Football

Slow defensive starts have become Texas’ signature, leading to uphill battles

For the third straight week, UT's foe opened with a touchdown. Oklahoma State piled it on early.

Posted October 28th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • The Longhorns dropped to 15th in the AP rankings.
  • With two senior leaders benched at the start, the UT defense struggled.
  • Next up is a key home game against West Virginia.

STILLWATER, Okla. — Texas continues to incur delay of game penalties after turnovers or TV timeouts. It’s a cute, somewhat infuriating but ultimately harmless team signature. At this point, it’s almost expected every week.

The Longhorns’ inability to start fast on defense is far more serious.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s unit has allowed the opposition to score on its opening drive six times in eight games this season. Five teams scored touchdowns and one got a field goal.

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Only Tulsa and Kansas State were incapable of punching one in before fans had settled into their seats. The Longhorns ultimately settle in themselves and start clicking as the first half grinds on, but by then opponents have confidence and mojo.

Oklahoma State scored early and often in the first quarter Saturday en route to a 38-35 win that cost Texas its top-10 ranking. The Longhorns (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) dropped all the way to 15th when The Associated Press Top 25 poll was updated Sunday.

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando shouts to his players as head coach Tom Herman watches during the loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

That loss heightens the importance of this week’s home game against West Virginia (6-1, 4-1). Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Asked what happened early against OSU, Texas coach Tom Herman said, “What didn’t happen?”

Herman does not allow his coordinators to speak with reporters after games. Orlando meets with the media on Wednesdays, after the postgame furor has long dissipated and everyone is looking ahead.

“We didn’t stop the run, which we’ve done so well around here for a year and a half,” Herman said. “They have a good tailback. Their quarterback did a phenomenal job of keeping it at times. Obviously, we underestimated his ability to run the football.

“When the ball was in the air, we didn’t play it properly; we misjudged balls and took poor angles,” Herman added. “Their guys make plays when the ball was in the air.”

Texas won the toss and deferred to the second half, an odd choice given that UT would start the game without corners Kris Boyd and Davante Davis. Both were suspended for the first quarter for being late to a team function, Herman said.

Redshirt freshman Kobe Boyce and freshman Anthony Cook looked ill-prepared to replace the two senior leaders.

OSU quarterback Taylor Cornelius needed just four plays to take a 7-0 lead on Tylan Wallace’s 40-yard touchdown catch.

Texas scored on its opening possession when quarterback Sam Ehlinger ran it in from 5 yards out. But the Cowboys answered with another touchdown drive, this one going 75 yards in just 3 minutes, 15 seconds.

Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius celebrates a 38-35 win over Texas in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday. [Stephen Spillman/For American- Statesman]

It’s the third straight week UT’s defense gave up a touchdown on its opening drive. It’s a psychological grind, if nothing else, to fall behind early in Big 12 games and have to battle back.

“I guess we were just overthinking at first,” safety Brandon Jones said. “We know every game is a really big game; from where we are ranked, we knew we were going to get their best.”

The Horns were so focused on running back Justice Hill (eight carries, 58 yards in the first quarter), they neglected Cornelius. He finished the first quarter having completed 9 of 12 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

Texas fell into a 17-point hole after Cornelius’ 1-yard touchdown plunge in the second quarter. This is not an offense that’s built to play from behind. It was an uphill battle the rest of the night.

As usual, Texas settled in and started to stick it to OSU. The Cowboys had 31 points in the first half and only seven in the second. OSU had 260 total yards in the first quarter and 502 for the entire game.

“We just didn’t come out ready to play, man. They did,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “They were firing on all cylinders, and that’s expected, obviously, in this kind of environment.”

Previous Longhorns team would’ve folded after falling behind that much. The fact that this one didn’t shows character.

“Texas last year or in previous years, I don’t know if we’re able to do that on the road like this,” receiver Collin Johnson said. “That’s one of the positives tonight. But it wasn’t enough tonight.”

Now, every remaining team will expect to start fast and score quick. It’s on the Horns to stop them.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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