- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro is a senior.
He's a leader.
He's the spirit of the Texas defense.
And he is at a loss.
"Right now all I can say is we've got to keep working hard and I don't have all the answers," said the Longhorns safety.
It's impossible to have all the answers when it comes to the Texas defense because there are so many questions. Why can't Texas tackle? What's wrong with Carrington Byndom? Is Mykkele Thompson really the answer at safety next to Vaccaro or should Adrian Phillips be the guy? What will change when and if Jordan Hicks comes back?
The questions, much like the points scored by West Virginia, abound.
One place where there are no questions though is with the play of Vaccaro.
"Kenny has been the key," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "He has played great. He is tough and he is smart."
But the issue remains that Vaccaro has been the exception rather than the rule. As a whole, the Texas defense has not lived up to the hype manufactured by the media. And it is not just since Hicks went out in the third quarter against Ole Miss. There were cracks in the foundation as far back as Wyoming and the Keystone cops missed tackle that led to an 82-yard touchdown. And even further, according to Brown.
"I've seen this from spring that we were giving up yards," Brown said.
So too has Vaccaro.
"It's small details," he said. "But it creates gaps and they strike you on offense. And we've got to get those little things fixed if we are ever going to come together on defense."
Those things are not fixed with speeches. Vaccaro, who has been around since the national title game and went through the 5-7 season as well, has the wisdom to know that much at least.
"Not gonna give a Tebow speech," he tweeted just after the West Virginia loss, "but I will do everything I can to make sure our team fixes what needs to be fixed. Don't have any more left."
In Vaccaro's mind the time for talking is over. And really, quite amazingly for the player who typically has something to say about everything, he has run out of words.
"I'm tired to repeating to y'all about the problems," he said Monday to the media. "There is not one single thing that I can do to get everything fixed in one game."
That doesn't mean he has given up on the defense. But Vaccaro is a player who passed on the chance to go to the NFL as a junior in order to come back and try and restore the program to prominence. While that still can happen, the loss to West Virginia and the way this defense, his defense, has performed has taken much of the shine off the Texas season. So it comes as no surprise that there are times when the league and all it holds comes to the forefront.
That was what happened as Vaccaro was locked up against West Virginia's Tavon Austin. The two were talking. Not trash talking. Laughing, talking about "making money," Vaccaro said.
"He knew we were feeding off each other," Vaccaro said.
What Texas knew was that Vaccaro feeds off those situations. That is why, after the first quarter in which Austin was unstoppable, Texas moved Vaccaro over to him to stop him. The staff knew Vaccaro's pride and ability was the combination it could use to slow down the most potent passing combination in college football.
"I had respect for him and he had respect for me," Vaccaro said of Austin.
In the back seven, Vaccaro is one of the few commanding respect. Sure, no team is going to fire at cornerback Quandre Diggs. But for Texas, which has a long history of being the self-proclaimed "DBU," having just one enforcer or next-level upperclassman at safety is cause for head shaking for fans and head turning for all the defense as it misses tackle after tackle.
"People get down on those guys but the game is hard with the new type of offenses and uptempo offenses and the offensive coordinators making all these calls; it is hard to be a young defensive player in this conference," Vaccaro said. "You got to understand what it takes to play defense."
What it takes, he said, is intelligence.
"It doesn't take that much athletic ability to be a good defender," Vaccaro said. "You just got to be smart and know your limits, know what you can and cannot do, know what you can get away with and you will be fine."
Right now, nothing has been fine at Texas, except for maybe Vaccaro.