Texas held Kansas State to 140 yards rushing and DeShon Elliott intercepted quarterback Jesse Ertz en route to a 40-34 victory over the Wildcats in double overtime. The Longhorns currently boast the 42nd best defense amongst FBS teams and the 17th best, nationally, in rushing defense.
Let’s take a look at how Todd Orlando’s unit performed on Saturday against Bull Snyder’s Wildcats.
Texas got huge games up front from Malcolm Roach and Charles Omenihu. With Chris Nelson not registering a snap, the duo was asked to play a lot. Roach tallied 6 tackles and a sack, while Omenihu had 4 tackles with one tackle for loss. Both played very solid against the run and I continue to be impressed with the pass rush skills they are demonstrating. Poona Ford had a solid game in the middle and continues to be rock-solid up front. Gerald Wilbon and Taquon Graham saw snaps in backup roles, but there is a noticeable drop off in disruption when they are in the game.
Overall, the defensive line had a good game and did their jobs. A lot of the mistakes happened behind them. This is a completely different unit than a season ago and it has been fun to watch them become the strength of the defense.
Let’s start with the good. Malik Jefferson is playing at a very high level and is making plays all over the field. Jefferson finished with 10 tackles, and 2 tackles for loss to go along with .5 sack.
Now for the bad.
Aside from Jefferson, Texas does not have many linebackers that can cover receivers. Todd Orlando entrusted linebackers to help cover Dalton Schoen and it went poorly. After a first half of playing solidly against the run and keeping containment, it was a complete 180 in the second half. I feared coming into the game that facing a true dual-threat QB would revert the linebacker play to how they looked against Maryland, and that’s what the second half ended up looking like. Once Alex Delton entered the game, the Wildcats ran the same 2 or 3 plays to perfection over and over. Anthony Wheeler repeatedly chose wrong gaps and Naashon Hughes got sucked out of plays too often. Gary Johnson played well when he got in the game, but he needs to play more against teams who can run the ball like Kansas State.
The linebackers still have a lot of work to do, but the unit was able to get stops in the 4th quarter and overtime to help Texas pull out the W.
The secondary also took a step back on Saturday. Receivers were left wide open frequently. Kris Boyd lost time to Davante Davis in the second half, mainly due to his inability to not bite on pump fakes and not playing under control. Holton Hill played well, but even he had his moments where he got beat. The big head scratcher is PJ Locke. Locke played similarly to the linebackers in the second half and had a tough time defending the run. In pass coverage, Locke was burned by Schoen several times.
Brandon Jones played his best game of the season at safety. He led the team in tackles with 11 and seems to be growing more confident by the week. Deshon Elliott added an interception to his total (5) and played good in run support. Both safeties had some mistakes in the run game, but continually make up for it with athleticism and physicality.
The secondary made Jesse Ertz look too good for a guy who was completing 52% of his passes. With Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph awaiting the next 2 games, the secondary will need to play better than it did on Saturday.
Texas is fortunate that shaky field goal kicking did not cost them a win. Joshua Rowland missed a chip shot 27-yarder and then later missed a 45-yarder that would have won the game. Rowland has been all over the place this season, and now the chip shot field goals will be an adventure the remainder of the year.
Michael Dickson was his usual self, averaging 53.3 yards per punt, including a 67 yarder. He’s solid.
Kyle Porter saw action at kick returner and showed good patience along with decent burst. Reggie Hemphill Mapps had a 10 yard punt return and looks to have gained the job back from Armanti Foreman. The return units and coverage units seem be taking steps forward and showing improvement.