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Texas-ISU Postmortem: Defense/Special Teams

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Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Longhorn defense probably played well enough to win had they received any support from the offense and were reasonable on a per play basis (4.6 yards per play allowed, largely because they prevented big plays), but they still allowed the Cyclone offense to convert an amazing 15 of 24 on 3rd down (62.5%).  You can blame the number of possessions ISU had on the Texas offense, but the length of ISU's offensive possessions is on the D.  An offense can't run 92 plays without your defense getting worked over on 3rd down.  Disturbingly, several of those 3rd down conversions came on 3rd and 7+ when the calculus should weigh heavily in the defense's favor.  Unfortunately, our weaknesses combine to prevent complexity in our coverages, we don't have a great pass rush and our limitations at safety prevent us from really rolling up on people on money downs.

The Longhorn D also gave up their now customary 100+ yard rusher (Mike Warren ran for 157 at nearly 5 yards per pop) but they were excellent at preventing big plays in the passing game from a somewhat scatter-armed Joel Lanning (19 of 37 for 188 yards, longest pass play was 22 yards) who seemed to still exhibit a knack for keeping his offense on the field with his arm and legs.

DL

They had some solid moments corralling a strong and elusive QB, but the sheer number of plays, Lanning's scrambling and ISU's OL size seemed to wear on these guys over the course of the game.  Particularly when we played 3 man fronts (sometimes with only five in the box, which makes me nuts) and they were guaranteed double teams.  Ridgeway, Boyette and Cottrell all notched sacks, Shiro Davis drew a hold but you started to see white getting displaced by red over the course of the game.  Ridgeway got shaken up on a peel back block (and later returned), Poona Ford seemed to be signaling that he was winded every time the camera panned to the defensive huddle and no one was a real difference maker.  Teams are now generally conceding that they'll double our play side DL and hope for bad run fits or a bad run blitz guess from our safeties and linebackers.  The Cyclones certainly had some success doing just that.

LB

Peter Jinkens had a great box score (9 tackles, 2 sacks) and continues to make some nice plays and Malik Jefferson made some good unblocked solo tackles, but the disposition of our LBs is pretty predictable now.  We're going to run blitz on most downs and it becomes a gap guessing game.  Half the time, we're not even run blitzing a gap, we're just occupying a man.  The run blitz takes away cushion to self-correct and reasonably talented RBs (the kind not on our roster) understand that if they can cut back or shake off an arm, the next layer of defense is a deep safety.  If we play our LBs traditionally, it's a coin flip whether they fill and read properly.  There's no good answer.   I had hoped we'd try to use Jefferson more outside with Hughes after their OU game performance, but we're back to making him a de facto ILB that we move around on clear passing downs.  Anthony Wheeler continues to get heavy play and he notched six tackles.  He has solid instincts and I like how he settles and refuses to overrun, but he's also a freshman and plays accordingly on many downs.  Timothy Cole is who he is at this point, but he got a fair amount of play with Wheeler to try to counteract the exhaustion from our starters as ISU ran 92 plays.

Naashon Hughes played well.  Very active in backside pursuit and though he's not strong enough to consistently set the edge, his quickness and aggression allowed him to make several good plays.  He finished with 7 tackles and a sack.

DB

Davante Davis' game was a useful microcosm for highlighting the frustrations and excitement of playing talented freshmen.  #9 showed great closing ability and willingness for contact as a Cover 2 corner, notching three good hits that created incompletions, had five solo tackles, a break up, an aggressive tackle for loss on a screen and played his responsibilities pretty well when Lanning started to scramble.  On the downside, he had two defensive penalties, missed an open sack on a CB blitz and allowed a few underneath 3rd down conversions.  ISU picked on Davis a bit and it was fun to watch him grow on the field.  Fellow freshman Holton Hill had a largely quiet game manning the other corner position until ISU got him late for their last touchdown.  It's pretty remarkable to consider that we're starting two true freshmen cornerbacks with a couple of limited safeties and have been acquitting ourselves fairly well.  Of course, this also partly explains some of our struggles against the run.  And Tech, Baylor and WVU loom...

Jason Hall was aggressive filling against the run for his second straight week (he hurt Warren on one tackle) but had a couple of hickeys in pass coverage.  Dylan Haines hung out in the deep middle saying "Hey, you can't throw here" and ISU nodded and shrugged.

Special Teams

Michael Dickson contributed an aggressive tackle that saved a touchdown and showed more genuine emotion than any other player during the game and he averaged over 45 yards per punt.

Daje Johnson unwisely fielded a punt inside the 10 that pinned the Longhorn offense near the end zone.  Not that it mattered.