Horns keeping premiere quarterbacks in check

Christian Corona

It was an ugly day when Texas traveled to the Cotton Bowl this October. Landry Jones had 300 yards and three touchdowns before halftime as the Sooners put a 55-spot on the Longhorns.

But since then, the Longhorns have done a great job shutting down opposing quarterbacks.

Brandon Weeden was limited to a season-low 218 yards, more than 150 below his season average and just one of his 34 touchdown passes. Kansas’ Jordan Webb came into the contest against Texas averaging more than 200 yards per game but managed just 48 when the Jayhawks visited Austin. The next week, Texas Tech’s Seth Doege, who has thrown for 28 touchdown, didn’t find the end zone until late in the third quarter when the Longhorns already led 38-6.

Missouri quarterback James Franklin passed for just 186 yards and Kansas State’s Collin Klein for merely 83. Klein, who ran for 1,000 yards this year before facing Texas, is second in the nation with 25 rushing touchdowns but rushed four only four yards on 26 carries against the Longhorns. And last week, Ryan Tannehill turned in his worst performance of the season as he was picked off three times by the Texas secondary with one of them being returned for a touchdown.

“It might not so much be Tannehill,” said junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. “He might not have played one of his worst games. We might have just played one of our best.

The Longhorns could use another one of their best outings when they face a Baylor offense led by Robert Griffin III, who boasts the country’s second-highest passer rating but has also run for more than 600 yards. When it comes to dual-threat quarterbacks, Griffin is one of the best but Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has a good history against mobile quarterbacks. Cam Newton managed only 136 passing yards against Diaz’s Mississippi State defense, which did not allow Denard Robinson and Michigan’s offense to score after the first quarter in last season’s Gator Bowl.

“Iv’e always felt like you want it to be fun with the kids,” Diaz said. “When you tell the nose guard that he’s going to drop back like a linebacker, he thinks it’s some KGB stuff that came from and East German spy so it has to work.”

Texas may have saved its best opposing offense for last as the Longhorns travel to Waco to face the nation’s second-most productive offense. Baylor has averaged 576.7 yards per game and put up 66 points last week while routing Texas Tech. And that was with the Bears playing their second-string quarterback for the entire second half.

“This is a really good challenge,” Diaz said. “You have three main fronts. You have a vertical passing game that they do better than anybody in the country. Then, you have the quarterback run game that sometimes changes numerically how you have to try and defend them. Then, you have a quarterback that can just take off and run.”

Griffin, who has racked up 34 touchdown passes against just five interceptions this season, has made it look easy torching Big 12 defenses. Before getting knocked out of the game during the first half of last week’s contest, Griffin averaged more than 400 yards passing over his five previous games. The Copperas Cove product has also averaged nearly 80 rushing yards over his last three contests.

“He’s probably going to be the best talent we face all year, we’ll have our hands full,” said Vaccaro, who was childhood friends with Griffin. “I thought he was going to the Olympics in track. He’s always had a cannon. He’s just never been this efficient.”

One of three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award given annually to the nation’s best quarterback, Griffin is also in line for an invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation. With guys like Trent Richardson and Andrew Luck not playing this week, Griffin could give himself a chance to bring home the coveted award with a big game against the Longhorns, who aren’t exactly willing to oblige.

“We don’t plan on letting anybody win the Heisman against this defense,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “He’s had a heck of a season and heck of a career. With him being one of the Heisman candidates playing on that day, it’s going to be fun to see him bring his best. We’re definitely going to bring ours.”

Mack Brown joked this week that players that suffer a concussion should be automatically out of next week’s game, knowing that Griffin had suffered a head injury last Saturday. But it might be Griffin that has given Texas headaches this week.

“I was walking by Manny’s office and he said, ‘I’ve never seen this many deep touchdown passes in my coaching career,’” Brown said. “It’s unbelievable watching these guys. They just sling it deep and they hit them. They’re amazing. They can score so fast.”