Horns have nation's best defensive end duo

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After not recording a sack in any of the Longhorns' first six games last season, Jackson Jeffcoat made eight sacks over the next seven games, including two in a 21-10 win over Cal in last year's Holiday Bowl.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns played three games before Alex Okafor recorded his first sack last year. They played six before Jackson Jeffcoat got his first one.

Don’t expect them to wait this long this season. After their short-lived drought, they ended the season with 35 combined tackles for loss and 15 sacks between them. With Okafor back for his senior season playing opposite Jeffcoat, a junior, Texas will have the best pair of defensive ends in the country.

“You never really want to listen to the hype,” Jeffcoat said. “That’s how you get beat. You take it all, like I said, with a grain of salt and then you keep working. You keep improving yourself, because there’s always things you can improve on.”

Both Jeffcoat and Okafor have been projected by many to be first-round picks in next April’s NFL Draft. Okafor, along with safety Kenny Vaccaro, the only other senior starter on the Texas defense, decided to spend one more year as a Longhorn before moving on to the NFL.

The top player at his position in the country coming out of Plano West High School, 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound Jeffcoat is now one of the best at his position in college football. And after not putting up big numbers in the beginning of the season, he made two sacks in the Longhorns’ 21-10 win over Cal in last December’s Holiday Bowl.

But according to the preseason All-Big 12 team, Jeffcoat isn’t even the best defensive end on his own team. Okafor was not only a member of that preseason all-conference squad, but he was named the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

“We know we have the God-given talent and we know we have put it on film last year,” Okafor said. “It’s just continuing that and that’s the ultimate goal — everybody wants to be the best.”

It’s hard to believe, but Jeffcoat played the final three games of last year with a pectoral injury that he had to have surgically repaired this offseason. He made three sacks over that stretch, and because he was limited in what he could do while he was hurt, Jeffcoat believes he is a better player for having played through that injury.

Wyoming has a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Brett Smith, who passed for 20 touchdowns as a freshman last year while running for 10 more scores. He found the end zone multiple times in 10 out of 13 games last year as the Cowboys won eight games for the first time since 1998.

“They have the quarterback that can run and get after it, and they have some wide receivers that can make big plays,” Jeffcoat said about Smith and his Wyoming offense. “We have to be able to contain them. We have to get out there and start strong from the beginning.”

Nebraska’s Jared Crick missed the Cornhuskers’ game against Wyoming last year, but Smith went up against TCU’s All-Mountain West defensive end Stansly Maponga, who recorded half a sack in the Horned Frogs’ 31-20 triumph over the Cowboys. But Smith has not seen a one-two pass rush punch like he’ll see in Wyoming’s season opener against Texas this weekend.

“Wyoming, they have a good offense. They have a good team,” Okafor said. “[Smith] can run. He’s a great player. It starts up front. If we don’t pressure him from the get-go and he starts getting loose on a couple runs and completes a couple passes, we’ll be in for a long game and we don’t want that to happen.”

LSU, with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery (combined 28.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in 2011), and Florida State, with Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins (combined 23 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in 2011), both have tremendous pairs of pass rushers. But they’re not as good as the one at Texas.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Defensive end duo is by far best in country