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Texas Longhorns -Kansas Jayhawks Football Defensive Postmortem

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Hats off to the Texas defense for playing a full four quarters.  Kansas ran 18 plays for 31 yards in the 4th quarter and that's exactly what I wanted to see after the late game fades of previous weeks.  A shutout is never an easy thing to do in football - even when the other team is starting a QB intent on making the entire Texas secondary 1st Team All Big 12.  Thanks for restoring Duke's confidence, Cozart!

Kansas ran an extraordinary 82 plays without any payoff (except for 313 yards at a meager 3.8 yards per play clip and about 50 ultimately useless snaps on our end of the field) and that's a pretty extraordinary statistic.

However, how does an offense even run 82 plays when the Texas defense turns them over four times and limits big plays? One can blame the moribund Texas offense for their 3 and outs, but the real answer is third down conversions created by 3rd and short, specifically enabled by the ability of KU (now generalizable to any team) to spread us out and run inside.  KU was a surprisingly effective 9 of 19 on 3rd down - at one point 8 of 15 until the fourth quarter.  That won't fly against the big boys.  This is a recurring problem I've been pointing out since the BYU game. Take out the sacks and KU ran for 200+ yards. KU's two primary backs, Mann and Avery - a JUCO and a freshman - combined for 25 carries for 123 yards. 4.9 yards per carry.  No run longer than 20.  This wasn't a lucky break - at least from my Decided Schematic Vantage.

Scheme

Bedford showed a lot of interesting looks yesterday, but the Texas defense spent quite a bit of time against KU spread looks in a 3-3-5 personnel grouping, often featuring Naashon Hughes lined up outside or a three DL grouping of Ridgeway, Brown, Reed backed by an offset trio of LBs.  Backed by the nickel, this is an effective pass defense that protects the deep middle, covers up the short areas to prevent easy candy, protects our safeties and provides some interesting blitz options.  It's classic defense in depth.  It has a lot of positives.

Unfortunately, on 1st down, because of our LBs, it allows 3-8 yard runs with startling regularity.  Our playside DL are doubled, the backside is frozen by their QB responsibility or a jet sweep, the LBs are allowed to roam free and we repeatedly watch a free LB offer a glancing blow or a leg dive when they mysteriously float out of position instead of fill the hole.  Occasionally, the LB whiffs entirely and we pray Jason Hall tracks 'em down before 20 turns into 60.

All defensive choices are an exercise in costs and benefits.  The 3-3-5 is also responsible for disallowing KU from big plays in the passing game (our pass defense for the year has been sterling statistically - we've also faced mostly poor passing QBs), it's solid on passing downs, and it gives us some flexibility in our coverages.

Unfortunately, it also takes our optimal 4-2-5 pass rush off of the field and allows opposing offenses to wear us out with methodical drives with dives.  When we go 4-2-5, those inside runs get thrashed.  Does it expose us to much in the passing game against a real passing O?  How much is our 1st down containment defense a necessity borne from a need to protect our safeties deep or prevent WR screens?

DL

Caleb got the start when we played a 4-2-5.  In our Prospectus, we suggested that Davis would be supplanted eventually and it looks like that happened.  Bluiett played well - he has a good sense of balancing pressure with containment.  Brown and Ridge were a very effective pairing (Brown did so many little things, but made one amazing play on a screen where he pressured the QB, punched the back going by him to prevent him from a clean release and then turned back to the QB to force an incompletion) and Cedric Reed played well despite often being asked to lined up as a 5 technique and take on a double team.  Poona Ford burned his shirt (Alex Norman was out) and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out over time.  At minimum, he's a solid energy guy.  Paul Boyette is active, but he gives ground.

An A effort from this group.

LB

I'm frustrated.  We know the drill now.

In one two or three drive series in the 3rd quarter, I watched Edmond lose contain twice, miss a run blitz, stop on a run blitz with minimal contact (basically a "ooooh, he's blocking me now, I'll just watch" type effort) Cobbs blow a run blitz that should have been a 3 yard loss instead of a nice KU gain and Hughes "crash down" on the inside KU run play by taking two hard steps upfield before looping back as the RB ran through a gaping hole.  We don't need Derrick Johnson - a Dusty Renfro would do just fine.

On the positive side, all solid efforts in pass coverage, though Edmond's recovery ability against a mobile QB when placed in a short drop spy role now borders on comedy.

Hicks was the standout.  By no means a perfect game, but an amazing example of a stalking interception late on the KU tight end, a couple of nicely timed run blitzes out of the 3-3-5 to stop the inside running game and several capable tackles.

Hughes got heavy reps and showed some good and bad.  Good motor.  Not always headed the right way.  Can't recall Jinkens playing.

DB

How much of their success was bad QBing?  I suspect a good deal, but it's hard to complain when your DBs have their eyes on the QB and are confidently breaking on balls or stealing interceptions in the red zone.

Duke Thomas had a brilliant game, nabbing three picks, with one of them disallowed by a personal foul.  He got it right back.  Has to be a great boost of confidence.  He'll need it against Antwan Goodley.  He also notched a sack on a cornerback blitz that took seventeen seconds.  I may be exaggerating.

Quandre Diggs outmuscled a taller receiver for a nice end zone pick that took points off of the board and demonstrated solid aggression.

Thompson did a really nice job covering on an island when we blitzed cornerbacks and didn't allow anything over the top.  He's going to be called on heavily against Baylor in that role when we blitz.

Jason Hall continues to be our most aggressive defender in the back 7. 7 tackles overall, two of them real thumps and his normal special teams aggression penalty.  I'd rather tell the pups to dial it back then try to get it going in the first place.  Dylan Haines manned the deep 1/2 and 1/3 and had a nice timing break-up on 3rd down late.  He's a solid athlete side-to-side - can't vouch for his turn and run speed.

Overall

We'll figure out what we've really got in the next two weeks.  Until we find a happy compromise for the 3-3-5, expect opposing RBs to make hay on pretty simple stuff.  Our best hope may be an impatient Art Briles who gets tired of the slow bleed.