The Longhorns defense earned an overall passing grade against Kansas State, but solid overall total defensive statistics (KSU was held more than a yard under their per play average) and some nice red zone stops belie a sloppy underbelly. I saw a number of qualitative things that bothered me during the live watch and even more on the re-watch. I'm guessing Strong saw 10X what I did.
Bill Belichick is an amazing football coach for a number of reasons, but one of the primary ones is his insight that situational football - a few plays on key downs - inordinately determine the outcome of games between closely matched opponents. As a result, he constantly drills his players, staff and himself on situational football and goes after players with some broader understanding of the big picture. Do your job, consider the larger game situation, play the defense accordingly, get off of the field. Laugh at the WR celebrating because he had a 10 yard catch on 3rd and 15.
We are not very good at this. On "normal downs" this is a very good defense. Our only real weakness is against the running game when we're in our 3-3-5. That's about it. Given a back 7 that's far from elite, that's pretty impressive.
On key situational downs when the defense should be at advantage - 3rd down & 5+ and 2nd and 8+ - we're not so impressive. That's usually a function of poor defensive calls or a lack of overall cohesion. However, in our case, it may also be that the key recognition elements of our defense - the linebackers and secondary - are either athletically, football IQ, or experientially deficient. No offense to the cornerbacks and DL, but not much rocket science is required of them beyond very basic fundamentals. Such as not trying to jump a 7 yard slant on 3rd and 14. The safeties and LBs have larger considerations.
Against KSU, the Longhorns allowed conversions on 9 of KSU's 17 third down plays. Waters was 9 of 11 for 137 yards on 3rd down. On other downs, he was 10 of 19 for 87 yards.
FIVE of those conversions came on an average of 3rd and 11. That cannot happen. A good defense allows 1 in 5 conversions on 3rd and 10+. Yet KSU's two longest plays from scrimmage - a 24 and 29 yard completion - came on 3rd and 13 and 3rd and 14 respectively. Both plays were wide open and they were the instrumental plays in two drives that combined for 10 points. There's your football game.
Duke Thomas got looksy instead of play the percentages and on the other completion our zone opened up like a New Yorker to his therapist. The other three conversions came on missed tackles, covering grass instead of receivers and misalignment from Diggs.
On normal downs, our defense handled KSU quite easily. On money downs, they crushed us. Probably why KSU had the ball for 40 minutes to our 20.
KSU also effectively stopped running their offense in the early 4th quarter.
Proud of these guys across the board. One of their best games of the year against an experienced KSU OL that really struggled to block them. Bluiett played a fundamentally sound game (7 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, great outside-in containment sack) and impressed me tremendously, Brown drew double teams on most of his snaps and Ridgeway had a sack and three tackles for loss abusing Wildcat single blocking. Cedric Reed played well (6 tackles, 2 pass break ups, drew 1 holding call) and was hugged on half of his pass rushes like my dog in a thunderstorm.
Hughes was deservedly benched after some poor containment lapses.
We stank against their running game in the 3-3-5 even though they were reluctant to run Waters. Hicks was the best of the lot and had some nice licks, Edmond had a net neutral game impact and Peter Jinkens pretty much gave up on two goal line running scores to his side and doesn't understand anything George Kennan ever wrote about containment. Cobbs and Tevin Jackson logged significant snaps, which might give you some insight into the frustration level on our sideline.
Covered in my intro. I understand that Bedford is trying to protect our safeties in a nickel scheme that needs them to be major playmakers, but Diggs and Thomas can shoulder plenty of the blame as well. They came up small on 3rd down repeatedly and we're getting murdered in situational football. If Bedford needs to review basic down & distance football with his guys, this week might be a good time to do it. Lead them through a Socratic dialogue of what 3rd and 14 means.
When a lack of depth means benching isn't a legitimate threat for expressing dissatisfaction with anyone's play, Bedford and the defensive staff better find a way to get this unit's attention however they can.