I'll remember this defensive effort for the rest of my life. The deceptive 27-25 score does it no justice.
The Texas defense has been rolling since the bye week, but if you told me before the game our offense would amass only 237 yards and that A&M's offense would have 18 possessions (a typical offense gets 12-13) with most of them starting around mid-field, I would have predicted a humiliating 41-7 loss.
Manny Diaz has shaped a good squad - one of the Top 5 units in college football once you adjust for strength of opponent. Despite the Texas offense's penchant for 3 and outs allowing A&M to run 82 offensive plays, we held the Aggies to 328 total yards (their lowest output of the season) at only 4 yards per play (their season average was 6.2 ypp) while turning them over four times (defense accounted for three), scoring on a Carrington Byndom pick 6 while Kenny Vaccaro's sideline interception set up another touchdown. Basically, whatever other things A&M did really well coming into the game, we held them to a season low of it.
In reviewing the game, I had trouble picking a MVP. A half dozen guys put up career type performances.
Oddly enough, we started the game allowing a 57 yard touchdown drive. A&M incorporated Tannehill in the run game and then hit Jeff Fuller for 22 yards when our deep safety couldn't show. Once we shook that score off, we settled in, and the Texas defense begin to coolly and methodically lay down a serious ass kicking - the next 7 Aggie possessions totaled 55 yards on 22 plays and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Ryan Tannehill finished the game 20 of 49 for 224 yards and 3 interceptions - a miserable stat line that reflected the beating he received from Alex Okafor and Keenan Robinson on the field.
Let's dig in.
What's an Okafor? Apparently, for knocking Aggie QBs in the dirt.
Okafor finished with a box score as deceptive as the Texas defense giving up 25 points. He had only two tackles, but he was a constant force off of the edge, particularly in the second half. I hope Mrs Matthews made some extra snacks, because her son Jake had his lunch eaten. Most crucially, several of those pressures came when we rushed only three. He's big reason this defense is turning it up to 11. Jeffcoat played very well until his injury and he was particularly strong against the run. He was playing a high level tackle and turned in a really strong performance in his 50 snaps. Reggie Wilson got a lot of play spelling him and did some nice things, but also demonstrated some growth opportunities. Wilson will definitely hit you. Witness him blowing up Aggie guard Cedric Ooogy-boogy-yea standing around the pile during a turnover. Good times.
I really like what we're doing with our DTs. Randall is the anchor - he's grabbing 80% of the game snaps at one spot and the sleeper has fully awoken - he had a big hit on Tannehill and 2 tackles for loss against the run game. The remainder of the snaps are being divvied up between Dorsey, Whaley, Jackson, Howell and they're basically being asked to play balls out for 20-35 snaps each. The result is a lot of fresh bodies and a much higher activity level, better sideline pursuit, with a pocket that's collapsing and forcing early bail outs from the QB. Dorsey made an amazing tackle for loss on Malena where he fought across two linemen with a block down on him. Play should have gone for 15 and went for -2. Overall, tough to find much fault with this DL's performance over the balance of the game.
Emmanuel Acho is going out like a legend. 16 tackles, played traffic cop for the front 7, made several presnap run fit adjustments, pressured on blitzes, and sealed his status as 1st Team All Big 12 LB and a potential All-American. Last week, I thought Keenan Robinson had his best game of the season and he topped it. Keenan is thriving in the role as a late blitzer and instead of sending him into the stone wall of an interior gap, we're delaying him, running him out to space in anticipation of a broken pocket, and he's being rewarded with punishing hits on the QB. Keenan had 5 QB Hits, 2 tackles for loss, 7 tackles overall.
We played a ton of dime and nickel - Jordan Hicks probably only saw 30 snaps.
The names Carrington and Quandre ring like a sitcom pairing.
One is tall, the other is short...
One is fancy, the other is street...
But on the corner they can't be beat!
It's....Carrington and Quandre!
(Smash cut to Carrington and Quandre wearing colorful Cosby sweaters, standing back to back with arms folded)
As well as guys like Randall, Okafor, Robinson, Acho played, it's tough not to celebrate the secondary's triumph against a prolific passing offense that took 50+ shots on them, mostly to no effect, allowing some pretty effective haymakers to be landed in interception counterpunching.
Our freshman and sophomore corners combined for 2 interceptions, 6 pass break ups (followed by "Oh, no you dinnit" TECHNO VIKING FINGER WAG), and 12 tackles. Even more impressive given that Jeff Fuller showed up to play in a way that he hadn't all year. Byndom matched his intensity and ability. The pick 6 was probably the decisive play of the game and though Fuller finished with 7 catches for 107 yards and a one TD, some of that production was against our safeties in zone coverage and he probably received total 15-20 targets. That's not a winning equation.
If you didn't notice Ryan Swope in the game, that's because Kenny Vaccaro and, to a lesser extent, our corners removed him from relevancy. Swope murders people from the slot and Vaccaro just erased him. Add in his amazing sideline full extension interception and Vaccaro has as strong an argument for Defensive MVP as 3-4 other guys. Unfortunately, Kenny's coverage abilities - often overlooked in casual analysis - will be noticed by the National Football League. He'll also test out at the combine like an animal. No way he stays unless we think we can sell him on becoming a Top 10 pick.
Gideon did do a nice job of keeping us from busting against a multiple offense, but he gave up quite a bit underneath in our zone looks and he's easy to attack on the sideline when he's in Cover 2 and our corner is expecting help. He just can't close ground laterally. He was clearly a target when they spread us out, which is a big reason why Manny put us in a dime look, rushed only 3 or 4, and layered deep coverage over man underneath. Contrast that to Muschamp's approach in '09 when we brought numbers for too long.
Very solid games from both Adrian Phillips (much more active reviewing the film than what I remembered live) and Christian Scott though Christian was saved on a couple of occasions by poorly thrown balls.
A big part of defense is trust. If you believe your DL will get there, a DB is far more likely to jump a route, give up less cushion, and focus less on his fear of becoming a Sportscenter highlight. As a DL, if you know that the DBs will play techniques to dissuade the QB from a simple three step drop and quick release - the frustrating, demotivating bane of all pass rushers - you'll sell out on every play to get there knowing that there will be the chance of a held ball and a satisfying reward for your efforts. And your LBs - the hinges between DL and DB have to be trusted that they'll clean up the garbage when your defense gets beat on a play call or someone misses a tackle.
Right now, this defense trusts their schemes and each other. And they clearly trust their Defensive Coordinator. I thought Diaz was doing some things at times earlier in the year that bordered on unsound, but he's proven that he's not married at all to any sort of specific style of defense. He rolls it out there, sees how you attack, and then starts choking off options. We basically played coverage in this game and I like that Diaz has no ego attached to his blitz-first persona.
Great game by a really enjoyable bunch of players. Watching seniors go out with pride mixed with youngsters who grow up on every play is good fun. Thoughts?