Patching up porous run defense the first order of business
Orlando wants to make foes one-dimensional again
LUBBOCK — In most cases, scoring 76 points over two Saturdays would be good enough for a couple of wins.
For 19th-ranked Texas (6-3, 4-2 Big 12), all those points have resulted only in to pair of gut-wrenching losses and a tumble from its perch atop the Big 12.
Five touchdowns weren’t enough to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Another handful of touchdowns plus a pair of field goals still left Texas one point shy of 13th-ranked West Virginia last weekend at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Todd Orlando’s defense has been turned into a well-worn punching bag over the last two weeks.
Oklahoma State put up 38 points and totaled 502 yards in its 38-35 win. Not to be outdone, West Virginia went for 42 and 578, respectively, capped by a game-winning twopoint conversion with 16 seconds remaining.
Those performances have pushed Orlando and his group to do some soul-searching ahead of Saturday’s game at Jones AT&T Stadium against Texas Tech (5-4, 3-3) and its explosive Air Raid offense.
“The way that we have to do it is go back to practice habits,” Orlando said. “Go back to looking ourselves in the mirror, me especially, and saying, ‘We have to get this fixed.’ That’s coaching. The players, these guys care about football, and we’ve got to work like crazy to get this right.”
Orlando singled out a porous run defense as the main culprit in UT’s falloff, though in truth the team has struggled in every key facet.
But stripping a team of its ability to run is like stripping a boxer of the use of an arm — he can still flail with the free limb, but the opponent knows what’s coming and where it’s coming from. Texas, which held No. 22 USC to minus-5 rushing yards in an earlier win, has lost that ability to handicap opposing offenses.
Whether it has been a loss of gap integrity or a frustrating inability to simply wrap up the ball carrier before he reaches the second level, Orlando’s group has floundered as a run-stopping unit.
“The main thing for us right now is our inability to
stop the run,” Orlando said. “That to me is my job, the coaching part of it. Be gap sound, physicality. When you look at the last two weeks and you say to yourself, ‘What is happening here?’ in the past we’ve made people one-dimensional. When you don’t make people one-dimensional and they can run the football, that opens everything else.”
Texas Tech will be without quarterback Alan Bowman, who was discharged from the hospital Wednesday following a four-day stay to be evaluated for a “recurrence of a partially collapsed lung.” Given the severity of Bowman’s injury, coach Kliff Kingsbury will stick with Jett Duffey, who threw
for 139 yards and accounted for three TDs in the second half of last Saturday’s near upset of Oklahoma.
Texas will play more nickel defense against Duffey, though the original game plan for slowing Kingsbury’s offense will remain largely intact. Like Bowman, Duffey will have a wealth of options in the passing game, including Antoine Wesley, the nation’s second-leading receiver with 1,176 yards, and Ja’Deion High (615 yards).
“The quarterback and receivers get a lot of the publicity,” coach Tom Herman said. “But you better be able to stop the run or you’re going to bleed a slow death.”
As good as Tech’s offense is, its defense is a scarlet sieve, ranking 88th in scoring
defense, 110th in total defense and 124th in passing yards allowed.
Even with receiver Collin Johnson (knee) dinged up, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger should post gaudy numbers.
“You can’t play good defense if you’re not confident,” Herman said. “They know what they’re capable of. We’ve seen it, it’s not theory. We’ve played really good defense this season with these players. They know we’ve got to tighten up some details and tighten up some screws here and there, but whenever you don’t play well the best medicine is to go out and play well.”
End Breckyn Hager, right, is expected to take the field today in Lubbock for a struggling Texas defense despite being on the mend from a dislocated radius.