In this week’s rendition of Under the Microscope, we’ll examine the performance of the Texas Longhorns defensive unit versus the Wyoming Cowboys in each of the four key areas coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski emphasized before the season — third downs, fourth downs, turnover, and sacks.
On Saturday evening, the Longhorns defeated the Cowboys, 31-10. Senior defensive back Jahdae Barron led the defense with nine tackles, six of which were solo, along with one pass deflection. Senior linebacker Jaylan Ford added seven tackles and a tackle for loss as well.
As a unit, the defense held Wyoming to 291 yards and only 10 points. Seven of those points and 62 yards came on the first drive for Wyoming when junior running back Harrison Waylee scampered through a hole and went the distance. After this costly miscue, the Longhorn defense forced Wyoming to punt on their remaining five drives in the half including two 3 and outs.
Beyond this, how did the defense perform when evaluated under the microscope? Let’s find out.
Wyoming went 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) on third down for the game, a clip that is below their rate of 43.5 percent from wins against Texas Tech and Portland State. As a whole, the Texas defense was able to get off the field — holding a team to less than 30 percent on third down is a recipe for winning football. After somewhat of a slow start, the defense held Wyoming to only one conversion on six third-down attempts in the second half.
On multiple third downs, Wyoming opted to use out routes to create one-on-one matchups for their wide receivers. On the first third down in the game, this worked successfully as the Cowboys were able to convert a 3rd and 5 that set up the long score.
On the ensuring drive facing 3rd and 6, Wyoming once again opted for an out pattern. This time, Texas senior safety Jerrin Thompson made a play on the ball and was able to deflect it away. Wyoming continued to rely on this scheme and was rewarded on a mishap from senior defensive back Kitan Crawford when Crawford successfully undercut a deep out route but was unable to intercept or deflect the ball, allowing Wyoming to pick up the third down.
One of the best plays from the defense came on 3rd and goal late in the third quarter. Junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell used a speed rush to get behind the Wyoming offensive line and sacked the quarterback for a 10-yard loss and force the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.
The Longhorns played well overall on third down and only got better as the game went on.
Season outlook: Through three games, Texas is limiting opponents to conversions on 31.7 percent of third downs, an improvement over the 41.3-percent rate last season and currently good enough for 20th nationally.
The Longhorns only faced one fourth-down attempt during the game, which Wyoming converted. On 4th and 1 at the Texas 11-yard line, Wyoming attempted a quarterback sneak. The officials decided to review the previous third down before the play was run, which allowed Texas another chance to stop the Cowboys. Unfortunately, it didn’t matter as the Longhorns defensive line was unable to get enough of a push to prevent the conversion.
While the quarterback sneak on short yardage plays is nearly indefensible, it is not impossible to stop. Until the front seven can prove to opposing coaches that they can stop it, teams will continue to run it when faced with short yardage plays.
Season outlook: The Longhorns have allowed three conversions on four opposing fourth-down attempts (75 percent) this season after tying for 86th nationally last season when opponents converted at a 57.1-percent rate on fourth downs.
Texas had just one sack — the previously mentioned third-down stop by Sorrell. After recording five sacks against the Crimson Tide, the Horns were unable to get home against a conservative offensive gameplan by the Cowboys.
Texas will need to find more creative ways to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as the performance this week undoubtedly was below expectations. While the end result didn’t matter, creating disruption for opposing signal callers will be critical the rest of the way.
After sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke has flashed in the first two games, the emergence of Sorrell could provide Texas with a formidable 1-2 punch on both sides of the defensive line. The play and development of these two pass rushers for the rest of the season should be a good indication of Kwiatkowski’s ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks without relying on sending extra help.
Season outlook: After 27 sacks last year, the Horns are already up to eight after three games, tied for 38th nationally. After a disappointing performance against Wyoming, Kwiatkowski is faced with the choice to mix things up and send extra help or rely on the defensive line up front.
In what turned out to be the final score of the game, Jerrin Thompson intercepted an out route and took it to the house for the sole turnover for the Longhorn defensive unit.
Thompson now has interceptions in back-to-back weeks. Creating turnovers, and being able to return them for points, is a key component of any defense. After forcing two interceptions against Alabama, being to repeat the effort against Wyoming is a huge plus, even if it was only one takeaway.
The Longhorn defense did miss out on a few interceptions at other points in the game. As mentioned, Crawford was unable to bring one in on a route that he ran better than the wide receiver. In addition, Texas has now gone two straight game without recovering a fumble.
Season outlook: With 14 forced turnovers last season, Texas tied for 104th nationally, but through three games this year, the Longhorns have forced six turnovers, a rate well above last season and tied for 26th in the country.
As a whole, the Texas defense was stout against Wyoming, especially as the game went on. Under the microscope, the defense wasn’t perfect but continued to show improvement in several key areas that Kwiatkowski emphasized before the season.