The Texas defense showed great improvement after a horrendous start (OSU's first two drives combined: 14 plays, 144 yards, 10.3 yards per play, 2 easy touchdowns) against a hyper hurry-up Cowboy offense featuring accurate passing in the middle of the field against fields of green usually reserved for cocker spaniel romps.
After their blistering start, OSU ran their next 68 plays for 251 yards at only 3.7 yards per pop, Rudolph gave up a butterfinger ball TD fumble return to Hassan Ridgeway and then threw a pick six to UT freshman CB Holton Hill. UT's defense forced three other turnovers, but only one of them was allowed on the official record. Because. Well, you know. We had a personal foul call that voided a Boyd interception and an amazing non-fumble recovery that redefined possession from 9/10ths of the law to .00004%.
OSU's last 7 drives? 27 plays for 51 yards. OSU went conservative for good reason and a revived Texas DL (read: Ridgeway) made mincemeat of the OSU running game. Gundy was too terrified to let Rudolph throw and JW Walsh was told to break a cyanide capsule hidden in his back tooth if he felt like audibling into a pass.
Then some other stuff happened. Which we're not discussing here. And OSU's offense backed into two late field goals and won the game.
There are some positives to take from this game on defense, namely that the blooding process of our young DBs and LBs is continuing (callouses and protective scar tissue forming as we speak) and Hassan Ridgeway is back. The latter point is everything for a Texas defense that sorely needs a playmaker.
Ridgeway was absolutely tremendous. Six tackles and 1.5 sacks doesn't adequately state his game impact, particularly in the second half. Aside from his 34 yard touchdown rumble, Ridgeway consistently collapsed the pocket, demanded double teams and drew plenty of holding penalties in the alternate universe in which this game was officiated by Vulcans. Fantastic game and it's great to have him back.
I can't say much for the other DTs - they certainly held up better with Ridgeway weaponized. Ford is going to make a penetration play or two a game, but also get blown out when double teamed or buried in the wash on an inside zone. Obviously, if he's double teamed and held, he'll resort to defensive holding. Work on that, Poona. Jackson will get some push and then take a three play hiatus and Boyette still eats too many carbs at breakfast. That's a pancake reference. Ridgeway is the only guy that consistently and violently controls blockers, doesn't allow them into his body and then discards them before pursuing the ball.
Shiro got a great pressure (and was also held, oh well) on the Boyd INT, but obviously our DEs just aren't going to provide much of a pass rush. Shiro is playing hard and though I'm very hard on him, I do appreciate that. Naashon continues to be one of our best players and I appreciate his overall intensity, athleticism in space and willingness to mix it up. I didn't like Cottrell's snaps one bit and Omenihu is a year or two in the weight room away from providing some real answers for us at SDE.
We played a lot more 3 LB than usual, partly in hopes of addressing our run defense and making our run fits obvious for a group of linebackers that still gets carded at R rated movies. Wheeler got his first real action and did some nice things with 5 tackles. He's raw, undersized and his head is still spinning - which was evident as the game progressed. Jinkens probably played his best game at LB, which is to say nearly adequate.
Game planning for the run prevented us from using Malik much beyond some interior blitzes and he managed only two tackles. Losing him as a playmaker outside kills our pass rush, but we just don't have other options. Cole got some snaps replacing an injured starter late.
This unit played much better, but it's still a weakness. They need to bring their blitzes with a lot more conviction, not get caught in no-man's land in play action (either add yourself to the rush or get your drop - don't loiter three yards from the LOS with your mouth agape running in place) and some poor coverage drops (do these guys understand where the seams are or what coverage we're in - probably not) and were responsible for several open OSU wide receivers on simple in routes. Jordan Hicks would have had two tips and an interception.
Everyone got to see Kris Boyd start nearly an entire game and OSU targeted him for five 3rd down conversions in single coverage. Freshmen - not a panacea. Possibly more, I stopped counting after five. Get your licks in on Boyd now because once he learns some technique, he's going to ball. He's already a pretty reliable tackler, which is impressive for a youngster facing guys with 3 or 4 years head start in the weight room. His cohort Holton Hill played some opportunistic coverage situations beautifully and exploited a bad Rudolph overthrow into an easy six. He got picked on a couple of times, too, but he's right on track. Davante Davis had a wonderful near interception which really highlighted his athleticism. It's not necessarily the crazy 40, crazy vertical athleticism we all get carried away with. It's more of the "I could pick up any sport in about an hour" variety. Guys like that make plays. I love him as a corner, but he really intrigues me as a safety.
Bonney had a really tough game and was benched. Didn't wrap up, doesn't seem to understand where his help is. I think he can still have a bright future if he'll stick with it. Those who disagree should examine the careers of Michael Huff and Mykkele Thompson.
Dylan Haines had a nice pick on another Rudolph overthrow and a good pass break up, but he also gave up quite a bit with the depth of his alignment paired with questionable breaks on the ball on several 3rd and 7 type situations. He's a lot better on the move than accelerating from stop-start. He also badly missed a tackle that he has to make on a Bonney foul up. When we blitz Dylan, I smile a little. It's not his thing. Jason Hall has really disappeared. We have to play him deep due to our CB issues and his lack of pure speed and this negates his ability to support against the run. Also, given the new targeting rules, one must wonder if the days of the 6-2, 210 pound enforcer safety are numbered.
Ugh. I feel bad for Dickson. Fourth game of American football. Pressure is on. Drops it. He feels much worse than we do. Before that play, averaging 43 yards a punt on his six other kicks with good hang time.
Daje needs to stop taking out kickoff returns when he's pinned on the far sideline in the end zone. I appreciate trying to make something happen, but it's not happening over there, amigo. The writers on BC can tackle you when there's a sideline six inches to your right and seven of us on your left. My old coach used to say the sideline is the only defender who has never been defeated and even though he was later convicted of embezzlement and used to skim our dinner money on away games, he really knew his football.
Daje was great on punt returns.
This defense took some strides on Saturday after appearing to be incapable of a step in the first quarter. Playing an offense that isn't Cal or Notre Dame is helpful and while I prefer OSU's D to their O, it was nice to see our defense make adjustments, Ridgeway healthy and for our youngsters to gain more experience, as painful as it is.
Mostly, I'm bummed for them that an excellent 3 quarter effort wasn't rewarded in the W/L column. TCU's playmakers will be a ridiculous test, but at least we're no longer doodling balloons and puppies on the scantron.