Good not good enough for Texas defense
September, 2, 2012
By Max Olson | ESPN.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro wasn’t smiling.
The senior safety stared straight ahead during Texas’ postgame press conference late Saturday night, focused not on what happened but what he felt should’ve happened.
Texas’ touted defense gave up 17 points to Wyoming. Good enough to win a game. But not good enough.
“Honestly, we need to get our head out of the magazine and start fast and play hard,” Vaccaro said.
Chalk it up to first-game jitters if you want, but this Longhorns defense got a bit of a wake-up call -- and perhaps a much-needed one, if you ask Vaccaro -- when Wyoming came out firing in the first quarter.
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireKenny Vaccaro's interception in the first half against Wyoming helped Texas surge ahead.
After forcing a quick Texas three-and-out, the Cowboys got to work on a well-scripted opening drive that moved 56 yards on 10 plays.
Though that drive ended with a field goal, it’s exactly what the Cowboys needed to start off. Wyoming’s slippery sophomore quarterback Brett Smith was locked from the get-go, undaunted by the pressure of Texas’ elite defensive line.
His next pass, on Wyoming’s second drive, went along the left sideline to Robert Herron. Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips whiffed on a tackle. The wideout made them pay with an 82-yard dash.
Next possession, another bust: Smith, standing in the shadow of his own end zone, fits in a perfect 45-yard pass to Herron.
By the end of the first quarter, Wyoming was sitting pretty with 178 total yards.
And Texas? Well, the defense had learned its first valuable lesson of the 2012 campaign.
“It was a reminder,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “It’s never going to be easy to shut teams down.”
From there, Texas got better. It only gave up 167 more yards in the final three quarters. Interceptions by Vaccaro and Byndom swung the game.
But Brett Smith didn’t back down. He played every snap. He was sacked only once.
“He made more plays against us tonight than I thought he would,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “He hung in there. We hit him. We blitzed him. He avoided people. I really have to credit him for a really great job.”
Smith’s resilience offered a fine sample of what Texas’ defense should expect to face in its next dozen games.
This year’s foes will have to bring their very best from the start and will aim to outsmart, outfox and try to poke tiny holes in Texas’ scheme until something pops.
Wyoming got a few things -- most notably the deep pass -- to pop on Saturday. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
“I think it’s probably good that the defense gave up some big plays tonight,” Brown said, “because that’ll get their attention for next week and the coaches’ attention for next week.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz saw things he expected from an opener. Missed tackles. Poor communication. Young players showing inexperience.
But the Cowboys went 1-for-11 on third downs. They ran the ball 30 times for 69 yards. In many ways Texas’ defense did exactly what it aimed to do.
The expectations are for something much greater, though.
“We’ve got to be able to be the defense that everybody has been hyping us as,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We’ve got to be that defense. This team needs us to be that defense and tonight we weren’t that defense.”
When Texas trailed 9-7 at the end of the first quarter, its coaches didn’t pause to make a movie-caliber speech to this defense. Neither did its players.
When Smith took another shot downfield on his first attempt of the second quarter, Vaccaro plucked it out of the air.
The rally began. The veterans led the way this time. The others caught up.
“Our best parts were, I thought, our best players,” Diaz said. “They know exactly what the defense and the team needs and what we want. We just have to bring the other guys along.”
That process resumes Sunday. When Diaz turns on the projector and his defense gets down to business, they’ll start with the bad tape. They’ll run through the mistakes, the misses, the tiny holes.
No need to celebrate the interceptions and hard hits. That’ll come later. Besides, those are expected.
These Longhorns are dedicated to detail, and what they did wrong matters more. The great teams, the ones on the magazine covers at the end of the season, are the ones that embrace that mentality.
“It’s definitely fixable,” Hicks said of the defense, "and it’s going to be fixed.”
RB Coach Tommie Robinson Talks Tradition
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35