Henry Josey

Linemen Ashton Dorsey (85) and Alex Okafor (80) celebrate a defensive stop. Texas has held its last two opponents to 28 yards on the ground.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns can run the ball. That much is clear. But can they defend it?

While Texas’ run defense has improved its national ranking over the last two weeks, the results speak more about the teams the Longhorns played.

UT held woeful Kansas to -2 yards rushing, then limited Texas Tech to 30 yards on the ground. But the lowly Jayhawks have one of the worst offenses in the country and the Red Raiders are a pass-heavy team. Sacks count against a team’s rushing yards, and Texas totaled seven sacks in those contests.

The Longhorns will have a clearer view of where their run defense stands after Saturday’s game against Missouri, though. The Tigers’ run game is second in the Big 12 behind Texas, and they are 12th in the nation with over 244 rushing yards per game.

“It’s they type of game where you want to be physical, but there’s going to be more too it than that,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “You have to be tough and physical and disciplined to stop their running game.”

Henry Josey leads the Tiger’s attack and is the top rusher in the Big 12 (127.7 yards per game). Mizzou’s quarterback, freshman James Franklin, is also a running threat and leads the team with 10 rushing touchdowns. Franklin is the No. 11 rusher in the conference and No. 81 in the nation.

The Tigers present the most dynamic run game the Longhorns have seen all season. Texas can’t simply focus on Josey, the defense must also be aware of Franklin.

“Any time a guy is in the top 100 in the country in rushing as a quarterback, and can get it done through the air, it’s one more thing you have to worry about as a defense,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “That’s going to be a stress for us this week, to contain him and keep him corralled.”

But the Longhorns are better equipped to stop the run this season than they’ve been in a while.

For several years, the defense saw nothing but passes in practice. But with the offense harkening back to the old days of power football, the defense has gotten a leg up.

“I like the fact that we are running it in practice so the defense is actually taking on the running game every day,” said head coach Mack Brown. “That wasn’t the case for three years and it was tough for our defense because they didn’t see double teams and they didn’t see power and they didn’t see pulls. These guys are getting after each other in the running game, so it will not be like we haven’t seen it.”

Still, the Longhorns haven’t seen a running attack quite like Missouri’s.

The Tigers utilize a spread offense, but balance the run and pass well. They average 11 yards more through the air than on the ground. They rely on the big play and Josey leads the country with 43 rushes of 10-plus yards.

Texas was victimized by long scoring runs against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and must limit those defensive letdowns in this game.

“When we don’t allow explosive runs, we’re generally happy at the end of the night,” Diaz said. “But they are really good at creating explosive runs. That’s a big challenge for us.”

Fortunately for Texas, the defense has improved in recent weeks and Diaz’s new scheme is finally clicking.

“We’ve gotten better an better as the year’s gone on because we’ve gotten more comfortable with how we play the run,” Diaz said. “It is hard to be unsure and aggressive at the same time. The more you get into the season and see it at game speed, by nature you get it and then you become more aggressive.”

They will need that aggression if they want to become a dominant run defense.

So could Diaz’s crew hold its own against Texas’ bruising running game?

“I know this, we are happy that we don’t play Texas,” he joked.

Missouri isn’t happy either.  

D.J. Monroe, left, watches an Angleton High football game alongside Quandre Diggs. The former high school teammates were reunited this season at Texas. (Photo Courtesy of Angleton High School journalism department)

Talk about a reunion.

Angleton High School will be well-represented at Faurot Field on Saturday when Texas visits Missouri.

Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs and tailback D.J. Monroe grew up in Angleton with Mizzou running back Henry Josey, and for the first time since 2007, all three will be playing on the same field.

Diggs and Monroe circled this game on their calendars before the season started, and with MU leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next year, this will more than likely be their only chance to play against their close friend Josey.

“I’m really excited to see him,” Monroe said. “We actually have been waiting for this. I haven’t seen him in so long, I’m going to give him a hug.”

Diggs and Josey met back during their Pop Warner days and their friendship blossomed throughout high school. When they weren’t busy throwing the pigskin around, they were taking fishing trips to the Gulf of Mexico.

Back in Angleton, there was hardly an instance when the two weren’t side by side.

“We just look at each other like brothers,” Josey said. “Me and Quandre pretty much talk every day. Growing up throughout high school, we were always together. We have a real close bond. It kind of just grew on us because we were always together.”

There was a time when Diggs would have welcomed Josey finding the end zone. After all, he was the quarterback at Angleton High, where the Wildcats used an option rushing attack. Now, the freshman corner will be looking to stop the Big 12’s leading rusher.

Make no mistake, there will definitely be some chatter between the two, and Josey will be sure to have a response should Diggs tackle him.

“I haven’t planned out what I’m going to say yet, but I will say something to him,” said Josey, laughing. “We’ll joke around, stuff like that. It won’t be anything that gets us kicked out the game.”

Diggs didn’t need to watch much tape of Josey this week, though, considering he’s been following his former running mate closely. He makes sure to catch all of Missouri’s games and keep an eye on Josey. After each game, Diggs offers a word of encouragement in a text message.

“I’ve got to keep up with my brother,” Diggs said. “He’s doing such a great job. I support him with everything he does. We both support each other. I try to watch him as much as I can.”

So far, Diggs has seen nothing but the best from his dear friend.

Josey’s four straight games with more than 100 rushing yards brought about memories of his junior season at Angleton in 2009, when he led the Wildcats to an 11-2 record and a district championship.

“It was a crazy year,” said Josey, who rushed for 1,369 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2009. “You never knew who had the ball or who was going to get the ball. Each one of us had our special thing that we could do with the ball because we were all fast.”

Yes, speed is a common theme among Angleton backs.

While Josey leads the nation with 43 runs of 10-plus yards, Monroe has the same big-play ability. He averages 7.9 yards per carry, slightly less than Josey’s 8.6 average.

“It’s the Angleton running backs, that’s just how we do it,” Monroe said. “We were a running team in high school and stuff like that we live for. We expect it.”

When asked to describe Josey’s running style, Monroe summed it up shortly.

“I call him thunder and lightening,” he said. “He can turn his speed into power.”

On Saturday, the old fishing buddies won’t be talking about who had the biggest catch. The bragging rights will come down to who wins the game.

But whatever the outcome, at least one Angleton Wildcat will be victorious.

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: Purple Daze