A fine defensive performance against woeful New Mexico State doesn’t guarantee the 2013 season will be a snap.
But the Texas Longhorns will take it for openers.
It wasn’t explosive or eye-opening, but the Longhorns’ defense took care of their end.
Some of the enthusiasm coming out of Saturday’s 56-7 win has to be tempered somewhat considering the quality of 0pponent, but on the other hand, this was cake when one remembers how bad these guys where at times last year.
They couldn’t tackle flies with sandpaper gloves in 2012. This defense was in the business of giving up yards and points in big chunks. It didn’t really matter who was on the other side of the ball, be it Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Oklahoma’s Damien Williams and Trey Millard, or West Virginia’s Andrew Buie, a third-stringer who ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns at DKR.
Texas was an open book. The only thing more open were those gaping holes in the defense.
If anything, this opener was encouraging. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is the first to mention “points allowed” as the most important category on a stat sheet, and Texas surrendered just seven points. The Aggies do not present a high-octane offensive attack in the mode of a Baylor or Oklahoma State — but they came in here with a plan and executed it well in the early going.
Quarterback Andrew McDonald did a nice job early of taking care of the ball and actually had Texas befuddled at times with his ability to complete short passes in traffic. The Horns were content to bend and not break for most of the night, and the missed tackles were not nearly as prevalent as a year ago. Now there were whiffs — by Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom — but in all, the Horns were quite solid. Anytime you give up only 4.1 yards per play, odds are you won in convincing fashion.
“I wanted to see our effort,” Diaz said. “Obviously, there are some things we want to clean up. When someone broke a tackle after contact, it didn’t stay broken for long.”
Texas forced seven three-and-outs and gave up only two plays of 20-plus yards. The discomfort in Longhorn Nation was more about the first-half struggles of the offense that turned it over three times than it was about a defense that gave up yards but not many points.
At one point in the second quarter, the Godzillatron scoreboard went dark. Some in the announced crowd of 99,623 were wishing the house lights would follow. But Texas eventually got around to lighting it up on both sides of the ball.
While Mack Brown would have loved to have had more than one takeaway when the game was still on the table — they finished with two, the second when Leroy Scott recovered Shiro Davis’ strip of McDonald with Texas up 49-7 — it’s difficult to argue with a unit that gave up no points and only 150 yards in the final two quarters.
Both Texas takeaways came in the second half, when the Horns forced five punts.
“Our defense played their (tails) off, ” said grateful offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, whose offense went scoreless for the first 29-plus minutes.
We didn’t see many crowd-pleasing woo hits off the edge, but Diaz was complimentary of defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, who tied his career high with seven tackles. The ends adjusted nicely to the edge running attack, and their ability to keep runners inside the numbers allowed Texas’ linebackers and defensive backs to come up and make tackles.
As debuts go, this has to counted as a solid B for the defense, considering the poor competition. It will get more difficult over the next two weeks, starting with the road opener at BYU. The Cougars opened the season with a 19-16 loss at Virginia and were limited to nine points in the second half, but it wouldn’t be wise to assume Texas will shut them down in that thin air.
BYU will bring its best, and the Horns surely understand that stifling a 1-11 team does not a season make.
They must prove it again. And again.