Desmond does work.
The Texas defense would like an opponent with more talent, but less homework. New Mexico forced some early indecision on the edge of our defense that resulted in frustrating 3rd and long conversions and endless Lobo possessions ultimately as pointless as any Dave Matthews song. Eventually, talent won out as the Longhorns acclimated to the rhythms of option football, remembered that they could set the LOS and that this isn't rugby, and Diaz's defense posted a shutout victory that left everyone wondering - is there anything to be learned from this?
We played the run defense equivalent of bend-but-don't-break, rarely outnumbering New Mexico at the LOS and basically disallowing them from having any long plays in the passing game or up the middle of the field.
Consequently, New Mexico offered a Flava Flav-like effort in rocking the clock. Their first three possessions of the 1st half combined for 30 plays for 112 yards and effectively prevented the Texas offense from seeing the ball. How? Well, they were 4 of 6 on 3rd down in the 1st quarter (2 of 9 the rest of the way), though they never really got anywhere. A lot of activity for little result. Then Quandre Diggs knocked out B.R. Holbrook. Embargo lifted!
Jackson Jeffcoat was dominant, forcing turnovers, disrupting, delivering bit hits. 3 tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack provide a nice statistical snapshot. UNM pretty much avoided him.
The Lobos didn't avoid Alex Okafor. I thought New Mexico exploited him or what we were doing with him at times. I watched a half dozen instances of Okafor settling inside with no clear assignment. I'm not sure if he had the dive, an assignment swap with a LB (scrape exchange, this seemed to be the case with Edmond a couple of times, but poorly executed) or he was supposed to confuse the QB's read by neither clearly feathering or crashing, or if it was some sort of ill-advised schematic slow play? UNM had several long QB keepers exploiting this tendency, all featuring Okafor sort of hanging out inside (you couldn't call it crashing) and Texas playing 10 on 11.
I'm puzzled, mostly because I respect Okafor and Diaz. Aside from the obvious long gainers around him in Q1, check out the 5:12 mark, 2nd QTR for another example (Edmond is cut, Phillips makes a great tackle coming from the backside of the play). Also, 3rd QTR, 1:58 mark. In any event, it's pretty much the recurring play that prevented us from holding UNM to 100 yards of total offense.
At DT, Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey seemed to both best understand the imperative to create a new line of scrimmage (4 combined tfls) rather than to string out the option laterally. In reviewing the game tape, New Mexico would rather get a good initial push on your DL and cut your LBs and attack the edge so I'm not troubled by the paucity of overall tackles inside. Desmond Jackson was my interior DL MVP.
All of them had problems taking on cut blocks. Jordan Hicks stuffed the stat sheet (12 tackles, 2 tfl) and flowed to the ball well for the most part. He's really coming on as a reliable tackler. Steve Edmond thrived in single assignment reads and though he clearly can't run to the ball laterally the way Acho or Robinson could, we haven't really had a LB that stops ball carriers cold inside as he can. I like that he allows us to play some stunting games with our DTs that we were more reluctant to attempt when our presence inside wasn't as strong. All of our guys need to practice using their hands and sprawling, but Edmond most. He plays a bit high, particularly as he tires and pursues, and it's exposing him.
Demarco Cobbs showed great closing speed in some situations, but this game really isn't his bag. Expect to see him in full effect over our next three contests.
New Mexico was 6 of 16 for 35 yards and an interception and it's pretty clear that we weren't going to lose in the passing game given their personnel. Props to our corners for playing the pass honestly despite the option pressure and not getting suckered on a freebie. They also got a surprising amount of help over the top as Diaz called a very conservative game plan.
As for the run game, my first viewing of the tape made me think they had a number of slip ups, but the more I watched, the constant recurring issue was in how we played the QB keeper in option and, in fact, guys like Adrian Phillips on the backside of the play, who clearly didn't have the QB unless we're running some pretty odd assignments, were pretty heroic in making tackles that would have prevented long gains. I thought both he and Vaccaro were quite stout supporting the run. Good game overall.
I raved about our kickoff coverage last week and the good news is that it's going to be duplicable all year long so long as Nick Rose keeps getting fantastic hang-time, placement, and depth. Dalton Santos, Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson, and Josh Turner continue to sprint down there like someone owes them money. Santos is going to kill somebody.
The punt game was also rewarding. Diggs exhibited great lower body strength and balance on his long punt return despite not a single member of the return team managing to get a block and our punt block brought back some good memories of our normal standard there. We outnumbered them 4 to 3 and an inside twist from the backside distracted their right upback enough for Mykkele Thompson to sprint right by him and get a textbook block.
Tough to complain about a goose egg along with two forced turnovers and 12 tackles for loss and dominant special teams, but this defense is still far from having played their best ball. Diaz basically made a bet that New Mexico couldn't score on us unless we busted a pass coverage or they broke a long run against a 8-9 man box. Though that may have disappointed those who wanted to man up outside and try to utterly dominate, Diaz collected at the bettor's window when it was all said and done.
Onward to Oxford...