Mack Brown announced Monday that junior linebacker Jordan Hicks is out for the season and will apply for a medical redshirt. If that had been said five weeks ago, the future of the defense would have been a serious concern.
But a lot has changed in recent weeks.
Hicks has been out since Sept. 15 when he injured his hip during Texas’ win over Ole Miss. In his absence, the run defense struggled.
In the four games following Hicks’ injury, teams averaged 266 rushing yards per game and Texas went 2-2. But in Texas’ three most recent matchups, teams have averaged 163 rushing.
Senior defensive end Alex Okafor said he had “zero confidence” in Texas’ ability to stop the run after Texas’ loss to Oklahoma. Since then, however, he feels that things are beginning to look up.
“People forget that we had a stretch of playing maybe four top-five offenses in a row,” Okafor said. “That’s a lot to throw at our defense at once, especially when we were trying to fill the shoes of key players that we lost last year. I think we matured a lot as a defense. Everybody’s just doing their job now.”
The offenses of Texas’ recent opponents haven’t been as good as those the team faced in early conference matchups, but also the run defense has improved since Hicks’ injury and the news of his season ending doesn’t mean the Longhorns’ season is ending, too.
Before his injury, Hicks was Texas’ most experienced linebacker and had 23 total tackles in just three games. Now sophomore Kendall Thompson has stepped in for Hicks at weakside linebacker.
Although Hicks is an important leader for the defense, senior safety Kenny Vaccaro spoke to Hicks about his season ending and said it was the right thing for him, as he can apply for a medical redshirt at year’s end and get a full season of eligibility back. Hicks will again be a junior. Vaccaro said he knows Hicks has a bright future ahead of him and the struggles the defense went though early in conference play made them stronger.
“Anybody can take the easy route and win all the games and play perfect defense,” Vaccaro said. “But I think it means a lot more when you face a lot of adversity. A lot of guys back us in a corner and say we’re horrible and that Coach Diaz didn’t need to be here, but I think we got together as a team. We could have quit after OU, after we got blown out. But we got together as a team.”
Many players cited the team’s play against Oklahoma as a turning point for the defense. The Sooners had 343 rushing yards and averaged 6.7 yards per rush.
For a defense that ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 in run defense last season, this was not the kind of performance it expected. But after now-NFL linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson graduated last year, their absence was felt early this season. Since Vacarro and Okafor are
Texas’ only seniors on defense, Hicks played a significant leadership role, especially for the linebackers.
“When things happen too often you kind of get tired of it,” junior safety Adrian Phillips said. “We just made it up in our mind that we’re not going to let offenses run the ball on us. In practice we put an emphasis on everybody running to ball and hitting well and getting assisted tackles and making sure that the person with the ball doesn’t get any extra yards. It’s been working for us.”
Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: Jordan Hicks is out for season, but Horns step up run defense at end of Big 12 play