Texas will be forced to adapt to playing without former superstar pitcher Blaire Luna this year. Luna graduated last spring. 

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns had the pleasure of watching pitcher Blaire Luna dominate opponents the last four years. In her time in Austin, Luna had 1,428 strikeouts and eight no-hitters, including one in last year’s postseason that sent Texas to the Women’s College World Series.

But, with Luna now an alumna, the Longhorns are going to have to fill her void at the most important position in the field.

“Fast pitch softball revolves around the pitcher,” head coach Connie Clark said. “It’s an important part of the success of the team. We have to pass that baton on.”

Texas has four pitchers on the roster this year, and even though Clark said they will give each pitcher a look in their non-conference schedule, the favorite to take on the ace role is junior Gabby Smith.

Smith has pitched in 21 games with 40 strikeouts in her collegiate career, but she worked this offseason knowing that she would have to help fill the hole left by Luna.

“This summer I wanted to get better and be the pitcher we needed,” Smith said. “I played in a league and really got some more pitching time that I didn’t really have my first two years. So that got my confidence up.”

During the fall season, Smith was able to translate her summer work into results on the field, striking out 20 batters while allowing only one hit and no runs in 13 innings pitched.

Smith said she has learned a lot from Luna during the past couple of years.

“She still lives here in Austin, and we’ll still pitch together, and she’ll give me a few pointers on spins and stuff like that,” Smith said. “She’s always been there to help me.”

The Longhorns also have sophomore Holly Kern who is the only other returning pitcher. Last year, Kern had a 7-3 record and a 2.74 earned run average in 15 games.

In addition to Smith and Kern, two freshmen round out the pitching rotation for Texas. Lauren Slattern struck out nine and gave up only four hits and no runs in 12.1 innings and Tiara Davis allowed one earned run on 10 hits in 10.1 innings this fall.

Clark said Smith has set herself apart from the rest of the group, but she’s giving the whole staff some playing time early on to see who emerges as the ace.

“We’ll be using all four of them to give them experience in a game,” Clark said. “From there, we’ll make a decision.”

While the pitching staff may be short on experience, the Longhorns do have an advantage at catcher. Senior Mandy Ogle handled the pitch-calling duties last year and — as the leader on the Texas defense — hopes she’ll be able to help the young staff develop.

“Having Ogle be able to work with the pitching staff is a big plus for us,” Clark said.

Smith admitted that it will be difficult for them to fill Luna’s hole on the field, but it’s something they’re looking forward to.

“Taking over Blaire’s spot, that’s something we’re going to embrace,” Smith said.

Junior Jackson Jeffcoat, one of the best defensive ends in the country, scored his first touchdown in his college career against West Virginia

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Jackson Jeffcoat couldn’t believe how loud Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was when he scored the first touchdown of his career as a Longhorn. It was the loudest he’d ever heard the stadium.

Fellow defensive end Alex Okafor sacked Geno Smtih inside the 5-yard line and forced a fumble. Jeffcoat recovered it in the end zone and tied the score,
21-21, in the second quarter.

“We both got glory on the same play,” Okafor said. “Normally with a sack, one guy gets the sack and the other guy has to help him celebrate. This time we could both celebrate at the same time.

It’s a drill that the two ends work on every week, and it certainly paid off.

Although Jeffcoat scored the touchdown, Okafor was named one of the Big 12 Defensive Players of the Week. He forced Smith to fumble twice and had two sacks. He also blocked a 42-yard field goal.

The two, along with the rest of the defensive line, pressured Smith throughout the game and had four total sacks. Smith was sacked four times, as many as he has been sacked in the four previous games combined.

“The way our defensive line played up front, the way we rushed the passer and things like that, was very exciting to see,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “As a coach, and again you want to talk about improving, we had to find a way to win the game, which was ultimately our failure, but there’s a lot of things to get you excited about coming to work the next day.”

Smith, a dual-threat quarterback, is very different from Oklahoma’s Landry Jones. They’ll need to put the same kind of pressure on him in order to be successful at the
Cotton Bowl Saturday.

Jeffcoat said the defensive line’s performance against West Virginia was encouraging and they will look to continue that pressure against Oklahoma.

Jones spends a lot of time in the pocket, but he struggles when he is pressured out of it. Although he has been working on having quicker feet and a better presence in the pocket, this tough defensive line will look to take advantage of that.

Okafor said it helps having a target like Jones in the backfield.

Jones, who is a senior, will look to finish his career at Oklahoma with a 3-0 record as a starting quarterback against Texas. On the other hand, Okafor, who is also a senior, is going to do his best to finish his career at Texas with a Red River Rivalry win.

“He’s just grasped the scheme so much better as he’s gotten older,” Okafor said about Jones. “The tempo is so much faster. He just makes his reads a lot quicker, and he gets the ball out of his hands a lot quicker. And that’s going to be difficult for us, especially up front, that he’s so fine-tuned with the offense.”

Oklahoma’s pass offense thrived during its rout of Texas Tech, and Jones threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns in the game that ended Oklahoma’s three-game losing streak in Lubbock.

Although Jones has gone through his ups and downs, Texas’ defensive line will need to pressure him much more than last year. The Longhorns do not want to see a repeat of last year’s 55-17 loss.

“They’ve done a good job of protecting him,” Jeffcoat said. “So it’s been hard to get back there. But like we said, our goal is to get pressure on the quarterback, and that’s what we’re going to work on and help out any way we can. We’re going to hustle, make sure we make plays.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 as: Defensive line tallies up sacks, aims to continue high pressure