After tackling woes troubled Texas in its game at Ole Miss, the Longhorns spent the past two weeks addressing the issue. The result? More of the same.
On Monday, Texas coach Mack Brown said his staff counted a total of 12 missed tackles against Oklahoma State on seven plays.
We rewatched the game on Sunday night and, with our best conservative judgment, reached a similar conclusion: 12 broken tackles on eight plays, plus five broken tackles on kickoff coverage.
There’s no ignoring the two most glaring mistakes. First, on Oklahoma State’s second play from scrimmage, OSU tailback Joseph Randle juked out Kenny Vaccaro and shook off an Adrian Phillips hit for a 69-yard touchdown.
The Cowboys struck again later in the quarter when Phillips tried to drill Josh Stewart in the back after a long catch. Stewart bounced right off him and hit paydirt on a 44-yard score.
Three missed tackles, 113 yards, two touchdowns. There’s no hiding that. Half of the Longhorns’ misses on the night came in the game’s opening quarter.
“We didn’t tackle good to start,” Brown said. “And we weren’t tired on the second play, I don’t think.”
No, fatigue wasn’t the issue. Perhaps, as appeared to be the case with Phillips’ miscues, the Longhorns were merely trying to make the big hit instead of the right one. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said that might be the case.
By our count, Phillips and fellow safety Josh Turner were each responsible for three missed tackles. Vaccaro recorded two -- both in the game’s opening drive -- as did Carrington Byndom, and Steve Edmond and Mykkele Thompson each accounted for one.
Judging missed tackles is far from a black-and-white process, and on many plays, taking the wrong angle or overrunning a play ends up being more costly. But this does give a window into why Texas’ defensive staff is considering some changes to its lineup.
Brown said on Monday he’ll let Phillips, Turner and Thompson battle this week for the starting strong safety job that Phillips has held down all season. He’s also looking for solutions at linebacker. An inexperienced unit missing leader Jordan Hicks failed to properly fill gaps or get off blocks time and time again against Oklahoma State.
“Because most of our missed tackles have been linebackers and secondary,” Brown said, “what we’ve got to do is, if we’ve got four weeks of a guy who’s missing tackles, we’ve got to start looking for another guy.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz agreed, calling changes to playing time and the starting lineup “the ultimate accountability.” But he doesn’t exactly consider his defense’s tackling problems an epidemic at this point.
“We’re not missing more tackles than we missed in the past,” Diaz said. “We missed 15 tackles last year at Iowa State, and they had no points going into the last [quarter] of the game. The tackles that we’re missing are in parts of the field that are causing them to become touchdowns. Those are the things that did not occur last year.”
The touchdowns are problematic. But so is the bonus yardage that Texas’ misses provided the Cowboys.
Of Oklahoma State’s 576 total yards of offense, 142 yards came after a Longhorn defender missed a tackle. That’s close to 25 percent.
On the two kickoff coverage busts, a missed tackle at the 13-yard line in the first quarter and a miss at the 34-yard line in the third led to a combined 53 extra yards. That's invaluable field position, and OSU scored on both subsequent drives.
What matters most, Brown points out, is that his Longhorns overcame these errors. They held OSU to field goals on two critical drives into the red zone. A Vaccaro interception led to a touchdown. A two-point conversion could’ve swung the game, but Texas stopped it. In the end, Texas won this game.
But Byndom knows West Virginia’s prolific offense will only make life more difficult if the tackling issues don’t get more fine-tuning this week.
“We definitely have to swarm to the ball, and we’re going to need 11 guys swarming to the ball,” he said. “We know that. We know we can’t let them get in space, because they have people who can make plays in space.”
As Diaz steps back and looks at today’s college football landscape, he knows Oklahoma State’s offense is a great one, but West Virginia and plenty others are just like it. They make tackling an issue for everyone.
“What everybody is doing right now is everybody is putting the football in space,” Diaz said. “Everybody is attacking vertically, and it has never been harder to tackle an offensive football player than it is in this day and age in college football.”