When No. 22 Texas takes the field at Oklahoma State in its Big 12 Conference opener Saturday, the Longhorns will face the kind of passing attack that fried, dried and laid to the side its secondary in its previous game.
Cal and veteran quarterback Davis Webb produced 396 yards and four touchdowns in a 50-43 decision. The Cowboys’ Mason Rudolph is third in the Big 12 in passing and in his last two games has thrown for 819 yards on 91 pass attempts.
In the aftermath of his team’s first loss, Texas coach Charlie Strong hinted at defensive changes. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has kept his job and his responsibilities but the Longhorns used their bye week to make adjustments.
“I’ve coached defense,” Strong said. “I know defense. I know how to stop people. That’s why it’s on me also. I needed to get involved. That’s why it was just so key and so important that we just sat down and just (did) a self-evaluation. Just look at yourself. Just check your ego at the door. Some guys, you’re going to get your feelings hurt, but it is what it is right now, and we’ve got to get it better.”
There was confusion in the Longhorns’ secondary against Cal; defensive signals were coming in late and the players were out of position for some of the Bears’ big plays.
Strong also hinted at some personnel changes. And that mystery was enhanced as no depth chart was included in the weekly game notes made available to the media. (No doubt Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh approves of deep-sixing the two-deep.)
“I’ve got some guys,” Strong said. “You’ll get a chance to see them. It’ll be fun watching them.”
After the season opener, Strong pushed for more playing time for sophomore Breckyn Hager and freshman Malcolm Roach. They play the “fox” position, which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. For Oklahoma State, expect to see increased playing time for freshman defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, freshman safety Brandon James along with sophomore safety DeShon Elliott and sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd.
The Longhorns are among the national leaders in sacks (12th with 3.67 per game) and tackles for loss (25th with 7.7 per game) but are in the middle of the Big 12’s top defensive categories except for passing efficiency defense. That is woefully deficient – Texas is last in the conference in that category.
Strong is turning to talented but inexperienced players to solve the pass defense problems. Rudolph and Oklahoma State’s talented receivers will provide a challenging test.
“We have made some adjustments,” Strong said. “It’s about personnel and tweaking it. It’s about putting guys in position where they can be successful.”
No Perkins, no problem
In Strong’s first two seasons at Texas, missing a player like Kent Perkins for an important conference road opener would set off alarms. Perkins is suspended for one game following his arrest last week on suspicion of DWI.
Perkins’ 26 starts are the most on the UT roster and losing a veteran on a unit that entered the season with question marks would typically cause concern but Strong appears confident in the O-line depth. Perkins’ spot at guard will likely be manned by junior Brandon Hodges (starting for Perkins) sophomore reserves Alex Anderson and Jake McMillon.
“We have enough bodies now, and enough good players that we can put in his place,” Strong said.
Why not Texas?
With conference play starting and the Big 12 apparently up for grabs, Strong doesn’t shy away from the fact that Texas has a good chance to finish on top. That’s what he’s telling the Longhorns.
“I said to them, ‘Why not us?’ Look at what we have,” he said. “We’re a very talented football team. We can make the excuse of being young, but that’s no excuse. Just go play hard; you’re very talented, it’s just a matter of us stepping out of our comfort zone. We are the fastest, most physical team in college football. Let’s go prove it.”
Texas leads the series with Oklahoma State, 24-6. In an odd twist, the road team has won the last seven meetings. Since the Big 12 started, the Longhorns are undefeated in Stillwater. UT is 16-4 in Big 12 road openers and 16-4 in conference openers.