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Texas Longhorns-Baylor Bears Football Postmortem: Defense/Special Teams

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A game effort on defense is wasted by special teams and the offense.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor QB Bryce Petty said it best:

I'll have to be honest with you, my head is still spinning trying to think about it. They threw so many looks at us, coverage-wise…I couldn't tell you what they did on consecutive plays.

Coverage versatility was the hallmark of the Texas effort and aside from a few all-out blitzes, the Horns managed to disguise coverage between zone and man with safeties deep for most of the game.  It was an impressive display of marrying position coaching and scheme - and that suggests an uptick in our DB coaching as a unit instead of the individual focus of the Akina regime.  Tackling in the DB unit was also first rate.

Petty went 7 of 22 for 111 yards and was sacked 3 times, but to his credit, he never turned it over and was able to hit a pair of touchdown throws against the Longhorn blitz.  The Longhorn game plan was clearly built around disrupting the Baylor passing game and it's hard to argue with the overall results.  The Texas D surrendered 21 points and less than 400 yards of offense (much of that late, Baylor averaged a subpar 4.7 yards per play overall) despite the Texas offense turning it over 3 times and the Longhorn special teams providing an easy score and a back-breaking fake punt that erased a Longhorn 3 and out. We want the defense to recover in quick change scenarios, but that's tough psychology to crack - the football equivalent of the Tim Kennedy/Yoel Romero fight.

We also showed again - as I've mentioned since the BYU game - that teams can spread us out and run inside, partly because we're schemed to protect against the deep ball and partly because the 3-3-5 puts a huge onus on our linebackers to be sure tacklers in space, adept at taking on blocks, rooting through chaff and knowing when to run blitz for a negative play without compromising gap integrity.  We don't do that well.  We even had some trouble late with the 4 man front - probably exhaustion more than anything.

DL

Good effort.  Baylor was clearly shocked at the athletic difference facing our guys and their response was to have Petty get the ball out quickly, double play side on most running plays, line up in formations that encouraged us to go to our 3 man line so that we didn't concede deep ball shots to Goodley or Cannon and wait for exhaustion/frustration to kick in. It did.  Baylor operates off of the general premise that you can never allow a free DL shot on a RB or QB so suppressed statistics were expected.  I still saw game impact.

LB

Statistically, Edmond and Hicks shined, combining for 33 tackles and 2 sacks.  The first half was particularly good. However, Baylor's three second half scoring drives on simple inside zone runs revealed a LB group that too frequently makes contact at 3 yards and lets the back get 6 or 7.  In frustration, they start to run blitz or undercut blocks hoping for a negative play and that usually results in a bigger run.  It happened repeatedly in the 3rd and early 4th quarter and though I'm sure exhaustion was a partial culprit late, it's the same thing we saw against BYU, UCLA, Kansas...now Baylor. The solution is to exclusively play 4 man DL with our DEs tasked solely with containment so our LBs have simple reads and little space to contend with, but that makes pre-snap reads in the passing game easier for the QB, puts us down a man in pass defense and robs us of some versatility in switching between man and zone on the back end.

Jinkens, Santos and Hughes all got play but none are a solution.

DB

Good effort all around.  I don't really fault Thompson or Haines much for giving up touchdowns in single coverage - those were situations in which we were overcompensating for getting slaughtered by the run and Baylor exposed us. Great tackling all around and Baylor's receivers did very little after the catch.

Thomas and Diggs played really hard and their level of physicality gets better every week.  Thomas has been lights out save one tough moment against UCLA.

Against the run, no one is going to accuse Thompson or Haines of being Calvin Pryor coming down hill and if they could it would help us immensely when we're going 3-3-5, but it's clear that they're being instructed to give nothing over the top when we're in Cover 2 or 3 - which explains the absence of Baylor's deep play action game on Saturday.

Special Teams

William Russ is doing a nice job for the most part.  And we've cleaned up coverage considerably.

The Baylor fake punt backbreaker is another example - like earlier roughing penalties - of players not doing what they're coached to do.  However, if players keep making mistakes on special teams, that's not a player problem - it's a teaching problem.  Everyone can relate to a player losing their mind - but it's like a whack-a-mole on special teams screw ups.  One thing gets addressed and another pops up.

It's decidedly not the staff's problem that Nick Rose can't kick.  You kick with the army you have.  Or something. However, it is the staff's job to factor in their decision-making that Nick Rose can't kick. 4th and 6 on the opponent 35 is a passing down.  4th and 16 means a delay of game penalty and a punt.  Yes, that's stupid and I hate that, but that's where we are.  Would Nick kick better if he didn't look like he was headed to an Erasure concert?  Phil Dawson flat top ASAP.

Conclusion

This is a pretty good defense that can be made to play in disadvantageous ways if an offense has the patience to spread us out to run inside.  As long as we're playing hard, more conventional running attacks (2 TEs or TE+FB) are no problem.  We're pretty stubborn about protecting the deep middle - understandably - and I'm interested to see if the gashing on the inside running game ever forces us out of it.

OU has the ability to run inside, but they've also shown an offense that wants to get deep as often as possible to take advantage of Trevor Knight's deep touch and a fleet receiving corps.  As long as our offense and special teams aren't performing, we're unlikely to pressure them sufficiently into abandoning a patient approach.  Just as the special teams and offense sank the defense on Saturday, our inability to put any pressure on the opponent's game planning by jumping out to a lead threatens to make this a frequent part of my post-game write ups.

Want to help a defense built around good DL talent and a cohesive secondary?  Get a lead.

Want to screw over a defense that's spotty against the run inside and gets winded?  Flounder on offense and surrender cheapies on special teams.