More times than not, an offense pouring on 35 points on the road and 41 points at home would be enough for a win, even in the Big 12. That, of course, hasn’t been the case for the Texas Longhorns, as an offense that’s produced more points as is has throughout any two-game stretch of the Tom Herman era was outpaced each of the previous two Saturdays due to a paltry defense.
Though Texas’ defensive woes may seem as if they’ve stretched throughout the entire season, that isn’t the case. Aside from a shootout in the Red River Showdown, Todd Orlando’s defense entered a Saturday night showdown in Stillwater two weeks ago without allowing any more than 21 points and 372 yards since the season-opener, but the wheels fell off once Texas took the field at Boone Pickens Stadium as the nation’s No. 6 team.
With starting cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Davante Davis sidelined for the first quarter for being late to a team meeting, the Texas secondary was torched to the tune of 134 yards and two touchdowns. The Longhorns allowed only 187 yards and one more scoring strike through the air throughout the final three quarters, but nevertheless, Oklahoma State’s early aerial efforts were enough to construct a 17-point, 31-14 halftime cushion.
It was a tale of two halves for the Texas defense, as the Longhorns limited the Pokes to just seven second-half points and a mere 149 yards — more than 200 yards fewer than Oklahoma State’s first-half output. But all totaled, the Cowboys amassed 502 yards of offense; eight of which came on a critical 3rd and 6 as Texas lost contain on an outside zone and Taylor Cornelius effectively ended the Longhorns’ comeback hopes with 1:31 to play.
The following Saturday came accompanied with a very similar story with No. 13 West Virginia in town.
With safety Brandon Jones out (ankle), linebacker Anthony Wheeler sidelined for the first series, Davis going down on just the second play with a shoulder and neck sprain, and defensive end Breckyn Hager suffering a dislocated elbow on the second series, Texas partook in a first-half shootout and entered the break with a narrow one-point lead, despite allowing the Mountaineers to amass 348 yards and 27 points. In similar fashion to its showing in Stillwater, the Texas defense tightened up after the break. The Longhorns limited the Mountaineers to a mere 155 yards and seven second-half points; that was until West Virginia’s game-winning, seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds, which capped with a two-point conversion in which Jeffery McCulloch lost contain of the outside and allowed Will Grier to waltz into the end zone untouched.
When it was all said and done, West Virginia’s 578 total yards was the most Texas has surrendered in 22 games under Orlando’s guidance, while the Mountaineers’ 346 yards through the air was the most allowed since USC’s 397 in 2017, and WVU’s 232 yards gained on the ground was the largest total Texas has allowed since Maryland scampered for 263 yards to spoil Herman’s debut.
Far more notably, Orlando’s defense has suddenly suffered 500-yard onslaughts in back-to-back games for the first time since his arrival after allowing an opposing offense to compile 500 yards just twice throughout the previous 20 games — each instance to high-powered Oklahoma. The same can be said for the defense’s inability to force turnovers, as the Longhorns haven’t forced a single turnover in back-to-back games for the first time since Orlando took the defensive reins.
What exactly is the issue?
It’s been a bit different in each of Texas’ two most recent outings, yet similar statistically.
Against Oklahoma State, aside from the obvious key blown coverages throughout the first quarter and on a 4th and 1 touchdown pitch that was nearly picked off by Boyd, Longhorns were largely unable to contain the outside zone, as evident on Cornelius’ game-sealing eight-yard first-down run. Missed tackles, of course, were a prevalent problem as well. The following week, in an attempt to replicate the ‘cloud’ defensive scheme Iowa State enjoyed so much success with against West Virginia, Orlando abandoned the Lighting Dime package almost entirely, removing an additional body from an already depleted secondary, and thus, was torched for 346 yards through the air. If the plan in place was to provide additional pressure and help in run support, that, too, failed, as Texas didn’t register a single sack and the tackling problems persisted as the Horns netted only three tackles for loss while Martell Pettaway and the Mountaineers rushed for 232 yards.
And, of course, the inability to get off the field on third down is largely to blame — in addition to the numerous aforementioned issues — for Oklahoma State and West Virginia enjoying 667 yards through the air and another 413 on the ground. Collectively, the Pokes and Mountaineers converted on 17-of-32 third down attempts; a 53 percent clip, which would hypothetically be bad enough for the worst effort in the country.
If you’re searching for a silver lining, the sun shines much brighter coming out of the break.
All totaled, the Longhorns allowed Oklahoma State and West Virginia to compile 1,080 yards of offense and 80 points, but only 379 of those yards and 22 of those points have come throughout the second half. But nevertheless, despite the general second-half success, the Longhorns defense has been presented with prime opportunities down the stretch in each of its past two outings, and it’s failed on each instance.
After roaring back from a 17-point halftime deficit against Oklahoma State, in which the defense allowed just one second-half touchdown, Texas trailed, 38-35, and was tasked with one more stop on 3rd and 6 to provide the offense with one more opportunity to tie or win the game. As noted, Texas misread the zone read and Cornelius tucked it away for eight yards. Most recently, with a one-touchdown lead and only 2:35 remaining, Texas’ defense allowed West Virginia’s offense to chew up 75 yards in just seven plays before, as noted, allowing Grier to waltz into the end zone for the game-winning two-point conversion.
There’s that famous saying about offense winning games and defenses winning championships.
In Texas’ case, the defense isn’t living up to its end of the bargain. The offense has done more than enough to win the game, not once but twice, but the defense hasn’t, and consequently, in back-to-back weeks, Texas has fallen from the College Football Playoff picture and now to the outside of the immediate Big 12 title landscape looking in.