Defensive/Special Teams Report Card: San Jose State
The Texas Longhorns throttled the San Jose Spartans 56-0 on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium to give Tom Herman his first win as head coach at Texas. Let’s take a look at how the Texas defense and special teams graded in shutout win.
The entire defensive line held the point of attack well. Unlike last week, the linebackers were able to make the plays that the defensive line was opening up. Poona Ford had a very solid game and was a constant presence in the San Jose State backfield. Chris Nelson and Malcolm Roach had good games at the end positions, but both still need to work on not letting the QB break containment. Roach has still yet to record a sack this season, but his biggest improvement has been playing the run well.
Behind the starting 3, Charles Omenihu had another quality game and junior college transfer Jamari Chisholm had a tackle for loss. Texas will need Omenihu, Chisholm and freshman Ta’quon Graham to continue to develop and give the defense 10-15 quality snaps as they face more high powered offenses in the future.
After receiving a D- grade a week ago, the entire linebacker unit took a step forward in week 2. A lot of the improvements seen can be chalked up to overall better fundamentals, but some of it was going against a San Jose State offense that was way in over its head. Malik Jefferson played perhaps his best game in nearly 2 years. His 4th and 1 stop is the perfect example of not thinking too much and just using his athleticism to make plays. Jefferson was credited with 7 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Anthony Wheeler also did a much better job of plugging run holes and finished the game with 5 tackles.
The most pleasant surprise of the game was the play of junior college transfer Gary Johnson. After only playing on special teams in week 1, Johnson flashed several times on Saturday. He had a tackle for loss his first possession and was all over the field when defending the run. Texas went with a 4-2-5 look on multiple occasions, with Johnson and Jefferson manning the two linebacker spots. The duo allows Texas to get the two most athletic linebackers on the roster in the game at the same time. Naashon Hughes had a very quiet game, but did his job and does not seem in danger of losing his starting spot.
Breckyn Hager and Jeff McCulloch did not get many opportunities to pin their ears back and rush the passer. San Jose State only had 52 total plays and Texas was not forced to go to their primary pass rush package as often as week 1. Hager and McCulloch will both play big roles going forward in helping slow down the passing attacks of USC and big 12 opponents.
Texas was lucky that Bailey Gaither did not bring his hands to Austin. Twice Gaither got behind the defensive backs and could have scored. Both times the ball hit off his finger tips. Brandon Jones and Kris Boyd continue to vulnerable against pump fakes. Jones showed improvements in taking better angles and helping out in run support, but must improve on providing good pass coverage over the top. Deshon Elliott looked a lot better than he did week 1. Elliott seemed play under control and understood what he was doing in coverage.
Holton Hill has been the best defensive player on the roster through 2 weeks of play. Hill added another interception returned for a touchdown, giving him 3 for his career. It’s safe to say that Hill has rebounded from whatever off the field problems he had in 2016. One player I would like to see more of his Jason Hall. The senior safety forced a fumble on special teams and has extensive starting experience. Hall may not have the speed and athleticism that Jones and Elliott posses, but he has a history of defending the run game solidly.
Hill’s pick 6 and shutting out a team benefited the defensive back’s grade, but the performance was not as good as it seemed on paper. Cornerbacks coach Jason Washington and safeties coach Craig Naviar need to find out what is still confusing their position groups, and get it quickly corrected. Facing Sam Darnold, Jesse Ertz, Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph in 4 of the next 5 games is not a good recipe for success if you can not defend the pass.
Through 2 games, Texas is 0-3 on field goal attempts. Kicker Joshua Rowland missed his only attempt on Saturday, a 42-yarder that went wide right. The blocking looked more solid on field goals and Rowland seemed to get more air under the ball, but overall Texas may just have to start going it if a field goal attempt is greater than 40 yards.
Armanti Foreman muffed his first punt return of the game, but fortunately Texas recovered the muff. Reggie Hemphill Mapps is the more talented punt returner and will see the bulk of the returns going forward.
Tom Herman was quick to point out in his postgame press conference that the kickoff coverage has to improve. Bailey Gaither had a 39 yard return and it is the second week in a row where coverage problems have arisen on kickoffs. A more talented returner is going to take one all the way back if Texas can not fix the gaping holes they are allowing blockers to create. It is not good when your kicker is credited with a tackle in a game.
Michael Dickson averaged 45 yards on 3 punt attempts and is weapon that Texas will have if they get into a field position battle in a game down the road.