On the heels of three straight stout performances, the Longhorn defense seemed to take a step or two back against the Wildcats on Saturday night. There was plenty of good in the mix, but Texas turned in a frustraing first half against the arm of Jesse Ertz (?) alongside second-half woes versus Stevie Ray Vaughn cover band Alex Delton and the Single Wing.
Should we be sweating Saturday as a harbinger of a second-half slide for Todd Orlando’s D, or shrugging our shoulders at a one-off that our remaining opponents won’t have the personnel or will to replicate?
Probably more the second one, but there are still some fundamental elements in need of attention if we want to roll in the Cotton Bowl.
I was very pleasantly surprised with Texas’ play against the Wildcats’ “base” run offense, more or less from first whistle to final gun on Saturday. The “styles make fights” mantra led me to peg this as a loss in my (now probably dubious but technically achievable) 9-3 season prediction because I wasn’t confident that we’d take the necessary steps in disruptive D-line play and fundamental linebackin’ to contain a classic K-State ground game.
The boys in the box, led by Charles Omenihu and Malik Jefferson, proved me wrong.
I think I counted four successful run plays by the Wildcats all night with Ertz under center, a couple of which would have been stopped much shorter if not for whiffed tackles. Active play by the DL, timely edge blitzes and terrific flow from the linebackers - particularly Malik - kept K-State behind the chains on their typical diet of Power, Counter and Zone Read out of 11, 12 and even 13 personnel. Omenihu gets my D-line game ball as he made plays with his athleticism and also his power - it seemed like Orlando asked him to play more of a two-gap, stack-and-shed game at times against K-State’s slower-developing runs, and he frequently managed to shed his block late while giving Malik a clean read and path to the ball. Ford and Roach also had their moments, though both seemed to wear down as the game went on as Chris Nelson’s ankle injury disrupted the D-line rotation.
Malik’s eye-popper of the night was his run-down of Alex Barnes on a Speed Option play on 3rd and 1 where he spotted Barnes a six-yard head start, but he diagnosed and scraped well for the vast majority of the game and sported his burgeoning physicality against guards and fullbacks on several plays. Gary Johnson looked good in limited action while Wheeler was up and down. PJ Locke had a game to forget in pass coverage and botched a couple of force responsibilities, but he also knocked OL on their asses twice when setting the edge so I’ll cut him some slack.
It was a run-game effort to write home about...until the Wildcats went single-wing.
Once Ertz went down late in the third quarter, backup Alex Delton entered the game and ran the ball on ten of the Wildcats’ next fifteen plays before a last-minute possession saw Ertz re-enter to pass K-State down the field (and into the Kraken’s waiting arms). Three straight carries in the first OT period got the Wildcats in the end zone again, and things were looking bleak. Almost every carry was either a QB Counter run with a pulling guard and H-back leading across the formation, or a Power Lead thrown in as a change-up to punish trying to slant and disrupt the Counter. It was tremendously successful - Texas was consistently outnumbered at the point of attack and every little miscue, from failed edge sets to mis-timed slants to slow scrapes, was punished.
If you’re going to keep a safety deep - as Orlando did for much of Delton’s work - you’ve got to have tremendously active DL, outstanding fundamentals and plenty of power to keep that kind of attack from rolling down the field. All of those were lacking across much of the fourth quarter and OT as the D-line felt the effects of a light rotation, but Charles Omenihu came up huge in a couple of spots (ho, fuck, the hilarity of thinking he was “mostly silent”) and a timely blitz or two worked in our favor.
The good news is that we’re unlikely to see any opponents left on the slate who’ll commit to this kind of attack, though we’ll likely see a few designed gap runs from
Olivia Newton-John Baker Mayfield on Saturday and teams like TCU and West Virginia will give us a dose to see how we respond. On the whole it was a run-game effort that will serve us well down the stretch, though a return to a whole defensive line will be welcome indeed.
At some point in Monday’s edition of the BC Unplugged Podcast, I said that I didn’t feel as though run/pass conflict authored our woes against the K-State passing game. It would have been more accurate to say that “the biggest fuck-ups that pissed me off the most weren’t due to run/pass conflict.” Conflicted defenders certainly played a role in the Wildcats’ aerial success. RPO looks where the nickel/overhang guy was slow to get out against swing throws were a consistent nuisance, and our linebackers also got snookered a few times by regular ol’ play action as the Wildcat tight ends and fullbacks slipped unhindered into the hook zones for easy tosses. That kind of stuff is par for the course against K-State, and while we’ll want to drill some fundamentals there it’s not extremely worrisome going forward.
The assignment busts and player errors were another story.
The Texas secondary played with its head up its collective backside for too many snaps on Saturday, and similar antics will be punished much more ruthlessly by combinations scarier than Jesse Ertz and Dalton M.F. Schoen.
P.J. Locke completely failed to address the lone deep threat coming his way on Schoen’s long TD, and displayed atrocious fundamentals in allowing Schoen the inside to cash an easy slant for his second score of the night. Kris Boyd got got by a double move and a pump fake, surrendering a 39-yarder on one and escaping on the second by dint of an Ertz overthrow. Even our emerging lockdown man Holton Hill got Duke’d on a 3rd and long double move for a PI, and we featured confusion about who should jump routes in the flat as well as who had the fullback leaking out on 3rd and 1.
Now, it wasn’t ALL bad. John Bonney had a great game overall, Hill was stout outside of his lone hiccup, Malik had some great drops and the pass rush got home several times without ever allowing Ertz his coveted escape route up the middle.
But with a winnable game on tap this week, sorting out secondary assignments is Job One for Todd Orlando in order to send
Cyndi Lauper Baker Mayfield home with a second straight L.
The fun stuff - Sam Ehlinger and a suddenly fun Longhorn offense - tomorrow, with plenty more Hate Week love coming your way before game time.
It’s 1:30 PM, and OU still sucks.