- Oklahoma was averaging 4.2 yards a carry before the Red River Showdown, but managed only 1.8 yards against Texas.
- Texas' six sacks vs. Oklahoma were the most for UT since a seven-sack game against Oklahoma State in November 2014.
- Even with the big game, Texas' defense still ranks 104th nationally in scoring defense and 114th in total defense.
Entering the Texas-Oklahoma game two weeks ago, the narrative was deafening. The Longhorns were not a good defensive team.
The stats supported the notion. Through five games, Texas had allowed an average of 38 points and 507 yards per game. Defensively, there were no silver linings.
“The outside perspective on the program has been really weighing on us,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said this week. “You try not to pay attention to that stuff, but you hear it. I go to class and hear my other classmates talking about us. It’s kinda getting annoying. Teachers may make a joke.”
Enough was enough. So Thomas and his teammates set out to make a statement on a national stage.
The frustration manifested in the 24-17 win over the Sooners, in which the Texas defense held Oklahoma’s 18th-ranked offense to 278 yards. The Sooners converted just three of their 12 third-down conversions and rushed for only 67 yards on 37 carries. Oklahoma, which had averaged 4.2 yards per carry prior to the Red River Showdown, mustered only 1.8 yards per rush.
For once, the numbers told a different story. The defense, freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson said, played like a unit for the first time all season.
And it showed.
“We just went out there and everybody was on the same page,” junior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “There were no missed assignments. Nobody blew coverage. Everybody executed. “
Boyette called the defense “relaxed.” Facing a potential 1-5 start to the season, the Longhorns weren’t fazed. This, of course, was a team that had several reasons to lay down.
“You have to have courage to over-ride everything said about you,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “You can’t let doubt creep in. So much has happened. We had never lost our team. It wasn’t like the (sky) was falling.”
Instead, the defense finally found its footing. Emotions were high and the defense got back to business. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford dialed up the blitzes — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was sacked six times, the most for Texas since its seven-sack game against Oklahoma State in November 2014 — and Texas stifled the Sooners’ offense. For once, everything clicked.
“When you are executing and hitting on all cylinders, you can go ahead and cut it loose,” Thomas said. “You aren’t worried. You’re just playing ball. When you say relaxed, you’re in your element. You aren’t thinking much, relying more on your instincts. When you do those things, it lets you play fast and make the plays we made.”
Texas’ defensive performance may have quieted some doubters. At least for the time being. The Longhorns still rank around the bottom of the national defensive leaderboard — 104th in scoring defense, 114th in total defense.
But is what we saw at the Cotton Bowl what we’ll get from the defense moving forward?
Said Thomas: “It gets to you. Having that win, it felt like, ‘Oh, they are finally off our back.'”
Said Boyette: “The Oklahoma game was a stepping stone towards moving forward.”
Now it’s up to the Longhorns to continue taking a step forward and quell the naysayers along with them.