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Tackling still a struggle for Texas defense

10/16/2012

AUSTIN, Texas -- You’ve had to devour lots of sour, nasty statistics from Oklahoma’s 63-21 beatdown of Texas. Here’s another that won’t sit well.

The number is 311.

That’s how many extra yards Oklahoma picked up against the Longhorns thanks to a combination of missed tackles, over-pursuits, poor angles and other kinds of whiffs.

Those bonus yards accounted for 257 of the Sooners’ total yardage on offense, or close to 40 percent. A whopping 204 bonus yards came in the back-breaking first half.

On Monday, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz did not offer up the total number of missed tackles Texas coaches counted when they reviewed tape on Sunday. Depending on your definition of a missed tackle, you could’ve counted anywhere between 12 and 20.

In this game, bad tackling isn’t exactly what doomed Texas’ defense. The big problem is not a missed tackle so much as purely missed plays.

You can quibble about missed tackles. It’s just a number, and one that can be swayed by some subjectivity. What you can’t argue about is the fact Texas defenders were indecisive when they needed to make open-field tackles.

What can’t be written off as fluke is that this occurred on four Oklahoma touchdowns on Saturday and, in the case of fullback Trey Millard’s 73-yard catch and run, set up a fifth score.

The most disturbing breakdown of the game, Diaz said, came on Damien Williams' 95-yard touchdown run.

Williams busted into the open field after Kenny Vaccaro hit the wrong gap and made a diving tackle to no avail. At the 25-yard line, Mykkele Thompson, Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs all have a shot to stop the play. Nobody got the job done.

On Millard’s big hurdle play, Thompson and Adrian Phillips both hit him at the 41 as he left the ground. Steve Edmond bit on the play-action fake and, before the broken tackles, slowed down in his pursuit. Diggs was also nearby but failed to get off a block on the outside.

It only takes one person making the stop to prevent the extra 57 yards Millard picks up on this play. When Texas defenders are slow in support, they’re just asking to get punched for free yards.

Diaz knows it’s plays like these that have done the most damage lately. He called open-field tackle situations “the most critical that happen in the game of football” on Monday.

He realizes, too, that overcoaching has a tendency to only make things worse. Diaz said harping on tackling form too much leads to overthinking and “robotic” tackling. What he needs are defenders who don’t hesitate to hit their assignments and get their job done.

“That is going to be a big point of emphasis,” Diaz said. “Youth is not the excuse. It’s a coaching thing. We have to coach our youth to cut it loose and let it go. It is not their fault, it’s my fault. But they have got to cut it loose and let it go.”

Another concern: In back to back games now, the Longhorns have done something even scarier that has little to do with missed tackles.

Look closely at Oklahoma’s offensive drive following the Joe Bergeron safety that put OU up 29-2 in the second quarter. There are no missed tackles on this eight-play, 47-yard drive. There are no real drive-altering mistakes from Texas defenders.

Williams rushes for 7 yards. Then 6. Then 7. Then 10. A Landry Jones pass to Justin Brown for 11 yards, just to keep Texas honest. Then Williams carries of 3 and 2 yards in the red zone. Blake Bell finishes it off with a 1-yard touchdown on third and goal.

The drive takes only three minutes. Oklahoma doesn’t even break a sweat. The Sooners own the line of scrimmage as Texas linemen and linebackers can’t get off blocks. Williams averages a healthy 6 yards per carry.

When the game was on the line against West Virginia, the Mountaineers did the exact same thing. Eight plays, 76 yards, nine yards per rush, touchdown.

When a team wants this kind of a drive, is Texas powerless to stop it?

Baylor may have the nation’s top passing offense, but the Bears will get plenty on the ground this Saturday if Texas' defense makes it that easy.