

“Proactive vs reactive”... Just going to put this here for now.

— Shane Buechele was again steady as he passed for over 200 yards and a touchdown for the eighth time in nine games. Just as we expect D’Onta Foreman to run over people, another expectation is the true freshman quarterback will play solid each week.

Sterlin Gilbert does deserve credit for the job he’s done with Buechele, but Buechele also is a special quarterback. Mentally, he’s been about everything you can ask of a true freshman starter..

— Texas may have made this game harder than it needed to, but one of the key takeaways is this team continued to fight back and through adversity for the second straight week in a row.

Except this time the ‘Horns got it done on the road, something they had struggled with previously.

By the end of the first half, there had been five lead changes (excluding one tie) with Tech winning three of those. Before the half, Texas also fought back to overcome its biggest deficit of the game, nine points, before ending the half up by one point at 24-23.

After half time, Texas came out and scored first and maintained the lead the rest of the game, eventually winning by eight thanks to a game-ending interception by Kris Boyd on Tech’s final drive.

I haven’t made my prediction for this week’s home game against West Virgnia, but I can tell you that this Texas team has a bit of a different look than it did the first half of the season.

Is it time to use the word “moxie” yet? - Ah, sorry Case McCoy, forgot that was your word.

— So that’s the Collin Johnson that was being hyped up in fall camp? Actually, Johnson can do more than that, but we’ll take his two touchdowns and run to the prize table like an old lady who just won Bingo.

It only took nine games, but Texas was finally able to get the 6’16” Collin Johnson involved in the red zone (kidding, he’s only 6’6” short - I know, tiny, right?)

What makes Johnson a fun player to envision down the road is the fact that he’s not just some tall, slow tree of a wide receiver that we sometimes see with these taller receivers. Instead, Johnson possesses a rare blend of athleticism to go along with his height.

After all the preseason hype surrounding Johnson, I was surprised we hadn’t seen more of him this season. Moving forward, I’ll be even more surprised if he doesn’t see more action to close this season and isn’t absolutely a starter next season (or now... he can start now... Sterlin? You there?).

— Give it up to Malik Jefferson. That’s now two games in a row where he’s had at least seven solo tackles and a sack. And when Texas made the adjustment against Tech and used him as the spy, he played that role effectively.

The hope is that Jefferson keeps this play up the rest of the season and improves on it this offseason. But the fact that Jefferson was in the slump for as long as he was is something still a bit concerning.

Jefferson admittedly wasn’t trying hard enough, which is odd given who Jefferson is (or was, or who we thought he was and now is again, we hope - RIP Dennis Green).

What’s concerning here is that the coaches weren’t able to prevent or correct this before the season or even earlier this season. And don’t get me wrong, this is largely on Jefferson as well. It’s ultimately on him to maintain a good mentality and to want to get better each day and each week.

But as this season plays out, it feels more and more like this past offseason wasn’t nearly as effective and productive as many of us expected and thought it would have been for the ‘Horns defense.

Of course, this was a defense that saw its coordinator get demoted just three games into the season. And that absolutely plays a part in the defense’s struggles this season, especially early on.

But the fact that Jefferson, the Big 12’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year who we thought was immune to falling for the hype and getting caught up in the noise, actually admitted he wasn’t working as hard as he should have been explains even more about the struggles this defense had early on this year.

I can’t help but wonder if the offseason was almost a complete waste for the defense aside from improvement from a few players. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as that, but the fact that I’m even asking that question is unsettling.

— The defensive backs were solid against a Tech offense that will get some through the air no matter what defense you run.

Not one defensive back gave up a huge play over the top, though some of that has to do with the scheme Texas decided to run most of the game.

Boyd and Bonney may have been the starters on the outside, but Holtin Hill play a lot in Texas’ version of the dime package, and I still see Hill as one of the starters next season. He’s too athletic not to be. The Texas staff just has to get his mind right.

— Nine penalties for 99 yards is way to many. Sure, we may always have issue with some of the penalties thrown, but nine is still enough to help make a game harder than it needs to be.

Every game is an important and big win from here on out for Strong. And really, as we know, every win is important in college football in general.

But given that this win happened on the road, in the morning, and against one of the highest-scoring offenses in the country could be seen as a sign of change if Strong is still around when we look back at this season.

Now, Texas has to build on these past two wins and take on a very balanced and stingy West Virginia team in Austin.