Defensive backs have short memories. That will come in handy this week.
The Longhorns don’t have any time to sulk over last week’s implosion against Oklahoma. Not with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation coming to town on Saturday.
Texas entered the OU game with the country’s seventh-best pass defense. They left the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 55. If Oklahoma and Landry Jones were good, Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden
“They’re throwing it as good as anyone in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “This offense might be better than the one we just played. This one’s the real deal.”
For the second-straight week, the Longhorns will face a top-five passing offense manned by a top flight signal-caller.
“We’re playing two Heisman candidates back to back here at quarterback,” Brown said.
The young Longhorns cornerbacks underwent a trial by fire last week against Jones and his talented group of Sooners receivers. And it won’t get any easier this week against Weeden and elite wide out Justin Blackmon. Still, sophomore starter Carrington Byndom says the secondary is up to the challenge.
“We’re ready to show that last week was just our fault in the back end and we’re going to step it up and bring our game to another level,” Byndum said. “We pride ourselves on being good in the back end. We’re just going back to basics and we’re going to play our game.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says it takes more than just a good defensive backfield to have success against the pass. It takes 11 players, from the front seven to the deep safety.
If the Longhorns want to slow down the Cowboys aerial attack, they must limit the running game first.
“Then we can squarely focus on hammering the pass, hammering the quarterback, making him unsure of his reads,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “We need to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable and that way we can force turnovers, force interceptions, force him to hold the ball. And maybe somebody can come up from behind him and slap the ball out and get a fumble.”
But to do that, Texas must find a way to pressure Weeden. It’s been a struggle this season for the Longhorns to get sacks and disrupt the quarterback’s timing.
Texas has just six sacks through five games. An inconsistent pass rush has hindered the sack totals. The onus isn’t squarely on the defensive line or front seven, though.
“When we get a great rush going, we have to have great coverage in the back end,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “And when we have great coverage in the back end, that allows us to get a great rush going. It’s a total collective effort.”
The Longhorns struggled in coverage against the Sooners, partly because of poor communication. The speed of the game also factored in. The Cowboys call plays at a blistering pace, meaning the defensive backs must be clear on their assignments against a no-huddle look.
If Texas has breakdowns in pass coverage like it did against Oklahoma, they will pay a similar price in this game.
“If you do things 85-percent right against a quarterback like this, it is punished,” Diaz said.
Blackmon and the rest of the Cowboys receivers are going to get their catches. The Longhorns understand this. Oklahoma State throws for over 431 yards per game, so the yards will come. Texas just needs to limit the explosive plays that swing momentum and put points on the board.
The Longhorns will have to tackle better than they did a week ago, though, in order to reduce OSU’s game-breakers. Blackmon is the type who can take a swing pass for six points from anywhere on the field.
“We need to tackle well once they do catch the ball,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “You can’t let a team like that get extra yardage. You can’t let them catch and run. That’s always going to be a stress for us.”
Few teams face prolific offenses like these on consecutive weeks. But the Longhorns aren’t complaining.
They’ve moved on. The last game was a forgettable one for the secondary. And they’re pretty good at wiping the slate clean.
They’ll have a shot at redemption Saturday and another chance to prove their worth against a record-setting offense.
“It’s another challenge for us and one we’re looking forward to,” Byndum said.