Texas’ defensive leaders thrive in bend-don’t-break philosophy

Austin Laymance

The Texas defense has made a habit of forcing field goals in the red zone this year, and the Longhorns will need that trend to continue.

UT’s red zone defense was instrumental last week against Texas A&M, holding the Aggies to a pair of touchdowns and two field goals in four trips to keep the game within reach. For the year, Texas has forced 19 field goals in 36 red zone situations (53 percent), a stat the Longhorns pride themselves on.

“That’s just a mindset, that’s toughness thing,” said senior safety Blake Gideon.

It’s just standard operating procedure for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“He expects us to not let anyone get in our end zone,” said junior safety Kenny Vaccaro. “So that’s what we expect, too.”

Texas will face a top-10 offense for the second time in as many games Saturday, and protecting the end zone will be a major point of emphasis this week. Baylor averages 43 points per game (sixth in the nation); so holding the Bears to field goals will be paramount.

“So many games are won and lost in the red zone by forcing an offense to kick field goals,” Gideon said. “There’s a lot of times where we’re disappointed we give up big plays to let them down there, but if we can keep them out of the end zone, that’s a win for us.”

The Longhorns understand that Baylor will move the chains­—the Bears average 576 yards per game — but clamping down inside the 20-yard line will be the key.

“When you play an offense like this, you have to accept the fact that they are going to get yards, but you have to try like crazy to not let them get points,” Diaz said.

Texas has fared well this season against some of the top offenses in the country, though. The Longhorns gave the Aggies fits, frustrated Kansas State and limited Oklahoma State for the most part.

Still, the Bears and Heisman Trophy candidate Robert Griffin III pose a new challenge.

BU’s vertical passing game is unlike any the Longhorns have faced. Griffin’s 34 touchdown passes this season went for an average of 35 yards each, the best mark in the nation by far.

“That’s unheard of,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown.

But UT is the only team in the nation that hasn’t allowed a touchdown pass of longer than 19 yards.

“The way our defense and coverage are structured, it’s big play proof,” Gideon said. “There’s a lot of eyes on the ball. If there’s a few broken tackles, we still have a chance to get the guy on the ground.”

Limiting the Bear’s big play ability, though, is easier said than done. Baylor has 35 scoring drives off less than two minutes, including 18 lasting less than 60 seconds.

Still, the Longhorns have implemented a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy through 11 games, and they expect more of the same in Waco.

“If they do move the ball, we can’t panic,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “If they do score early, we can’t panic. We know once they get in the red zone that we have to really be stout, make sure they don’t get in and force field goals or turnovers.”

If the Longhorns want to deny Griffin a shot at the Heisman Trophy, they’ll have to keep him out of the end zone.