Football

Tom Herman: Texas defense ‘playing a bit tentative’ in season’s most-important games

Longhorns' defense has allowed 80 points combined in the last two games as Big 12 title slips away

Posted November 5th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • “I think for whatever reason we haven’t cut it loose at times,” Herman said.
  • Herman refuses to blame injuries, although three starters missed most of WVU game.
  • Horns had no sacks, only two quarterback pressures on WVU's Will Grier.

The upshot of Texas’ two-game losing streak? Tim Beck is off the hook.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is now the one in fans’ cross-hairs after the meltdowns against Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

The Longhorns have given up 80 points and 1,080 total yards combined in back-to-back weeks. Texas was ranked 17th in last week’s initial College Football Playoff rankings. So much for that. The Horns (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) are now holding on for dear life.

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It’s not like Beck, the offensive coordinator that UT fans love to malign, is celebrating. Texas’ offense probably needs to carry the water Saturday night against Texas Tech in Lubbock.

It’s up to Orlando and the defensive staff to figure out why the defense has been “playing a bit tentative,” head coach Tom Herman said Monday.

“I think for whatever reason, we haven’t cut it loose at times,” Herman said. “That’s on us to figure out why. Maybe it’s an uncertainty. Yeah, just playing tentative at times. I think the easiest way to (alleviate) some of that is to trim down your call sheet a little bit, make sure that guys are ultimately confident in what we’re doing. Not that they haven’t been. But as coaches, you try to uncover every stone.”

Orlando, who signed a contract extension during the offseason worth $1.7 million annually, does not meet with reporters after games. He talks to the media only on Wednesdays, per Herman’s orders.

At the end of September, the defense was allowing 19.8 points per game. That number has ballooned to 26.8. The Horns were allowing 333.2 yards per game. Now it’s up to 400.7.

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando calls timeout with 16 seconds left on the clock before the final West Virginia play in the second half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

One of the obvious problems is a sudden rash of injuries. Three starters were lost for the bulk of the West Virginia game. Safety Brandon Jones aggravated his ankle injury at the team hotel Saturday morning. Cornerback Davante Davis (sprained neck) and defensive end Breckyn Hager (dislocated elbow) are both questionable this week. Defensive lineman Marqez Bimage (dislocated shoulder) has been ruled out this week.

On the Big 12 conference call, Herman said, “We’re never going to blame injuries. We’ve got good players.”

Herman typically gives a more detailed injury update after Thursday’s practice. His updates are based on who does and does not practice during the week.

Meanwhile, the Horns must spend more time getting younger players like freshmen Anthony Cook and B.J. Foster ready. Freshman safety Caden Sterns is also in something of a slump after a standout September.

“I mean, they’ve got a lot of room for improvement, as do all the guys at every position,” Herman said. “We have not been displeased with them.”

The biggest issue against West Virginia was the lack of pressure on the quarterback. Will Grier was not sacked at all and was pressured only twice.

Herman indicated the Horns followed the same defensive plan that Iowa State used to success. Texas assigned eight men to play pass coverage, leaving only three to face five offensive linemen.

“When we did pressure, I think the one thing that they did a really, really good job of is they had hats for hats on a few of our pressures,” Herman said. “We’ve got to coach our blitzers better technique in pass-rushing. You’re not always going to be unblocked as a blitzer. There’s going to be hats assigned to you.”

On the Big 12 call, Herman likened it to robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Texas defensive back Anthony Cook (4) and defensive back P.J. Locke III (11) tackle West Virginia running back Kennedy McKoy (6) in the second half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Texas Tech (5-4, 3-3) may have a totally different look this week without starting quarterback Alan Bowman. He was taken to the hospital last Saturday with a recurrence of a partially collapsed lung injury suffered against Oklahoma.

Backup Jett Duffey, a sophomore from Mansfield, finished the game. He completed nine of 17 passes for 139 yards and threw two touchdowns.

“I think when the runner,” Herman said before looking down at his notes, “make sure I say his name right, Duffey, when he’s in there, I think you’ll see us in more nickel personnel.”

The Longhorns should know all the Red Raiders’ names before Saturday night. It’s a game that will determine whether Texas stays in the Big 12 title race or not.

“We know that we’ll get a very good Texas Tech team’s best shot,” Herman said. “We don’t have time to pout, to wallow in self-pity about losing a ballgame. We’re moving on. We’re 0-0 this week against Texas Tech.”

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

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