Any time you surrender 50 points at home, you've got plenty of Bad to break down. But while the bad illustrates some of the key themes we've discussed this week - hell, most of this season - the good reminds us that hope can be found in the simplest of things.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way.
LonghornScott raised a really interesting notion about our linebackers basing their run fits off the backs rather than assigned gaps, and this play might be a great example of that taking place. Well, a horrible example, but you know what I mean. Tied at 21 in the early second quarter (ugh), we've got our standard six-man front facing an in-line TE along with Florence and a back in the backfield. A receiver is coming across pre-snap in jet sweep motion, and Vaccaro is trailing.
At the snap, we're slanting three of our DL towards the boundary with Okafor staying home to the field side. This naturally opens up a pretty sizeable hole in the DL, but it's the kind of action that worked very well for us against OSU and WVU...when we had a LB aggressively filling/firing into said hole. On this play, however, it looks like both our LBs are following the back's motion (with the sweeper becoming the ‘back' at the mesh point). Thompson is playside and keeping outside leverage, Edmond is backside and starting to pursue with inside leverage, and with a slant happening to boot we've got ol' #23 dead to rights.
Unfortunately, ol' #23 doesn't have the damn ball. Ol' #12 does on a QB keeper, and apparently there's been no effort to even read the handoff by Edmond. Florence is on the move, and Okafor has a whole shit-ton of real estate to cover with a blocker in his face to boot.
He's trying his best...
...but no one is going to make that play very often. Florence is in the clear, and ends up gaining 24 thanks in no small part to some fairly lax pursuit from Edmond after he finally figured out where the ball was. If this is an example of the pursuit rule that Scott was talking about, it's also a great example of his point that it can be really dangerous when the QB is a threat to keep and go against the grain of the pursuit. It just doesn't seem like a pursuit rule that can exist in conjunction with antics from your defensive front. But don't worry - there's worse yet to come.
Tied at 28 in the second quarter, Texas is facing a Baylor set with three receivers and an H-back in the backfield along with Florence and Salubi. We've got a four-man front with Reed and Okafor as stand-up ends and Thompson/Edmond backing the line. We've got six defenders for seven potential gaps (factoring in one the H-back could create) but a slot player could force that outside D gap, so we're not in any real trouble alignment-wise.
SURPRISE!!! We're stunting! Okafor is looping inside (or trying to, as by this point the guard was just waiting on a stunt and has stepped out to wall him off) while Brandon Moore is fighting for that outside C gap. Edmond is sitting still and reading, likely staying inside as the H-back is coming upfield inside the tackle. Kendall Thompson has apparently taken it upon himself to help his buddy out, as he's firing into that same B gap that Edmond should be manning (almost certainly not his decision - he's on the move so quickly that this almost had to be by design). We'll sure be in good shape if the back tries to go that way!
But lo and behold! While Salubi is no great shakes as a runner, he's still a D1 back and can recognize a massive cutback opportunity when he sees one. He's already on the move to the field-side C gap, which is now only being protected by a 300-pound DT trying to work outside against opposition. How's this going to work out?
It's going to work out with the back breaking free around the corner for eight easy yards! (And it took a pretty good pursuit from Edmond to hold him to that). This one is so baffling that I can't decide whether this was a massive assignment bust by Thompson or a simply insane scheme, but the speed with which Thompson moved makes me think he was moving on assignment. You think the C gap - particularly on the side with a single receiver split waaaaaay wide - is legitimately covered by having a 300-pound DT stunt out towards it? Seriously? Well, you can wish in one hand, shit in the other and sit this play design on the desk in front of you and you know what you'll have? A wish and two pieces of shit. While this play only went for eight, this was one of the most indefensible calls of the night - it just shows zero marriage between your front and the rest of the defense.
OK, changed my mind - THIS is the most indefensible stunt of the night. Late third quarter, we're working hard to hold on to a nine-point lead. We're worried about the pass first, facing a four-wide alignment with five in the box (and that's counting Cobbs as one of the five). We've got six gaps to defend with five in the box and two running threats in the backfield - that's got to mean at least SOME effort to protect a LB who can charitably be described as not the stoutest run defender, yes?
HAHAHAHA WRONG DOUBLE T-E STUNT, BITCHES! Reed is looping inside and Okafor is starting to do the same, and as both DT's widen out we've got a nice, fat, self-inflicted gash in the defensive front developing. Baylor's right guard, no doubt giggling to himself, is letting the tackle go where he wants and teeing himself up to cut off Okafor's inside motion yet again. Meanwhile, the Baylor center has almost fallen down due to the unexpected lack of resistance up front, but he'll right himself in a moment.
Yup, good ol' #76 is back on his feet and on his way to blast Cobbs, who shockingly hasn't filled that gap with aggression. And by 'shockingly', I mean 'in no way, shape or form shockingly'. Okafor has made a heroic effort to avoid getting cut off by running underneath the guard into the backfield, but with the back's forward momentum he's a dead soldier on this one. Turns out Baylor's left guard is no dummy, either, and he's taking a well-practiced step out to cut off Reed while our DTs might as well be heading into the stands to grab a Lemon Chill.
Now Cobbs is done, and Vaccaro is proving that too much run-pass conflict can catch up to even the savviest defenders as he's not even aware that a run is happening yet. Reed is fighting his hardest to save the day...
...but it's not enough as the back is off on his way to a 26-yard gain (I'll spare you Byndom's grab-ass tackle attempt on the back end of this thing). I seriously couldn't imagine asking 1965 Tommy Nobis pumped full of 2012 horse steroids to consistently win as the lone linebacker with these kinds of shenanigans from his defensive front - and we're asking COBBS to do it? On second and four, when only a madman would possibly consider running the ball? This is an utterly, totally mindless call that likely should never have made it into the playbook to begin with and should damn sure have been yanked out and burned about four games ago.
Pretty bleak stuff, yes? Well, take heart, Longhorn fans - there's some insider word that we may be going to a much more play-it-straight approach against Kansas this week. And you know what? WE CAN PLAY THAT WAY. Take a look:
We're up seven in the second quarter and have a bit of a sub-package working, with Dalton Santos and
Tevin Jackson Peter Jenkins as the LBs in a six-man front. They're facing an in-line TE with Florence and a back in the backfield, while the receivers are lined up in trips to the left.
At the snap, we're pretty much keeping to our lanes. Des Jackson is the top DT, and he's being forced to his knees by a double team but still working. Dorsey is getting some penetration below, while the ends are pretty much holding their ground. Jackson is reading the TE at the bottom, and Santos is seeing a pretty easy read develop in front of him as there's an A gap in need of filling.
And Santos is on his way. It's not a Spidey-sense reaction, but it's not bad considering the QB is a threat on a keeper. The Center is trying to work towards him, but since he had to deal with a hard-charging DT in the opposite A-gap for a change, he's late coming off that double team to get to the second level. Dorsey's penetration has pretty much committed the back to a single direction, so now it's a matter of who can win in the A gap.
Santos is doing a pretty good job on the engage, with his playside shoulder more or less free. The back actually starts making a move towards the top, but Des Jackson has kept working hard and is now penetrating since the center came off of him.
It turns out that the back's little topside move influenced Santos, and now he's moved that way and allowed the center to get in better position...but that move also brought him right into Des Jackson's clutches as #99 has fought hard to maintain a presence in his gap.
And that's the back going down in a pile after Jackson grabbed his foot. Santos held his ground, and Reed has fought across to join the party as well. Could this whole ‘relying on your most talented unit to make plays for you' thing have legs?
Let's try it again and see! With nine minutes left in the third, we're looking at first and ten with an H-back, Florence and a back in the backfield. It's our standard 6-man front with Okafor and Reed standing up on the ends.
I'm honestly not sure if we're seeing a stunt from the boundary T-E pair of Reed and Malcom Brown or if Reed was just holding his ground and starting to read this. Regardless, we've got Brandon Moore standing strong against a double team on the other side and in a good position to squeeze things down, with Okafor up top in the C gap and both LBs ready to read and fill. Vaccaro is also in the boundary slot with his eyes in the backfield, so even if Reed is stunting someone has force responsibility on that C gap.
This kind of looks like functional run defense! There's a mess in the middle as Moore is coming free - one of the double teamers abandoned him to get to the second level on Edmond, but that leaves him in good position to shut down the middle. The pulling G and H-back could make trouble if this bounces outside, but Thompson is reading and at least in position to get out and force things if the back goes that way.
But the back takes it straight upfield, and runs into one hell of a mess.
THIS is how you like to see a run play end up - a DL around the back's legs and two linebackers laying on top of him.
We played really, really good run defense when we played it straight against Baylor - and we also managed a sack, an INT and two TFLs while surrendering just over five yards per PASS attempt. To be sure, we also had our struggles when 'playing it straight' against OSU and WVU, so I'm not suggesting that we've simply been running ourselves out of being the 1983 Longhorn defense reborn, but things just work a LOT better when we play our LBs and DL as a unit.
Here's the bottom line for our defense this season. We've got a DL that can really, truly make plays for us if we let them, with a demonstrated ability to penetrate and create pass rush pressure simply by PLAYING FOOTBALL - no stunting required. We've got linebackers that have a long way to go, but who have some physical ability and who can make plays if we give them some simple reads and actually protect them with our front. And we've got a secondary with its own set of ups and downs, but with the potential to hold its own and even erase some mistakes from the front seven (particularly if we're able to keep Vaccaro in the middle of the field).
And we've got an offense that can win games.
There was a quote from a Sports Illustrated article back in 1995 about the famous ‘Road Hole' at St. Andrews - reputed to be the toughest par four in major golf (or just about anywhere, for that matter). The author spent a week there and kept trying to par the thing, but its absolutely devilish layout kept landing him in double-bogey territory or worse. During the course of the week, he was also searching for a wise old caddy who supposedly knew the secret to taming the beast. After trying every tricky, risky, hard-to-pull-off shot he could think of, he finally found that caddy in a pub and asked for the secret to bagging golf's toughest par. The caddy said, "If you play it for a four, you'll make a seven. But if you play it for a five, you might just get a four."
We've got a defense whose parts may not add up to all we'd hoped for at the start of the season, but we've been trying to scheme our way to an A grade defense and gotten a D-minus for our efforts. If we can get back to basics, trust our players and scheme for a C, we might just get a B.
And a B on D could still help this season turn into something to be proud of.