There may not be a player on the entire roster that has improved more than DE Charles Omenihu. For the third straight game, Omenihu dominated the tackle across from him. The junior recorded 3 tackles and a sack, along with playing solid against the run. His sack came on a straight bull rush where he pushed the right tackle so far into the backfield that he found himself directly next to Sam Darnold. Chris Nelson played an excellent game at the other end position, and is quietly having himself a big junior season. Senior Poona Ford collected 4 tackles and continues to hold the point of attack well at the nose tackle position.
Malcolm Roach finally had his presence felt, and it could not have come at a better time. Roach demonstrated his ability to play the run when he stood up Ronald Jones II at the goal line. Although the stats are not where many expected them to be, Roach showed why many were so high on him entering his sophomore year.
The entire defensive line played with physicality and played with an aggression that I have not seen in years. Roach, Ford and Omenihu all asserted their will and did an excellent job at establishing the line of scrimmage.
The linebacker unit thrived off of the opportunities the defensive line was creating for them. Malik Jefferson played his best game of his career and strangely enough has seemed to discover a comfort level at the middle linebacker spot. Jefferson had 11 tackles and 2 tackles for loss, and continually shot through gaps to help stifle the USC rushing attack. Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler both had solid games, with Wheeler collecting a team high 12 tackles and Johnson adding 3 tackles. Wheeler still has a tendency to think too much and play hesitant at times, but he recorded a huge 14-yard sack of Sam Darnold in the 4th quarter that took the Trojans out of field goal range. It is no coincidence that an improvement in defending the run has occurred with Gary Johnson seeing the field more. Number 33 constantly flashed around the ball and plays with reckless abandon.
Breckyn Hager and Jeffrey McCulloch saw a lot of time on 3rd times. McCulloch recorded a big sack and both players always seem to be around the QB in pass rushing situations. The one knock I saw is when they lost containment on the last play of the first half, when Darnold got outside the pocket and was able to find Ronald Jones, who eventually found the endzone.
The difference between the linebacker play from week 1 to week 3 is night and day. Todd Orlando continues to instill confidence in allowing players to thrive in roles that suit their skill sets.
Against a potential Heisman finalist, the Texas secondary held their own. Sam Darnold threw for close to 400 yards, but was challenged by the Texas defensive backfield for most of the game and never seemed to find a consistent rhythm until the final drive in regulation. There is no doubt that Holton Hill is the best corner on the roster. Hill recorded 2 pass breakups to go along with 7 tackles, including a key 4th down open field tackle. Devante Davis got his first start of the season and performed admirably, but gave way to Kris Boyd about midway through the second quarter. Boyd is lucky that he was not burned several times on pump fakes. John Bonney saw meaningful snaps, but unfortunately the only time you heard his name called was when he was de-cleated by a receiver on Ronald Jones touchdown on the last play of the first half. Speaking of Jones’ touchdown, it is tough to lay blame entirely on the defensive backfield for that play. All 4 receivers ran to one side of the field and allowed Jones the entire left side to navigate once he caught the ball. It did not help that Texas had Collin Johnson back playing safety and had several defenders following receivers into the endzone when the ball was caught.
Brandon Jones and Deshon Elliott picked a good time to deliver their best games of the season. Elliott had 2 interceptions, including a pick 6 at the end of the first half, and was flying around the field all night. Texas could not defend the screen the entire game, but Elliott delivered the one bright spot when he blew up a screen 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Jones saw an overall slight decrease in snaps, but looked comfortable for the first time all year. He played the run solidly and was not asked to do too much in the passing game. PJ Locke flashed once on a 4-yard tackle for loss.
Overall, the defensive backfield kept Texas in the game most of the night. When the Texas offense was struggling most of the game, the DB’s continued to stand strong and not let USC beat them with the big play. When it really counted though and Texas needed a stop in the 4th quarter with 39 seconds left, the defense allowed Darnold to hit big plays through the air to set up a game tying field goal. Texas will need to continue to get performances like these with quarterbacks that are awaiting them, but the progress being made is undeniable and Todd Orlando has to be pleased with how the unit is progressing.
The good news: Texas was a 100% on field goals in the game. The bad news: everything else involving special teams was not good.
Joshua Rowland converted a 39-yard field goal for his first make of the season, and his kicks look to be getting better height.
Michael Dickson had a rough night. The junior averaged a respectable 41.3 yards per punt, but shanked one early in the game. Later in the game, Dickson successfully ran for a first down on a fake punt, only to have the play called back due to a holding penalty by PJ Locke that was completely unnecessary.
The coverage and return units still need a lot of work. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps fielded punts at his own 1-yard line, twice. He took the first one back 27 yards to give the Longhorns good field position, but pinned Texas inside their 5-yard line on the next return. The coverage units continue to allow good returns at the most inopportune times. After Texas took a 17-14 lead, the coverage unit allowed a 37-yard return to give USC excellent field position. For the 3rd straight week, I saw Rowland involved in having to try to slow down a return man on a kickoff, and that is not a good sign.
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