Nov 24, 2011; College Station, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo on the field against the Texas A
The Ole Miss offense will battle the Texas defense with one common theme going in: something has got to give. Hugh Freeze’s team has the 10th ranked offense nationally. Texas has the 26th ranked defense and is coming off a shutout of New Mexico, 45-0. You may recognize the defensive coordinator for the Longhorns as Manny Diaz, the former DC for Mississippi State who left for Austin two years ago in search of (ironic to the term) greener pastures.
Texas has been able to put up solid numbers against the pass, partly due to the fact that they took on a run-heavy New Mexico team who ran the ball 47 times opposed to just 16 times through the air. Still, allowing just 35 yards passing is nothing to scoff at. In Week 1 against Wyoming, the Longhorns allowed 276 passing yards and a pair of scores, allowing Brett Smith to complete 57% of his passes.
Secondary depth is important for any defense, and the Longhorns have it. It all starts with senior co-captain Kenny Vaccaro, who was considered as a potential first round pick in last year’s draft. The free safety has recorded 15 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery so far this season. A ball-hawk who is a sure tackler is a critical asset for Diaz.
After Vaccaro comes a pair of corners with sterling resumes. Sophomore Quandre Diggs was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and has the capability of locking down his side of the field. Across from Diggs is Nagursky Trophy watch list corner, Carrington Byndom. The junior started all 13 games for texas last year, earning First-Team All Big 12 honors. Both starting corners have recorded interceptions this season, proving to be plenty capable of boxing out their opponent.
Byndom will likely take Donte Moncrief as he is far and away the most prolific deep-threat the Rebels have. With help over the top from Vaccaro, Moncrief will need to utilize his superb route-running skills on passes along the sideline. Ja-Mes Logan or Vincent Sanders will have to step up this game and stretch the field if Moncrief can not. Beating the corners off the line on short passes to Korvic Neat and the running backs will be key if the Rebels are to have success through the air.
Bo Wallace has been a terrific decision maker so far this season and that will have to continue on Saturday. With the looming possibility of the deep threats being locked down for much of the game, Wallace will have to consistently be aware of the check-downs. Getting space for Randall Mackey and Jaylen Walton will work wonders in matriculating the ball down the field. The key is not turning the ball over by trying to force a big play, and I think Wallace is aware of that.
The ying to the pass defense’s yang has been the run defense, which has been just as inconsistent in the first two games. In the opener, they held the Cowboy offense to just 69 yards rushing and a measly 2.3 YPC. That was the game that Texas allowed 276 yards through the air. In the game against New Mexico where they held the Lobos to 35 passing yards, the run defense allowed 206 yards on the ground, good for 4.4 YPC. That is against a team that was 1-11 last season, with half of their games ending in seven points or less for the offense, including three shutouts. Texas rank 66th in the country in rushing defense with 275 yards allowed on the ground. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, Ole Miss is 9th nationally in rushing offense at 565 yards this season.
Texas has a pair of big, speedy ends who are the monsters of pass rush in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. While they may wreck havoc on the passing game, their bursts off the line make them vulnerable to misdirection runs and especially quarterback draws. Wallace has run the ball 24 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 5.6 YPC average. Barry Brunetti, who could very well see some time at quarterback, is averaging 6.1 YPC, running the ball 10 times for 61 yards. Last week, New Mexico quarterback B.R. Holbrook ran the ball 5 times for 39 yards, proving the susceptibility to big plays up the middle available for running quarterbacks.
Linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond have played very well, coming in at one and two on the team in tackles respectively. They will be the most crucial players on the field for Texas as Freeze likes to exploit the opposing linebackers. Lateral movement to stop the runs to the outside will be key as Jeff Scott showed that he is still one of the most explosive players in the SEC. With a stable of backs like Scott, Mackey, Walton, and I’tavius Mathers, Diaz will need to routinely sub out his defense to avoid an exhausted defense that leads to a big play for Ole Miss.
The linebackers will not just have to protect against the outside run as the middle of the field could be even more important. Aside from quarterback draws where the center and guards force blockers to the outside, the three and four wide receiver sets can cause problems. Hicks and Edmond will have to pick up not just Neat, but they will have to account for an athletic tight end in Jamal Mosley and a speedster off the line in Philander Moore. A veteran linebacking core is always a necessity when it comes to slowing down a spread offense, and Texas has just that. This will be an interesting matchup to watch play out on Saturday.
Ole Miss has improved each week on the offensive line. AJ Hawkins was the SEC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week, the most veteran member of the group has been seen as the leader so far. Junior college transfer Pierce Burton has consistently played well at right tackle this season, forming a solid right side of the line with Hawkins. Evan Swindall played well against UTEP and has been an underrated part of this group since he became the full-time starter. It will be a big game for Emmanuel McCray at left tackle as he looks to keep Jeffcoat out of the Rebel backfield. If McCray lets him consistently get by him, Wallace could be forced into making an untimely throw.
Texas has yet to put together a full game so far this season, balancing out a good pass defense game with a bad rush defense game and vice versa. That will need to change if they are to win this game as Ole Miss is as balanced as you will find in college football. Freeze’s offense has accounted for 565 rushing yards and 538 passing yards this season. Not only is the speed of the offense exhausting, but if Diaz does not make good substitutions, the Rebels will tear them to shreds on long drives. If Texas cannot stop the short, intermediate plays, slow down the pace of the game, or get pressure on Wallace, then Bevo could be in for a very long night.