Defense finds confidence after California

Nick Castillo

The Longhorns’ defense is far from head coach Charlie Strong’s best.

Strong led Florida’s defense to a national championship as its defensive coordinator in 2008 and produced the No. 23 defense in the country while he was head coach at Louisville in 2012. Texas’ 2015 defensive unit finds itself on the opposite end of the spectrum, as it has given up 512.3 yards per game and ranks No. 118 out of 127 FBS schools. Despite the Longhorns’ defensive struggles, Strong feels the Longhorns can turn their fortunes around.

“I look at the plays that hurt us, and they’re plays that can be fixed,” Strong said. “It’s always a missed assignment. It’s always poor tackling…those are things that can be fixed because it’s all about fundamentals and technique. I told our defensive coaches if we get those things straight, we’re going to be okay.”

But Texas’ defense displayed a newfound confidence in the fourth quarter against California. The Longhorns were able to stop the Golden Bears and give the ball back to a re-energized offense led by redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard. Sophomore defensive tackle Poona Ford said the defense hopes to replicate its fourth quarter success as it makes a run in the Big 12 conference.

“It’s a big confidence booster for us,” Ford said. “Being able to fight back like that, being 21 down, it just shows we can be a really good football team that we can probably go on and win this conference.”

The Longhorns defense’s quest for a Big 12 championship begins against No. 24 Oklahoma State (3-0). The Cowboys come to Austin with an explosive offense led by sophomore quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has passed for 947 yards and five touchdowns. Texas will have to rely on its confidence to help it contain Rudolph and prevent the Cowboys from exploiting its weaknesses.

Senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson said he and senior cornerback Duke Thomas have been preaching to the defense this week. They’ve been spreading the message — Texas has to stop explosive plays. Senior linebacker Peter Jinkens said if they can play up to their potential, they’ll be able to beat Oklahoma State.

“I feel like if we play the way we played in the fourth quarter this past week; I feel like we’ll do just fine,” Jinkens said.

The Longhorns defense hasn’t played to Strong’s level yet. But he and the players have said they need to be focused against the Cowboys. They have to get better if they want to be Big 12 contenders.

“At the end of the day, you got to be able to play defense,” Jackson said. “You got to be able to get the ball back to your offense. You got to get off the field on third down.”