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Texas needs to ramp up defensive pressure, create more backfield havoc for Big 12 games

Defensive starters have just four sacks in three games with only four QB pressures total

In 2015 and 2016, Texas had two of the worst defensive units in school history. But the Longhorns still sacked the quarterback those years.

The 2017 defense finished second in the Big 12 in sacks per game. As time went on, the pass rush subsided, and those defensive coaches were eventually swept out to sea.

So far this season, Texas’ defensive starters have produced four sacks in three games combined. The entire unit has been credited with only four quarterback pressures. Is that good or bad? Well, Oklahoma (13 sacks), Kansas State (12) and Oklahoma State (11) have sack totals already in the double figures.

Texas (2-1, 0-0 Big 12) needs to ramp up the defensive pressure, starting this week against Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0). Or, it could be a long two months of wild, high-scoring affairs.

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“I think the pass rush has been good,” UT coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “I thought it was at its best in Week 1. Obviously, Week 2 was borderline nonexistent.”

Against Rice, Sarkisian liked how the defense reacted “when the opportunity presented itself. There was a lot of quick game throws by Rice where the ball was just coming out so quickly, it’s hard to get to the quarterback in that amount of time.”

Texas defensive linemen Alfred Collins, Ovie Oghoufo and Jacoby Jones try to apply pressure on Rice quarterback Wiley Green during the first half of last Saturday's 58-0 win. So far this season, Texas’ defensive starters have produced four combined sacks in three games.

Still, Texas had only one sack against Rice when the starters were still on the field. Notre Dame transfer Ovie Oghoufo brought down Wiley Green on third-and-10 for a one-yard loss. Byron Murphy II and D.J. Harris got the other two sacks when all backups went in to finish off the 58-0 victory.

“I think we’re improving,” Oghoufo said. “We focus on getting to the quarterback, getting pressures, having a quarterback throw bad balls. But in terms of the way we’re pass rushing, I think we’re making strides and we’re improving every day.”

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Texas’ defensive line was thought to be perhaps its most talented position group. After three games, Texas has only a handful of sacks and allows 184.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the Big 12.

Granted, the Arkansas game skews the statistics. The Razorbacks had 333 rushing yards on a night that just about every Longhorn would prefer to forget. Louisiana had just 76 rushing yards, and Rice managed 156.

Sarkisian said it’s easier to create pressure when you can stop the run. “It's difficult to rush the passer when you're not certain what's coming, run and/or pass, and making those necessary calls to do that,” the coach said.

With no consistent pressure up front, it will eventually cause problems on the back end.

The secondary has just one interception thus far — B.J. Foster’s wicked one-handed grab against the Hogs. But even he admits the competition thus far hasn’t been as good as they’ll see in league play.

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“To be honest, we haven't really been tested,” Foster said. “So I really told those guys that we haven’t really done nothing. But it’s coming.”

This Texas Tech team looks dramatically different than the previous two under coach Matt Wells. Quarterback Tyler Shough has completed 67.5% of his passes for 793 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back Tahj Brooks, a Manor product, is averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. 

Tech has allowed four sacks in three games. In the Red Raiders’ usual style, the offense is averaging 40 points and 441.3 yards per game.

“Do I think we can be better? No question,” Sarkisian said of UT’s pass rush. He called defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and defensive line coach Bo Davis “two of the best in the business.”

“We’re going to need that pass rush as we work our way through the season, definitely based on the style of play of some of our opponents that are that are down the road,” Sarkisian said.

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

Saturday's game

Texas Tech at Texas, ABC, 104.9