Longhorns run defense slowly improving

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
8:00
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Alex Okafor remains unconvinced.

Well, sort of unconvinced. A few weeks ago, when the rushing yards were piling up faster than people could pile on the Texas defense, the senior defensive end came out and said he had "zero confidence" in the run defense.

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDefensive end Alex Okafor and the Longhorns have played better in recent weeks, but TCU and Kansas State present a challenge.
Then Texas went out and gave up 176 yards to James Sims of Kansas. It was the fifth straight week Texas had allowed an opposing player to have a career-high rushing day. Welcome to the land of less than zero. That is not some sort of nod to Bret Easton Ellis. It’s a shake of the head at the Texas defense -- by its own players nonetheless.

But there was more football to be played and more opponents to be stopped. And lo and behold, Texas has been able to do just that. In the past two weeks, against teams that are not exactly juggernauts when it comes to running the ball, mind you, Texas has only allowed a total of 256 yards.

Given that there were single games where Texas allowed a higher total and that a backup running back once eclipsed the 200-yard mark on his own, this can be seen as progress. Even in Okafor’s eyes.

"I'm slowly gaining confidence," he said. "We are getting better game by game. We still have a long way to go. But slowly but surely, we are getting better at the run defense."

Slowly doesn’t work anymore. There are only two games left in the regular season. So whatever Texas is going to do it needs to do with alacrity. Whether there is much Texas can do is still up for some measure of debate.

Those with the belief that they can need point no further than linebacker Steve Edmond and his rapid maturation. The linebacker, who has 37 tackles in the past four games, proved his value against Iowa State. Not so much by what he did but how he affected those around him.

Take Peter Jinkens. The true freshman played the entire game at linebacker alongside Edmond. Three or four weeks ago that would have been an unmitigated disaster because Jinkens wouldn’t know where to go -- he was part of the reason for the 64-yard breakaway run by Sims -- and Edmond would not know where to tell him to be.

"I didn’t know what gap to be in when," Edmond said of the earlier part of the season.

So if Edmond didn’t know where to go, there is no way he could tell Jinkens where to go. But against Iowa State, Edmond was able to communicate the calls and tow along Jinkens as the pair had a solid game.

"We communicate well," Edmond said.

That’s only because Edmond is now comfortable doing the talking. And now that Texas might feel more comfortable with that combination, it could allow for some different blitz packages and looks from safety Kenny Vaccaro. Previously, Texas had to use Vaccaro and others to try and help protect the linebackers. If they can survive on their own it frees up other players to pursue other angles.

The Longhorns have a bye week to explore those options and a tune-up game against TCU to test it before facing Collin Klein and Kansas State.

If Texas can stop that attack, it might even convince Okafor to change his mind about the run defense.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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