Holiday Bowl Preview: Cal vs. The Texas Passing Defense

San Diego will be Bear Territory!

Happy Holidays, Cal fans! For your recommended daily allotment of doom, we're taking a closer look at the Longhorn's passing defense. In case you missed it, ManBearCal wrote an excellent review of the Texas Rushing Defense.

This is Texas' preferred scheme, Man-Free Cover One. You can see the corners are up tight in press coverage. Meanwhile, their OLB follows the slot receiver in motion. They have fast LBs, so they'll trust them in coverage quite a lot. As a variant, they will also use one of their safeties in coverage in the slot. Unless it's a 4-WR formation, they prefer to use their starting safety or OLB instead of bringing in a nickel back.


Texas also has a Cover 2 zone package with both the standard and Tampa version (MLB drops deep) as one of their base packages.


As a wrinkle on Cover One, Texas will sometimes go man on the outside, but zone on the slot. The OLB will take the underneath zone while the safety provides coverage over the top.


When Texas decides to send a linebacker on a blitz, they'll shift to more of a Cover 3 look with three deep zones, and three underneath zones. One of their safeties will move to the middle to take the place of the blitzing linebacker.


Blitzing puts pressure on the QB, but also provides a vulnerability to exploit. You can see one of the safeties already moving up towards the box at the snap.


The corners are in zone outside with one safety deep. The other safety has moved up to take the place of the blitzing MLB. The OLB towards to bottom of the screen has underneath coverage on the slot receiver.


The blitz gets picked up. The OLB settles into his zone assuming that either the corner or safety will pick him up. The receiver is running right down the seam between the two deep zones...and the safety is late picking him up.


Both the safety and the corner realize that there is a receiver running free between them and break off in pursuit. It's too late. This is exactly the same type of 4-verticals seam route that Keenan Allen used against UW early this year to score a 91-yard touchdown against their Cover 3 defense. Look for Tedford to try to exploit the Longhorn's slot coverage, provided that our Oline can give Maynard enough time.


Projected Starters:

28 Quandre Diggs(Fr) - RCB, 5'10, 192 lbs
4 Kenny Vaccaro(Jr) - FS, 6'1, 214 lbs
21 Blake Gideon(Sr) - SS, 6'1, 205 lbs
23 Carrington Byndom(So) - LCB, 6'0, 175 lbs
17 Adrian Phillips(So) - Nickel, 5'11, 199 lbs


Pass Efficiency Defense = #14 nationally, #2 in the Big-12, 118.88/game

Pass Defense = #47 nationally, #1 in the Big-12, 211.67 yards/game

Sacks = #50 nationally, #5 in the Big-12, 2 sacks/game

Quandre Diggs: 3 INT, 11 pass breakups
Blake Gideon, 2 INT, 4 pass breakups
Kenny Vaccaro, 2 INT, 7 pass breakups
Adrian Phillips, 2 INT, 5 pass breakups
Carrington Byndom, 2 INT, 15 pass breakups

Alex Okafor (DE): 7 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries
Emmanuel Ocho(OLB): 3 sacks, 15 quarterback hurries


(HT to Berkelium97 for these graphs)



Although relatively young at the corners, the Texas secondary is fast and tough. Free Safety Kenny Vaccaro was All-Big-12 and honorable mention for Defensive Player of the Year. Strong Safety Blake Gideon is going to play with a broken hand, and can occasionally be caught out of position from peeking into the backfield.

Texas didn't generate a lot of sacks, but they put enough pressure on opposing passers that most QBs performed significantly below their season average rating. Unless, of course, your name rhymes with Herbert Kiffin the Bird.

Berkelium97 broke it down very well here in his stats-based look at the Longhorns:

"Texas has an excellent pass defense. They give up only 6.0 yards per pass (7th in the country), hold opponents to a 111.8 pass efficiency rating (14th in the country), and allow opponents to complete only 56.5% of their passes (27th in the country).

If Texas can force us into third and long, we might as well punt on third down. Passing on 3rd and 7+ is fruitless against this defense. On 75 passing attempts on 3rd and 7+, Texas gave up only 18 first downs. Feels bad man.

For this next one, you might want to sit down. Texas has notched a whopping 60 quarterback hurries this season. Let that number sink in for a moment. LSU and Alabama have pretty good defenses; they must have had at least 50 or so, right? How about 35 for 'Bama and 37 for LSU. Cal, by contrast, only had 6. That is either an error or we are DOOOOOOOOOOMED. does not allow you to sort teams based on hurries, but I guarantee Texas is near the top. Watch out for these guys getting after Maynard: LB Emmanuel Acho (7 hurries), DLAlex Okafor (13), DL Jackson Jeffcoat (7), and DL Kheeston Randall (6). I hope Coach Michalczik has some magic up his sleeve, because our O-line is going to be under siege all game. The only positive is that Texas doesn't often sack the opposing QB."

With the way they like to employ tight man coverage on the outside, I'd expect them to key on our short passing game and dare us to beat them over the top. Unfortunately, Maynard's ability to accurately loft the deep ball is perhaps the weakest part of his game.

Glass half-empty says that the Texas front seven will shut down our run and pressure Maynard into throwing early into coverage.

Glass half-full says that a creative use of Maynard's legs and our running game keeps the Longhorn's defense off-balance enough for us to pick our shots in the passing game. In certain formations, KA and Jones both might be able to exploit coverage mis-matches out of the slot for longer gains.

In all honesty, the most creative game plan in the world won't mean anything if our pass protection can't hold up.

Go Bears!

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