Howdy, Bears fans. Hope everyone is getting excited for the Holiday Bowl against the oh-so-hated Texas Longhorns. This will be a very interesting game, as both teams seem to have much in common...including the fan appreciation of a certain guy writing this right now *ducks*.
Kodiak has already previewed the Texas rushing offense. Today we're taking a look at the stout rush defense of the Texas Longhorns. It's good. Have a gander at these stats from the season:
FBS Rank: # 11 overall
SEASON: 373 attempts for 1244 yards (14 touchdowns)
OPPONENT AVG YARDS PER GAME: 103.67
OPPONENT AVG YPC: 3.34
Runs of 10+ yards surrendered: 42
Runs of 20+ yards surrendered: 11
IN WINS (7): 205 att for 575 yards (2.80 avg), 3 TDs
IN LOSSES (5): 168 att for 669 yards (3.98 avg), 11 TDs
Those are impressive numbers. After the jump, we'll get to know the Texas defenders a bit and figure out whether we can move the ball on the ground against this unit.
(DT Kheeston Randall)
DE Alex Okafor (Jr), 6'4 260 lbs
DT Kheeston Randall (Sr), 6'5 305 lbs
DT Desmond Jackson (Fr), 6'1 285 lbs
DT Calvin Howell (So), 6'4 290 lbs
DT Ashton Dorsey (So), 6'2 295 lbs
DT Chris Whaley (So), 6'3 280 lbs
DE Jackson Jeffcoat (So), 6'5 250 lbs
Okafor and Jeffcoat are very good players, and their quickness from the defensive end spots make it difficult to establish the outside run. Jeffcoat leads the team in TFL with 14.5, while Okafor has notched 12.5 of his own. Jeffcoat has battled injury and inconsistency this year, while Okafor has been a more solid presence. These two will be a serious handful for Schwartz and MSG at the tackle spots. Quick and strong guys.
I've listed 5 defensive tackles because alongside senior monster Kheeston Randall, four other guys will see reps in the middle of the Texas defensive line. This means lots of big bodies with fresh legs being rotated vigorously. Bogus. Dez Jackson is a superfrosh who has an explosive first step and can really penetrate well. Strong on passing downs, but a little light still. Will be a force in the future as he bulks up and his technique continues to improve. Whaley is a converted running back (!!!) who, as you would imagine, brings a lot of speed and athleticism to the interior. He's a versatile guy and can make some plays. Dorsey and Howell are both good athletes and solid players who will continue to develop. Randall is the lead bull of this bunch, starting all 12 games for Texas. He was named second team All Big-12. The emergence of guys like Jackson has allowed Randall to be a more disruptive force in the middle. Galas, Schwenke and Cheadle will need to have a very good game for us to have any hope of establishing the run against this front.
OLB Emmanuel Acho (Sr), 6'2 245 lbs
MLB Keenan Robinson (Sr), 6'3 240 lbs
OLB Jordan Hicks (So), 6'2 235 lbs
Strong and fast unit. They can cover a lot of ground and make getting the edge a tall task . Acho is the leading tackler for the Horns, notching an impressive 109 on the season with 13.5 TFL. He's had a great year. Robinson is solid in the middle with an additional 90 tackles. He can plug holes but has trouble once a lineman gets his hooks into him. Both guys have been pretty good at run fit recognition and assignments. Hicks is the youngster of this trio, but has a lot of promise. He comes off when Texas goes into its Nickel defense.
(One man to beat...it's Blake Gideon...and he beats him!)
CB Quandre Diggs (Fr), 5'10 200 lbs
S/Rover Kenny Vaccaro (Jr), 6'1 215 lbs
S Blake Gideon (Sr), 6'1 205 lbs
CB Carrington Byndom (So), 6'0 180 lbs
Nickel DB Adrian Phillips (So), 5'11 199 lbs
Interesting group. Some incredible talent, a lot of youth, and Blake Gideon. The cornerbacks are young but talented (a recurring theme) and have shown they can provide good run support when challenged. Vaccarro is the stud of the secondary. He defends the slot on passing plays but will not hesitate to try to sleep a fool if he smells out a running play. Great closing speed and instincts. Gideon is hot garbage. Incredible that he's actually started at Texas for so long. To be fair, he's decent in run support...as long as its not a one-on-one with a running back in open space.
GAME BY GAME
Here's a look at how each of the Longhorn's opponents this year have performed against them on the ground. FBS rushing ranking is in parentheses:
Iowa St. (35)
Oklahoma St. (43)
Texas Tech (89)
Kansas St. (29)
Texas A&M (21)
Not much to conclude from this unfortunately. A hefty chunk of the yardage gained on the ground by both Okie State and Oklahoma came on long runs. Missouri lost their leading rusher halfway through the game. A&M was without its two best running backs when they faced Texas. The K-State numbers are very impressive, but Navy and Georgia Tech think Kansas State is too one-dimensional of an offense.
Oh, there is that one common opponent between Texas and Cal. UCLA. Luckily everyone knows that the transitive property can't be applied to college football. Right? Right guys?! Moving on.
First off, these guys defend the run well. There's a lot of energy and depth along the defensive line, speed in the LB corps, and more speed in the secondary...sans Gideon. There's a reason they've allowed very few big runs on the season. They're fast, and any holes that are created by an opposing o-line tend to close up quickly. They have big guys that will collapse the middle of the line and linebackers that are quick to fill holes in support. Outside, their DE's are quick and the secondary will fly to the ball. What to do?
Well maybe we could borrow Brandon Weeden or RGIII for the night. Texas surrendered their highest rushing totals of the season against teams wih great passing attacks (202 yards to Oklahoma State and 191 yards to Baylor). They were spread out and made vulnerable by pass-first teams. Cal has been most successful when using the run to set up the pass...just the opposite. But we're also not such a completeley one-dimensional offense that Texas could just stuff the run and win the day, like they should have done against Kansas State (blame a putrid and injured Texas offense for that one).
Bear with me here (pun!), but I'd say Cal shows at least some offensive similarity to Baylor. Baylor was able to effectively gash Texas on the ground thanks to RGIII. He had to be respected as a running threat, and thus Texas could not key as heavily on Baylor running back Ganaway (who went for 153 yards). Can Zach Maynard pose a similar threat as RGIII? LOL NO. But if he can make effective reads and allow Isi and CJ some breathing room, we should be able to sustain some drives and get in position to score some points.
There won't be many easy yards gained on the ground against this defense. But that's okay...as long as we can find some modicum of balance in our offense. If we abandon the run, we're screwed. I expect a similar grinding performance to the one we saw against Stanford. It wasn't pretty, but it was mildly effective.
Or not. Maybe the homer in me is just hoping we can run the ball because the idea of Maynard throwing the ball 35 times against a secondary this opportunistic is terrifying. Doom forever, forever Doom!