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Texas notes: Strong’s message that changed Malik Jefferson

Texas coach Charlie Strong yells during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against California Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

A defense that was on pace to be historically bad is suddenly … decent? Not that bad?

Nobody is going to compare Texas to the 1985 Chicago Bears when it comes to stopping the opponent’s offense. But since coach Charlie Strong took over as defensive coordinator, the numbers have gotten better – and the Longhorns have won three of their last four.

Strong demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and took over calling defensive signals five games ago.

“You know what, we have some really good coaches,” Strong said Monday. “It’s not me at all. I look at Vance, I look at our secondary. We weren’t playing well. He came in, we’re playing a lot better now. We’re not giving up the home runs. Guys are keeping everything in front of them.

“In every area on defense, we can improve and get better. Tackling and getting off the field is critical.”

One decision made by Strong, in particular, is appearing to make a big impact. Late in the loss at Kansas State, sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson was benched and he didn’t start against Baylor. Message sent and received. Jefferson’s lackadaisical and unproductive play has disappeared and Jefferson is again becoming an impact player.

“I’m mad at myself more than anything,” Jefferson said. “It’s a business decision that coach has to make. He has to put the best people out there, and I wasn’t producing. I started practicing harder,” Jefferson said, “and it showed up on the field and I started producing.”

Strong also installed Kris Boyd and John Bonney as the starting corner backs. The Longhorns have gone with more man-to-man coverage and has been more aggressive up front, with 19 sacks and 36 tackles for loss over the last four games.

A secondary that allowed 15 touchdown passes (five of more than 40 yards) has allowed six in the last four with none going more than 20. Saturday in Lubbock, after a first quarter that put Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes on pace to throw for more than 700 yards, Strong used 12 defensive backs and shifted to zone coverage; Mahomes finished with 367 yards and Boyd had the game-clinching interceptions.

“We’re the same players,” Bonney said. “We still have some stuff we need to fix. The defense has not been perfect.”

Foreman playing for his coach

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports talked to Texas running back D’Onta Foreman last week before working as the sideline reporter for the FS1 telecast of the Longhorns game at Texas Tech. Feldman said Foreman’s main focus is to make sure Strong is the coach next season.

“I’ve tried to block out all that talk but every time you turn the TV on, it seems like they’re talking about whether Coach Strong is gonna keep his job or not,” Foreman said. “We love him and we want to do everything we can to try and make sure they keep him here.”

November 5, 2016: University of Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball downfield for a touchdown during the Texas Tech University Red Raider's 45-37 loss to the University of Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX. (Photo by Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire)

November 5, 2016: University of Texas running back D’Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball downfield for a touchdown during the Texas Tech University Red Raider’s 45-37 loss to the University of Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX. (Photo by Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire)

Foreman is averaging 180.8 yards rushing per game. The Longhorns’ final three opponents and the average rushing yards they’re allowing: West Virginia (148.3), Kansas (224.2) and TCU (148.2). If Texas plays in a bowl game, Foreman has a chance of breaking Ricky Williams’ single-season record of 2,124 rushing yards set in 1998.

“When the season starts some guys start to play well and that’s what happened with him,” Strong said of Foreman. “We lost Chris Warren early and (Foreman) had had to shoulder the load and he’s done a really good job of doing it. He works really hard and comes prepared to play each and every week. He plays so hard and he’s been able to keep himself injury free but he’s a guy who’s very physical and he has enough speed to outrun people.”

Short horns

  • With West Virginia bringing a No. 11 ranking to Austin, Charlie Strong has a chance to win his fifth consecutive game against an opponent ranked 12th or higher in the Associated Press poll.
  • Texas had a season-high 658 yards in total offense against Texas Tech. That’s the sixth-best total in school history. Texas has gone over 500 yards six times this season, tying the school record for 500-yard games in a season (also 2005, 2009). In the last two seasons, UT went over 500 yards three times.
  • Senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes needs 48 rushing yards to have 1,000 in his career. He would join Colt McCoy and Vince Young as the only Texas QBs with 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a career.

End quote

Texas freshman quarterback Shane Buechele on D’Onta Foreman’s performance against Texas Tech:

“He’s done an amazing job. He kind of had a silent 341 yards if that can happen. Everything he does, he does well.”

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