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Texas-Oklahoma Postmortem: Defense

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The "team victory" is a sports cliche, but the win on Saturday was just that kind of trope, led by a Texas defense that dominated OU early (the first 4 Sooner possessions went for 40 yards on 17 plays), got toasted after the Sooners made some adjustments (Texas conceded 87, 75 and 67 yard drives), and then finished the game when it mattered most (final Sooner drive - 5 plays, -8 yards).  The most exciting thing about the performance is that, while the defense is still deeply flawed by traditional Texas standards, several improvements could be duplicable for future opponents.

Why?

Because it wasn't just about scheme.  It was about how individual personnel stepping up allowed us to play differently. The game provided some evidence that some key role players are getting better at their assignments.  Or that OU is really overrated. The Big 12 is a dynamic coach's league and whatever wrinkle you put on film tends to get answered within a week or three.  But there's no easy adjustment for a Texas interior DL collapsing pockets, Peter Jinkens playing like a real inside linebacker, and a jungle cat in shoulder pads wearing #46 coming off of the edge.  They took the heat off of a flawed Longhorn secondary and opposing QBs may need to operate with some fear rather than casually sling it around at will.

DL

These guys.  Where have you been?  Hassan Ridgeway has been dominating since he returned to health and vigor sometime in late September, but the most exciting thing about the Texas DL was the performance of Paul Boyette and Poona Ford inside (both in our even and odd fronts).  Ford was a consistent disruptor taking gaps and not getting washed out in the running game and Boyette collapsed the pocket on Mayfield a half dozen times while refusing to give ground on double teams.  They combined for 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.  Are they getting better or is OU's OL that soft?  Don't know.  We get to play more games and find out.  But it's something.  Maybe now they realize that playing hard, using their hands and keeping their pads low makes football fun.

Bryce Cottrell had some nice moments bringing pressure from outside and while he didn't fill up the box score and still needs to use his hands better, it's the best extended football we've seen from him to date.  I think he continues to get 40 snaps a game even when Shiro gets well.

LB

The best performance from this unit since Jordan Hicks left and Acho and Robinson before that.

Peter Jinkens played his best game as a Longhorn.  Since I tend to kick Peter around like a pinecone on a wilderness trail, he needs some love.  The final box score says 8 tackles, but he did so much more.  He was Mr Fundamental, closing beautifully, filling inside with authority and solo tackling two big OU backs half a dozen times.  Maybe Jinkens is tougher than a five foot tall blonde girl, Mr Mixon?

Jinkens' play inside allowed us to play Malik Jefferson outside on half of his snaps and the result was pleasing. Malik is the best pass rusher on the roster.  Jefferson secured two sacks (the pure "I just destroyed your OT" kind - not the Ridgeway flushed your QB into my arms variety) and he added six tackles.  Jefferson has Khalil Mack type athletic ability and the more we can play him outside standing up, the better we can address our lack of pass rushing and unleash a freaky disruptor on the backside of running plays.  Since I'm a insufferable prick, I will point out that he missed an open field tackle in the first half.

I'm a big Naashon Hughes fan and he has been the most consistent player on the D since the opener.  He's not great at anything, but he's competent at everything.  His versatility shines with Jefferson opposite him and the DL playing well as it allows him to roam, to erase RBs and TEs in the flat and generally be a pain in the ass when teams try to exploit the edges.  He led the Longhorns in tackles with 9.  I still think he has physical upside yet untapped and it's not hard to imagine him carrying 245+ without losing his hips.

At the risk of being overly optimistic, this unit goes from a liability to a major asset if 1) the interior DL continues to show and 2). Peter Jinkens continues his Jessie Armstead impression.

DB

We used Duke Thomas as a freelance disruptor in the first half, bringing him so frequently on corner blitzes that it became almost disrespectful to OU's ability to adjust.  Lincoln Riley finally dialed it in in the late 2nd quarter and the second half and made the basic adjustment of split blocking backs when OU wanted to run something downfield or hot routes and screens out of empty sets.  Those OU blitz beaters solved extra man pressure, but that became a moot point when we lined up Jefferson outside on the final drive and watched #46 treat the Sooner OT like he was an outhouse at a Insane Klown Posse concert.

DBs with a pass rush look much better than those without and while this unit is still a work in progress, we saw what they're capable of when the opposing QB is pressured, harried and generally molested.  The most encouraging thing I saw was the tackling provided by Holton Hill and D Davis outside, our ability to get actual coverage sacks and the general competitiveness with which everyone played.  The one-to-grow on moments were provided by Dylan Haines' puzzling end zone loss of the OU FB, our feeble attempt to deal with a sideline vertical (Briles will giggle when he sees that one - let's set the Corey Coleman yardage over/under at 150 right now) and Antwuan Davis forgetting what coverage he was in a few times.  Bedford and Strong are still trying to balance talented young guys who have no idea what's happening out there with more experienced veterans who know but may not be able to do anything about it.

I know the fans have easy solutions (blitz 8 men or something!) but transitional periods require patience.

Overall

Holding OU to 278 yards and 17 points is winning football.  If Texas can continue to match that standard, they'll be bowling at season's end.  Unfortunately, the Purple Wizard looms and he'll have something for us.  If we can't handle misdirection and constant run/pass conflict for our LBs and secondary, the Texas two step will be one step forward and two steps back.  Come up big against the Wildcats post-bye and the back half of the schedule gets real interesting, real fast.