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Texas Longhorns have to find themselves against Kansas State

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Texas players will have a chance to respond directly to the preseason comments from Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

At the Big 12 Media Days in late July, perhaps no bigger story emerged from the event than the comments from Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker calling the Texas Longhorns soft.

"They kind of laid down a little bit. That's nothing to say about their character. That's just what they do."-- Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker

It certainly isn't the first time that such a charge has been leveled against a Mack Brown team, having been the major theme of the dark days of the early 2000s when the Oklahoma Sooners ran roughshod over Brown and the Longhorns for years, as those teams seemed to shrivel and shrink in front of the entire nation.

Now, in even darker days, as the Longhorns struggle to defend basic read option plays and have evidenced as little physicality in the secondary as they have in years, the words of Walker ring even more true than ever, despite the fact that he called Texas head coach Mack Brown days after the comments to apologize.

The best part about Walker's comment? The fact that he ascribed it to merely being "part of their character," as if it's something so imbued in who they are that it's fundamentally inalterable.

With the pride and toughness of Longhorns players coming under essentially universal question over the last two weeks, the team will have a chance in front of a national television audience to answer those criticisms in the affirmative or the negative.

It's a huge opportunity for the team -- if they merely confirm their lack of toughness, they are writing the epitaph for the season one game into conference play.

Defensive end Cedric Reed, for one, sounds like he's ready to come out and play.

"You've got to go out and hit people in the mouth," Reed said on Monday. "Do the opposite of what they say you are. It's annoying to hear it but we're going to come out Saturday and play."

Of course, Reed hasn't really been the problem -- he already has 24 tackles, including 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss, as well as two passes batted down and three quarterback hurries.

Cornerback Carrington Byndom expressed similar feelings.

"We still take that personally as a team," Byndm said of Walker's comments. "We want to go out there and show that's not us at all and that we won't lay down.  We won't just lay down.  It will be something that we look forward to on proving him wrong."

Of bigger concern is that fact that players are now once again talking about issues with effort and trust, which were pegged as two of the primary factors that led to the defensive meltdown last year. And were supposed to have been fixed during the spring and the fall, but clearly have not been fixed.

Cornerback Carrington Byndom, whose effort beating blocks left, uh, something to be desired against Ole Miss, said that a lack of intensity early in the second half hurt Texas. How does that happen after the BYU game?

"People just get complacent," Byndom said on Monday.

And defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat thinks that trust is once again a problem.

"As far as execution, we didn't trust one another as far as knowing that your teammate is going to make a play," Jeffcoat said. "That's something we have to work on."

While Jeffcoat added that he doesn't think it will be that hard for the Texas defensive players to establish trust in each other, if it hasn't happened yet, after so much talk about all those problems going away, what are the odds that it happens all of a sudden this week?

More importantly, what does Texas have to do specifically to stop the Wildcat offense, besides dealing with the option better?

Kansas State packages their quarterback draw game with their stick route concepts, as many teams do. What makes the Wildcat iteration a bit more difficult to deal with is that the quarterback will press the line of scrimmage before delivering the football.

Here's a look at a play from last season's game, courtesy of Nickel Rover:

It was a package that wasn't especially successful with Jake Waters running it against North Dakota State

And as Nickel Rover also pointed out, the personnel for Kansas State often dictates when they run this play. Since John Hubert is on the small side even for a running back, he's not particularly effective as a blocker and since Kansas State doesn't run a tempo offense, they don't have any problems substituting him in and out of the game in favor of fullback Glenn Gronkowski.

Texas has to recognize those personnel changes and be ready to stop those plays. The problem is that Kansas State is going to try to target linebacker Steve Edmond, who has struggled with the mobility and recognition necessary to impact opponents over the middle. In fact, it's probably getting to the point where Edmond needs to come off the field and give way to Dalton Santos, who unfortunately may not be healthy this weekend after a leg injury that has impacted his ability to practice this week.

And then there's the option.

The biggest surprise was that new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson opted to continue having his defensive ends crash on almost every play, leaving the overmatched defensive backs to deal with the big, physical Ole Miss receivers on the edge, which didn't go so well and allowed Rebel running back Jeff Scott to gain a tremendous number of yards before contact.

Throw in the linebackers failing to scrape effectively and more missed tackles from the secondary and it was a recipe for another disaster.

Of course, simply getting the defensive end wider doesn't always do the trick, as Nickel Rover elucidates in his description of the Power read play that Ole Miss ran so effectively last week:

If the DE stays inside to force the ball out to pursuit, then the QB hands off to the RB. When Diaz ran Palms, we usually had the DE stay wide and encourage the ball back inside to the linebackers. Here, the DE steps inside and spills ball outside. The problem is that this asks Steve Edmond and our deep safety to make the play in pursuit. Edmond is generally going to struggle to run with a player like Jeff Scott, if he has to do so while fighting a cut block from a TE then you can pretty much count on him not getting there.

Add the packaging of plays and things get even more difficult, as evidenced by one of the long run BYU quarterback Taysom Hill broke off when nickelback Quandre Diggs had to bail wide to deal with the threat of the bubble screen and was essentially removed from the play. The move of Diggs to nickelback has largely been a failure, as he's struggled to deal with the multiple responsibilities imposed on him and has had to deal with larger players blocking him in critical situations.

In a defense full of disappointments, the struggles in transition for Diggs, which were pretty much entirely unexpected, have significantly decreased the effectiveness of the Texas defense against the dangerous spread attacks the Longhorns face on a nearly week-to-week basis. Again, it may be time for a change, but Texas doesn't have any easy solutions there -- safety Adrian Phillips is the back-up nickelback and his own struggles have contributed to the problems early in the season, too.

Regardless, Robinson has now had a week and a half to work with the Texas defense, so it's possible that the unit could improve this week in terms of understanding their assignments.

Here's the bottom line, from Nickel Rover once again:

That leaves Greg with multiple options for defending the option. Play Palms and force the ball inside to the linebackers either with a wide DE or an aggressive nickel, or sneak a safety down late and play Cover-3 with traditional spill rules for the DE. Texas has to introduce some doubt and confusion into the offense's reads so they can't tee off on Texas' responses but this has to be done with assignments our players can actually be expected to execute.

The preference here is to force Hubert to keep the ball on any looks that have quarterback Daniel Sams involved, since he's not as fast hard to tackle. Ideally, that would mean forcing Hubert into the areas with the greatest number of defenders, but altering the looks

On film against North Dakota State, Kansas State didn't feature the Power read option that gave Texas so much trouble last week, but it could well be a part of the Wildcat arsenal this weekend.

In a game where the ability to defend the read option and the quarterback draw will define the response to the Kansas State gameplan, Texas defenders must also show a higher level of effort, more trust in their teammates, and much more physicality and toughness than they have at any point in the last two years.

It's a tall task, but the moments on Saturday will be the defining ones.

Once again, Texas players have to ask themselves what type of players they want to be.

The answers so far have reflected poorly on them as competitors, even after being so publicly called out by Walker.