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Postgame Eccchhs and Woes: Longhorn Defense

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

We’re looking to launch a Postgame X’s and O’s feature on BC this season where we do some video breakdowns of that week’s biggest plays. Since Saturday was dominated by breakdowns of an entirely different nature, we thought a name change for this week would be appropriate.

We were fortunate enough to have the great Michael Jenkins of CSN stop by the BC Unplugged Podcast this week to help us sort through our emotional wreckage after D.J. Durkin and Maryland put the Rapin’ in Terrapin. In another special podcast treat, Sean Connery* stopped by briefly to offer his thoughts. When he heard that my pre-game prediction was 37-13, Texas, he offered a bit of constructive feedback:

Duly noted.

I’d opined that Texas would be stubborn on offense with 11 personnel in order to hew to Tom Herman’s preferred identity and to see what they had with Garrett Gray.

Ummm...nailed it?

I was betting on a kinda-sputtery, kinda-annoying but overall OK offensive day spent hammering a square peg into a round hole while the Longhorn D went Lord of the Flies on Piggy and kept the Terps at bay. The questionable soundness of that plan went a-glimmering fast, though, once the Longhorn defense started getting pegged on the regular.

How did an offseason of hype buoyed by notions of junior defenders on the make and Todd Orlando’s spread-stuffing pedigree result in what looked to be an encore performance by Vance Bedford And The Wrong-Way Boys?

Let us, with shuddering trepidation, count the ways.

To ease us into the horror, let’s look at a couple of early examples that had the Longhorn defense operating to spec. Active, slanting, penetrating D-linemen served as a disruptive force, preventing blockers from climbing and teeing up Longhorn linebackers to fly downhill and make plays:

But trouble was a-comin’.

Maryland soon shifted to a two-back look in the backfield (either with 20 personnel or 21 personnel with a flexed TE) and began to attack the edge. And the conundrum of a flexed-out blocking surface combined with another potential lead blocker completely befuddled Orlando’s charges. Continually unsure whether to blitz inside the flexed-out guy or play as a traditional force man, P.J. Locke turned several runs loose on the edge where Brandon Jones was subsequently found wanting in support. With backfield misdirection slowing linebacker pursuit, things got ugly:

The Terps’ outside game seemed to get into the Longhorn linebackers’ heads, and we were treated to many of the same shoddy fundamentals that have marked...most of the last seven years outside of Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond’s senior seasons. Slow diagnosis, tentative attacks, purposeless drifting and a fundamental lack of understanding of where your free hitters were - it was all on display. Mix in the occasional Diaz-ian division of the DL or assumption that a team can’t run on 3rd and 7 and you had...ugliness:

It was a tough day for Malik, an even tougher one for Anthony Wheeler and toughest of all for Gary Johnson considering that he apparently spent the game tied up in an undisclosed location.

While the Longhorn DL didn’t cover themselves in glory, they weren’t that bad - the starters were usually slanting into gaps and forcing the ball away from them, but the rest of Texas’ defenders were unequal to the task. It is noteworthy that the Terps’ two longest runs came with Gerald Wilbon and Taquon Graham subbing in on the defensive front - our depth may not be what we hoped it was.

Our rigorous quality control in the coaching room may also be up for review. Maryland was absolutely on our headsets all day, consistently running away from blitzes or pinning them inside while batting just about 1.000 on the timing of their called max-protect deep shots.

Those deep shots made for a disappointing day in pass coverage. Texas DBs were put in tough situations by poorly-timed blitzes and a couple of dubious coverage concepts, but they also did themselves no favors with some bad fundamental play in terms of understanding help and playing the ball in the air:

All in all, it added up to a first-rate goatfuck that raised plenty of questions and gave few comforting answers.

The starting DL wasn’t the problem, but if they’re that easily schemed around and taken out of the game...that is a problem.

If we didn’t get our linebacking fundamentals down from March through August, we’re looking at incremental improvement at best in the near term. Very interested to see what Gary Johnson can bring to the table at both inside spots.

Brandon Jones has the physical attributes to dominate at safety, but he can’t see the field with that level of non-physical play. P.J. Locke just needs to sort out his assignment confusion, and the Longhorn corners were put in some bad spots...but they’ll also face some scarier combinations this season than Pigrome-To-Moore.

San Jose State can be a get-right game...but discounting any opponent until we’ve got our own house in order feels like a fool’s errand.

Todd Orlando’s got some late nights ahead.