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Texas defense key in Texas Bowl victory over Missouri

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Todd Orlando’s group jumped on the Tigers early and gave them little room to breathe.

Academy Sports & Outdoors Bowl - Texas v Missouri Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

As was the case all season, when the Texas Longhorns needed a play in the Texas Bowl against the Missouri Tigers, it was the defense that answered the call. At every turn, and even in moments when it appeared the Tigers could make it a game, the defense had the Missouri’s number and managed to keep the normally-dominant offense in check.

The first defensive series set the tone for how the remainder of the game would progress.

After an Albert Okwuegnunam dropped pass set up a 3rd and 15, sophomore safety Brandon Jones dove for an open-field tackle, bringing down Jonathon Johnson to force a punt. Missouri’s first five series ended via punt, including four consecutive three-and-outs.

Missouri’s sixth series broke the streak, capitalizing on Texas Bowl MVP Michael Dickson’s only poor punt of the night, turning a short field into seven points.

But then the Texas defense answered back.

Their next two series ended with fumbles — one returned for a score by Anthony Wheeler — followed by a punt and a three-play drive to end the first half.

And so the night went for the Texas defense, suffocating the Missouri offense and forcing them off the field, whether by punt or turnover.

Fittingly, the Longhorns secured the victory via turnover as well.

A seven-minute, clock-killing drive by the Texas offense allowed Dickson to pin the TIgers on their own 4-yard line with 3:15 left on the clock. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock forced a pass into double-coverage and Texas corner Davante Davis jumped the throw and seemingly deflated the Tigers.

Four plays later, senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman took a reverse 18 yards to score and extend the Texas lead to 33-16.

By the end of the game, the Tigers managed just 390 total yards and 16 points, well below their season averages of 511.5 yards and 39.3 points. But perhaps more importantly, the Tigers made just two trips to the red zone in the game, an area they were particularly deadly this season. During the regular season, the Tigers managed to score 55 times from within the 20-yard line, scoring touchdowns on 66 percent of those drives (No. 36 nationally).

Junior linebacker Gary Johnson and junior safety P.J. Locke III showed up to lead the defense, filling the voids left by an injured Malik Jefferson and a departed DeShon Elliott. Johnson made flashy plays all over the field and finished with 10 tackles, while Locke helped in run support from the top of the defense and finished with seven stops, giving fans a glimpse of what the Texas defense can be next season, even without several big names.

Replacing senior nose tackle Poona Ford, the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, won’t be an easy task, as Ford demanded the double teams that helped allow the linebackers to roam freely.

However, the rest of the defense from the Texas Bowl returns with the exceptions of nickel back Antwuan Davis and box safety Jason Hall, so the Texas Bowl provided a positive forecast for what to expect next season.

After a year filled with ups and downs, Texas fans have something to celebrate — the school’s first bowl win in four seasons. Now the Longhorns look to turn this big win into momentum for the close of the 2018 recruiting cycle, as well as heading into spring practice.