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Texas-Iowa State Post Mortem: Defense/Special Teams

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Boo! Boooo! Booooo! I'm pretty sure the Iowa St fans booed the goalposts at halftime. They were eventually placated with promises of a Roseanne festival at the Student Union and increased ethanol stipends. I'm not sure why the good people of Iowa were so aggrieved, but I've seen very few 34-0 halftime scores attributable to officiating. They handed the game to us early. Are we supposed to politely refuse?

Props to Mack Brown and Manny Diaz for playing back ups and freshmen so early in the 2nd half, even if it led to some choppy play and some points down the stretch. At one point, we had nine freshmen on the field on defense. Those reps are great for our future and team morale. Hope it tides them over 'til Kansas.

Manny Diaz defended the Iowa State offense based on these truths:

1. Iowa State's big play potential flows from Steele Jantz's improvisation. Steele Jantz's Improvisation is also the name of my techno-synth Experience Collaborative and our first album, Vulva Bingo Riot, comes out this February. It's a re-imagining of the Mandrell Sisters.

2. Iowa State likes to turn it over, get a penalty, or shoot itself in the foot when asked to string together a 80 yard drive.

3. Iowa State's running game, while annoying, can't beat you. It also requires Jantz to take quite a few hits to give them numbers.

Armed with those facts, Diaz decided he'd play coverage heavy, create blitz tempo when required, and eliminate any chance for ISU to manufacture an easy score. We played a stubborn base nickel with six in the box, contained, blitzed situationally, and eliminated what they wanted to do downfield.

Viscerally, people hate this approach to football - even when it's prudent. We all fetishize stopping the run. To be victimized by a 11 yard run is perceived as much worse than a 11 yard pass. I'm right there with you. Yet, at a certain level, yards are yards are yards. The running game becomes a concern when you can't stop it inside the red zone, on expected running downs, or when you bring numbers. That's when you need to be worried. But I'll concede 5 yards per carry to a spread passing team if I know I can completely destroy their passing game, turn them over, and hit their QB.

Fans love sacks (see pre-game media angst). People love defense played on the other side of the ball.

In short, we really like Texas A&M's defense. The Aggies have 18 sacks right now and are ranked first in the nation. LB Sean Porter has more sacks (5.5) than our entire defense. They bring constant pressure and get tons of hits on the QB.

And they suck. They can't defend the pass, their run defense statistics are a deception, and they can't get people off of the field on 3rd down.

Defense is about choosing your battles when you don't have the personnel to impose your will. Diaz made some bets on what ISU can't do and dared them to prove him wrong.

Here's the report card that matters when the game was being played 1s on 1s:

1st team defense: 53 plays allowing 192 yards and 3.6 yards per play with 0 points. Forced two turnovers leading to 10 offensive points in the 1st quarter. For the game, ISU had a miserable 25% conversion rate on 3rd and 4th down. Jantz was 28 of 51 for a feeble 251 (12 0f 22 for 92 in the 1t half; 16 of 29 for 159 in the 2nd half) with a long pass play of...wait for it...19 yards. ISU scored its 14 points against 2nd and 3rd teamers, all in the 4th quarter.

When we play OU, we'll have a different plan. Landry Jones ain't running option or single wing stuff.

Our philosophy in this game had a substantial impact on unit evaluations.

DB

I'm starting with the DBs because they played the best football of any of our units. Blake Gideon was a big reason why. Gideon had his best game as a Longhorn. 8 tackles (7 solo), had a nice interception that was a tougher play than it seemed real time, and had a hustle sack on a safety blitz. He was active all game, in every aspect, and did it on every snap. If Blake brings it like this the rest of the season, we've got the best secondary in the league.

Kenny Vaccaro was right there with him with good coverage, 6 tackles, his own safety blitz sack, and 2 TFL. To date, our Defensive MVP. I continue to be in awe of the development of Carrington Byndom, Adrian Phillips, and Quandre Diggs and though the next two weeks will be a learning process for all three, I feel much better about it than pre-season. Byndom drew two holding calls, had two pass break ups, five tackles and was stout in coverage (probably our best coverage corner) and Diggs was diggy. Adrian Phillips is one of the best open field tacklers on the team and had a fantastic pass break up hit on Hammerschmidt on a key 4th and 4.

Christian Scott gave some capable snaps before going out with a wrist injury. Nice safety blitz QB hit. Not sure of his status.

The youngsters - Evans, Turner, Scott, Thompson played about 35 snaps and acquitted themselves OK considering the garbage time context. Leroy Scott probably has the most growth required and that's probably what you want in a true freshman 3rd teamer.

Live bullets in Dallas........

LB

Hicks went out in the early 3rd with an injury but looks to be OK. Acho filled up the stat sheet with 8 tackles, 2 TFL and a sack, but he and Robinson were true to their preseason scout. Just not ideally suited to the inside play required of a 4-2-5 alignment. That commentary will repeat weekly. Rinse, wash, repeat. Acho at his worst: see 10:53 in the 1st quarter. Gets caught up on the guard, doesn't keep a shoulder free, and peeks into the backfield. Passive, flat-footed. Also, a Pass Interference that was an obvious flag. Keenan Robinson had a really nice forced fumble. Encouraged by the snaps from Steve Edmond, some of them in prime time, and he responded with 6 solo tackles. Ball carriers continue to go backwards when he finds them. I hope Steve can trade out some weight and stay under 260 because as strong as he is, his instincts are what makes him great. Nice to see some play from Tevin Jackson and Aaron Benson as well.

As much as people are dreading OU and OSU for the pressure that their QBs and WRs can exert on the defense, the absence of a running QB to apply pressure in the running game will make our LB's lives and run fits considerably more simple.

DL

Evaluate any and all performance within the context of containment on Jantz, Diaz's refusal to aid them with numbers to shut down the running game, and ISU having a pretty solid run blocking OL. So long as ISU was willing to use Jantz in the running game, they were going to out leverage us some. I'd like to see us make more tackles for loss and I'm a bit disappointed that our DEs can't force more pressure even within a contain philosophy (why is Jeffcoat moving so poorly this year?), but the pieces are what they are. Jantz is pretty damn elusive and fast and it was clear that his speed and athleticism gave us fits in closing out plays. RGIII should be a real treat.

Special Teams

A fantastic punt block by Mykkele Thompson returned by Josh Turner for a touchdown that broke the game wide open can't obscure my feeling of dread for our return teams. Huck has us rated 100 and 103 on kickoff return and coverage nationally and those hidden yards will slit our throat down the next stretch. The compromise to Tucker's lack of leg seems now to be a hang time pooch that the opposing team catches on the 15 and returns to the 30-35 yard line. Our own kick returns are a titanic struggle to find the 25 yard line. Our adjusted net punt is 48th in the country, so it's hard to hold out much hope for hidden yards here.

Tucker was 3 of 4 on field goals. S'alright.

Unless we can block a kick, special teams are net negative going forward.

Overall

We have a pretty clear record over four games: we won't give you easy scores, you want no part of us on 3rd and long, we buckle down in the red zone, and if you want to throw us the ball, we'll catch it. We're not particularly distinguished against the run and teams have a hard time getting downfield in the passing game. Those things don't sound all that impressive, but they add up to a top quintile FBS defense that's only going to get better.

Time for Texas-OU. We'll find out what this defense is about against an elite WR corps and quality QB. The lack of a run threat QB is welcome news for this defense and a blessing that we should be able to parlay into some pretty exotic and interesting blitz looks. Let's see how our youngsters do when the snot starts flying.