To appreciate what first-year defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has accomplished this season, let’s go back and examine where the Longhorns were. Yes, this is painful, but it’ll be brief.
The 2012 Texas defense holds the school record for points allowed, a whopping 380 in 13 games. The 2016 unit ranks second, and the 2015 group is fourth.
From 2012-16, those five defensive units rank anywhere from first to sixth in school history in most yards allowed. The 2015 group holds the record for highest yards allowed per game (452.6).
Lackluster defense is a major reason why the Longhorns are four games above .500 for the decade.
Orlando and his defensive assistants have orchestrated an impressive turnaround. This year, Texas has the Big 12’s third-best scoring defense (21.0) and fourth-best overall unit (370.8 yards per game). One bad play led to Baylor’s only score in Texas’ 38-7 win on Saturday.
With this defense, Texas (4-4, 3-2 Big 12) can win every game left on the schedule, starting Saturday at 10th-ranked TCU (7-1, 4-1).
“I think it’s a bit of a badge of honor for them right now knowing that we’re going to probably for the rest of the year need the to play great in order for us to have a chance to win, “ UT coach Tom Herman said. “They relish that, and they look forward to the challenge each and every week.”
This defense is full of upperclassmen who have taken all manner of public rebuke. Not anymore.
“We have playmakers all over the field, from the first group to the second group, backups to starters, everybody’s a playmaker,” defensive lineman Charles Omenihu said. “It’s lovely to see that.”
Linebacker Malik Jefferson leads the team in tackles (76) and has four sacks. He looks every bit like the player everyone expected him to be. Cornerback Holton Hill was in the doghouse last season. Now, he’s easily the Longhorns’ best defensive back playing at an all-conference level.
“I’ve told y’all he’s a first-round cornerback,” safety DeShon Elliott said of Hill. “He’s going to prove it. they’re going to see it eventually.”
Elliott had another interception on Saturday against Baylor and leads all FBS players with six. He’s only two shy of matching Earl Thomas’ record set in 2009, the year UT reached the national title game.
Nine players have at least one sack, including three from Breckyn Hager, who has really blossomed of late. Omenihu has three and counting along with six tackles for loss. John Bonney also had two fumble recoveries against the Bears.
“They did a great job, just creating turnovers and just helping us with field position,” quarterback Shane Buechele said. “You know, I can’t say enough, they’re pretty fun to watch from the sideline.”
Buechele is right. This Texas defense is fun to watch. This unit regained its bearings after the season-opening Maryland loss. A major fourth-down, goal-line stand at USC was a pivotal moment. Four opponents have been held to less than 100 yards rushing.
“Oh, the sky’s the limit to be honest with you,” said Herman, who noted there was no discernible drop off when Antwuan Davis subbed in for the injured P.J. Locke III. “Even the key backups are performing for us right now.”
The defense must carry the Longhorns throughout November for a program fighting to reach bowl eligibility. The offense is simply too inconsistent.
Buechele showed few ill effects of an ankle injury suffered in the Big 12 opener at Iowa State on Sept. 28. He threw for 256 yards and scored on a 28-yard touchdown run.
The quarterback issue will be in focus again Monday during Herman’s weekly press conference. Freshman Sam Ehlinger did not travel to Waco and spent last week undergoing the team’s concussion protocol. Players are off on Mondays and will practice again on Tuesday.
Herman and the Horns have something positive cooking in the running game.
It showed signs of life with freshman Toniel Carter and Danny Young. They combined for 130 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. “I think it’s really important for our guys to kind of have that confidence going into this week and the rest of the season,” Herman said.
More than anything, this defensive unit’s confidence will be the difference-maker.
“Winning feels good,” Omenihu said. “It’s always good to win. We need to continue this feeling, so we’ll get back to work and go on for the next opponent.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post With Todd Orlando’s defense, 4-4 Texas can win every game left on its schedule appeared first on Hook ‘Em.
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