Football

As Rice approaches, Longhorns try to leave their third-and-17 meltdown behind them

Posted September 10th, 2019

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It was only Tuesday when Malcolm Roach arrived for his weekly media availability, but Texas’ senior defensive end was already having a long week.

That’s the life of a football player, though. Last week went by pretty quickly for the Longhorns. That’s because they were coming off a 45-14 thrashing of Louisiana Tech. This Tuesday, Texas was only a few days removed from the 45-38 loss to LSU.

“Playing the game, I’ve learned after you win, the week go by fast. After you lose, the week go by slow,” Roach said. “I’m just ready to get onto the next game.”

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That next game is Saturday against Rice. The 95th installment of a series that Texas leads 72-21-1 will be at NRG Stadium in Houston. Texas (1-1) is ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll. Rice (0-2) is still searching for its first win.

Since players had Monday off, preparations for Rice began in earnest on Tuesday. But at Tuesday’s media session, the three defensive players there — Roach, linebacker Joseph Ossai and safety Caden Sterns  — were asked more about LSU than their upcoming opponent. Specifically, plenty of questions were asked about the game’s biggest play.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) celebrates after connecting with receiver Justin Jefferson for a touchdown against Texas on Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

With Texas trailing 37-31 and 2:38 left in the game, LSU turned a third-and-17 play into a 61-yard touchdown. Coming out of a time out, Texas kept its Cowboy package on the sideline and called for a blitz. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, however, avoided a seven-man rush and connected with Justin Jefferson over the middle. Having already beaten Sterns, Jefferson jetted upfield and dodged Sterns and two other defenders along the way.

The play capped a 573-yard night of offense for LSU. So, what went wrong?

“They just completed the pass and we didn’t get him on the ground,” Roach said.

Noted Ossai: “I could have done a better job at getting to the quarterback, maybe taking some pressure off the safeties or corners.”

Ossai said the team reviewed that play only once during Sunday’s film session. Sterns, who has long been his own biggest critic, said he personally had “watched it probably more than anybody has in the building.” On Tuesday he diagnosed that he had lost his inside leverage on Jefferson.

“I was very hard on myself,” Sterns said. “Just a simple fact, I’ve just got to perfect my technique. … Again, it just comes back to practice and just do it.”

Texas ranked 108th in the country last year when it came to defending on third downs. The Longhorns had a .443 success rate; opponents converted first downs on 93 of 210 third-down opportunities. Louisiana Tech was 5-of-14 on third downs and LSU converted half of its 12.

Rice, though, isn’t LSU or Louisiana Tech. The Owls are a different animal. Over its first two games, Rice has converted just over 25 percent of its 27 third downs. Nationally, the Owls rank 119th in both total offense (282 ypg) and scoring (14 ppg).

This weekend will serve as a tune-up for UT’s conference opener against Oklahoma State. Ossai, though, said his focus was currently on Rice’s offense. Ossai, a sophomore from the Houston area, said that “I can’t wait to get in the film room and break these guys down.”

“You can’t skip Rice and play Oklahoma State; it doesn’t work like that,” Ossai added. “Every game is circled, and every game, I’m ready to go.”

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