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Insider

Texas trying to avoid tunnel vision

11/3/2011

AUSTIN, Texas -- For weeks, Jackson Jeffcoat’s job has been getting up field.

The Texas sophomore defensive end has been asked to run around or through whatever is in his way, get to the quarterback, and affect his decision-making process.

Finally, after so many misses, last week, Jeffcoat began to accomplish his goal.

Now Jeffcoat has had that goal taken away from him. Because what meant success in the first seven games of the year, could mean failure against Texas Tech.

“It’s tough,” Jeffcoat said. “You’re used to getting after it, running and rushing up the field.”

But against the tunnel screens, so deftly deployed by Texas Tech, that won’t work.

These screens take advantage of what guys like Jeffcoat do best. And while they’re rushing up the field, the interior linemen are getting down field. The wide receiver has to fake like he is going hard down field, before cutting back, slipping behind the offensive line, and catching the pass with blockers in front.

There are games when Tech has run the tunnel screen perfectly -- Oklahoma. And there have been games when the opposing defense was perfect against it -- Iowa State.

Clearly Texas would prefer to see the latter Saturday. For that to happen there are several things that must happen on defense. The first of which is for the entire defense to be aware.

“In a lot of situations, teams will give those things away before the snap if you’ll just pay attention to certain alignments and where guys are lined up,” safety Blake Gideon said.

That can lead to Texas shifting its defensive look, which linebacker Emmanuel Acho said could discourage a team to even attempt the tunnel screen.

But, if the play is called, solid execution by the defensive line is the first step in stopping it.

“When you see a lineman trying to work you up the field or he doesn’t really block you, he looks at you and goes by you, you know you have to retrace and get back to the line of scrimmage,” Jeffcoat said.

“It's about effort plays up front by the big guys,” Gideon said.

In the Oklahoma game, the tunnel screen consistently fooled the defensive linemen. When that happens, the burden to stop the play is shifted to the linebackers. After the reception is made, during the cut to the middle, the offense typically has another wide receiver in the vicinity that’s responsible for making the freeing block.

Oklahoma, prior to the Tech game, had warned officials that many times those are blocks in the back and asked the officials to be on the lookout. The officials missed just such a block on Alex Torres’ 30-yard touchdown tunnel screen score in the second quarter.

“You can never let a wide receiver block you,” Acho said. “That's just unacceptable. So if they're out there trying to block us, you just got to dismiss them.”

Do all that and maybe there is a chance to dismiss the tunnel screen. Forget to do one step and Texas may end up waiting at least another week before it becomes bowl eligible.