Defense proves key in BYU game

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Linebacker Jordan Hicks (3) tackles an offensive player from BYU. The defense kept the Longhorns in the game when the offense struggled.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas defense wasn’t going to be embarrassed again.

The Longhorns trailed Brigham Young 13-3 entering halftime on Saturday night after being picked apart for 153 yards through the air. A feeling of desperation seemed to hover above Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as the Longhorns jogged into the locker room. It was a feeling all too similar to last year’s loss against UCLA, when Texas trailed by the same score before falling apart in the second half.

However, the defense made the difference this time. Texas shut down BYU during the final two quarters as the Longhorns rallied from a 13-point deficit to beat the Cougars.

“This was the same place we were at halftime last year against UCLA,” said head coach Mack Brown. “I thought the guys played as well as they could have in the second half. The defense hung in there and stopped them.”

BYU took advantage of Texas’ focus on stopping the run and moved the ball downfield with play-action passes in the first half. The Cougars were four of eight on third-down conversions and had the Longhorns on their heels.

But after the break, Texas switched to man coverage and clamped down on third-down — BYU was 1-for-6 on conversions in the second half. Instead of giving up big chunks of yardage, the Longhorns were able to get off the field and turn the ball over to the offense, which came alive to score 10 unanswered points.

“I felt like that’s what tilted the game,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“That was probably the most disappointing thing in the first half. They were extending drives, and we extended one with a penalty, but we settled down.”

One week removed from a lackluster showing against Rice, when Texas allowed 130 rushing yards, the Longhorns shut down BYU’s ground attack and forced the visitors to abandon the running game.

“We took it personally,” Diaz said. “We weren’t satisfied with how we played last week.”

The Longhorns did not respond well to adversity last season when they were in the same position against UCLA. But things were different on Saturday night.

Senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho delivered a message to the offense in the fourth quarter with Texas behind, 16-10.

“I went into the offensive huddle and said, ‘If y’all get the lead we’re not going to give it back,’” Acho said. “We knew the offense was going to start clicking eventually.”

The Longhorns promptly marched 52 yards in eight plays for the game-winning drive, capped off by senior running back Cody Johnson’s four-yard touchdown run.

What a difference a year makes.

After Johnson’s second touchdown of the game, it was the defense’s turn to rise to the occasion.

Texas held BYU to a three-and-out on the Cougars’ next possession. The visitors had one last chance after a Longhorn punt, but freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs intercepted sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps to seal the win for Texas.

Brown said his young team grew up on Saturday night. They’ll get a chance to see just how much they’ve matured this week when they face UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Printed on September 12, 2011 as: Defense stands strong in second half