Texas defense struggles to force takeaways

Tyler Horka

Senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ errant pass drifted high and off the fingertips of freshman receiver Collin Johnson. Tipped, picked — interception.

Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele put too much air under his pass to sophomore receiver John Burt down the sideline. California’s junior safety Luke Rubenzer saw it the whole way. Ground covered, picked — interception.

Both turnovers led to Golden Bears touchdowns and ultimately swung the game in California’s favor. Texas forced zero turnovers in the game — a problem the Longhorns have faced in all three of their matchups this season.

 “When you look across this country, if you’re not getting takeaways, which we talked about we’re not getting right now, it’s tough,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “We need to find a way to up the amp, whether it’s interceptions, fumbles — whatever it may be.”

Texas sits at No. 127 — dead last in the FBS — in turnovers forced. The lone takeaway came as a forced fumble against UTEP in week two.

Senior cornerback Sheroid Evans almost captured the Longhorns’ first interception of the season against California, but the sixth-year defensive back ran out of real estate.

“I didn’t get that interception,” Evans said. “My foot was out of bounds, man. [The refs] could have given it to me. But I’ll get another one. I’ll make it count.”

For a school that’s known by many as “DBU,” or “defensive back university,” Strong has not seen much out of his secondary.

“Defensively, we’ve got to get better,” Strong said. “We can’t get the ball thrown over our head in the secondary. We’ve got to come up with plays. We’ve got to come up with turnovers. We need to make plays on defense.”

Bedford, who coached with Strong at Florida and Louisville before coming to Austin with the Longhorns’ head coach in 2014, concurs with Strong in saying that the No. 1 thing the Texas defense needs to work on is interceptions.

“We play a lot of zone. And when you play zone, that’s where your interceptions come from,” Bedford said. “We need to do a better job of watching the ball leave the quarterback’s hand and breaking on the football. Those are the things we continue to work on.”

 The Texas defense will have plenty of opportunities to see the ball leave Oklahoma State junior quarterback Mason Rudolph’s hand Saturday. Rudolph ranks No. 12 nationally in pass attempts per game, throwing the rock an average of 39.8 times per matchup.

 He’s done a lot with those passes. He sits at No. 15 in the nation with 324 passing yards per game. And through all of those attempts, he’s only thrown two interceptions.

The Cowboys also boast the No. 6 receiver in the nation in receiving yards per game — junior James Washington averages 122 per contest.

“He’s a running back playing wide receiver,” Bedford said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s strong, [he gets] yards after the catch. You have to worry about him. I’ve talked to different teams that played him and a couple of teams made a mistake and just played zero coverage against the guy and he was going to town on them.”

 If Bedford’s defense fails to intercept Rudolph or end Oklahoma State drives early with forced fumbles, Washington and the rest of the Cowboys have the potential to go to town on the Texas defense the same way Cal did two weeks ago.