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No. 7 Texas 36, BYU 6: Evaluating the four areas of emphasis for the Longhorns defense

In a game dominated by the Horns, how well did the defense perform in the four key areas of emphasis? Let’s find out.

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Jay Janner/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

The No. 7 Texas Longhorns defeated the BYU Cougars by a score of 35-6 on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium behind dominating first and fourth quarters. In the first and last frame, the Horns had a net margin of 28-0 while the middle two quarters were 7-6. The defense played particularly well and held strong when freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy and the offensive unit struggled.

BYU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Defensively, Texas was led by senior linebacker Jaylan Ford who amassed 11 tackles and one tackle for loss. Senior defensive lineman T’Vondre Sweat and freshman safety Derek Williams Jr each contributed seven tackles and at least one tackle for loss as well.

Scoring and stats aside, did the defensive unit perform well in the four areas of emphasis — third downs, fourth downs, sacks, and turnovers? Let’s find out.

Third downs

Grade: A+

BYU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Texas held BYU to a third-down conversion rate of 21.4 percent on the day after the Cougars went 3-of-14. Furthermore, one of these conversions came on the final play of the entire game.

The Texas defense not only held BYU on third down, but created ideal situations for a defense. The Cougars were routinely forced into long down and distances — their average third-down distance was 7.3 yards and 9-of-13 attempts were longer than five yards.

Behind negative yardage plays and quality tackling, the Texas defense was able to put itself in a position to succeed on third down. Third and distance allows defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to narrow down the best personnel packages while simultaneously being more creative in how he deploys them.

Season outlook: Texas has performed exceptionally well on third downs and this week was another testament to this key area of emphasis. For the year, the defense has held opponents to a third-down conversion rate of 27.8 percent, a rate that is third in the entire country.

Fourth Down

Grade: C+

BYU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

BYU converted 2-of-3 on fourth down against Texas on Saturday. The Cougars had conversions of one and two yards but failed when the line to gain was 11 yards away.

Both successful fourth-down conversions came on the same drive, a stout 16-play, 64-yard drive that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock in the second quarter and ended in three points. The importance of fourth down cannot be more clearly demonstrated than on this drive. On two different occasions, the Texas defense got a win on third down but was forced to stay on the field after losing on fourth down.

The impact of fourth down is also clear. The likelihood an opponent scores is higher on drives where Texas gives up a fourth0down conversion. This likelihood is exceptionally high if the conversion is in Longhorns territory, like the second conversion.

On the first fourth-down attempt, BYU need just a single yard, but made the tough decision to keep the offense on the field given that a stop would give the ball to Texas at the BYU 38-yard line. On the play, the Cougars lined three tight ends up on the left side of the line into the boundary and a wide receiver just inside the far hash mark, handing the ball off from shotgun and were able to gain two yards and move the chains.

On the second fourth-down attempt, BYU faced a 4th and 2 from the Texas 39-yard line. The Cougars lined up with three tight ends on the same side of line and a running back in the backfield. The lone wide receiver lined up at the top of the numbers on the far side of the field. Rather than using the extra beef, BYU threw the ball after identifying that Texas corner Gavin Holmes was lined up 10 yards off the ball and backpedaling at the snap. This cushion created more than enough room to connect for a first down.

While getting beat deep on fourth down is worse than just giving up a first down, the alignment of Holmes on this play is somewhat mind boggling. Giving up a 10-yard cushion on 4th and 2 is a recipe for failure.

The final fourth down, and Texas’ lone stop, occurred late in the game. In desperation, BYU opted to go for 4th and 11 at the Texas 21-yard line. Texas brought six defenders, which allowed both Sweat and freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. to disrupt Cougars quarterback Kedon Slovis and force a poor throw that was almost intercepted.

Giving up two fourth downs is not the sign of a strong defense. While it didn’t hurt Texas in the game, it will in more competitive games down the road.

Season outlook: Texas has held opponents to a fourth down conversion of 44.4 percent on the year. This rate is tied for 50th in the country, which is an improvement from the No. 86 position that Texas ended at last year.


Grade: B

BYU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Texas had two sacks against BYU, one by junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell and another by sophomore Buck end Justice Finkley. The play by Sorrell was particularly impactful given that the Cougars had been driving and were at the Texas 10-yard line. Sorrell got home on a four-man rush by beating the BYU left tackle up the field and coming back into the pocket as Slovis stepped up.

The sack for Finkley was also a strip and gave Texas the ball late in the game. He used his speed to force the BYU left tackle to completely whiff before converging on the BYU quarterback. The athleticism and speed of the young Longhorn was on full display this play and showed a bright future for the Trussville, Alabama product.

Season outlook: Texas has 19 sacks on the year, which is tied for 45th in the country. The Horns need eight more sacks to tie their mark of 27 from last year.


Grade: A+

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Jay Janner/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

Texas set a season high by forcing three turnovers. The defense intercepted two passes and recovered the previously mentioned fumble. The first interception was particularly impactful. After Texas turned the ball over, the defense stepped up and returned the favor when sophomore defensive back Terrance Brooks snagged a tipped ball by senior nickel back Jahdae Barron and took it 40 yards on the return.

For the second straight game, sophomore defensive back Michael Taaffe secured a fourth-quarter interception for the defense. After a BYU wide receiver tipped a crossing route near midfield, Taaffe grabbed the ball and went rumbling all the way down to the BYU 8-yard line.

The strip sack by Finkley was a great finishing touch on a strong performance in this area of emphasis.

Season Outlook: Texas has forced 13 turnovers on the year, which is just one behind their season total from last year. This ties the Horns at 34th in the country a year after finishing 104th.

Against BYU, the Texas defense was stout on third down and forced multiple turnovers. The defense got home on two sacks while somewhat struggling on fourth down. Against a much better Kansas State team, the defense will be challenged in each of these areas.