Finding Their Way: Secondary looks to regroup in Big 12 opener

Donnavan Smoot

The season has already been a roller coaster for the Texas secondary, and they’re just three games in. Filled with youth and inexperience, Texas knew this unit would be a topic of conversation all season long. And this week, the ride takes another turn with star Oklahoma State wideout Tylan Wallace stepping into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“If you load up the box, and you go on the outside — one-on-one with Wallace, it’s not even a 50/50 ball. It’s like 90/10 with him,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “He’s probably the most complete wide receiver in the country. … It’s a unique challenge for us.”

Oklahoma State bears little resemblance to the LSU Tiger team Texas faced two weeks ago. However, the threat Wallace and the rest of the Cowboy passing attack will pose for the Longhorns is one that will seem familiar. After two solid performances and Group of 5 opponents and a less-than-stellar performance against the Tigers, Saturday is not only another game for the Longhorns, but another chance for the young secondary to raise their confidence.

“We’re definitely still working on it,” senior safety Brandon Jones said. “That’s a big spot that we want to improve on. Because we know that what we see in practice is what we’re going to see in the game. … The biggest thing is being able to have a 1–0 mindset. I think the LSU game was a really good test.”

Right now, three of the four starters in the secondary are underclassmen, with Jones being the lone senior. That inexperience has turned into one of the glaring weaknesses of the secondary. Although talented, many moments arise that they haven’t seen before.

After a rough outing against LSU, the secondary was able to bounce back against Rice. But that result has to be taken with a grain of salt as the Owls are a non-Power 5 team that sit at the bottom of their conference. 

“We are what our stats say we are,” said head coach Tom Herman on Monday. “The LA Tech game was not nearly as concerning to me … but we’ve got to do a better job against the elite teams like the LSUs of the world. We’ve got to do better, and I think we have been.”

The learning curve for the secondary has been more than simply understanding and executing the calls, but also believing in the call when it comes to them. As a signal-caller, Jones’ job is not only to make his play, but to make sure everyone else is in a position to make theirs.

“Overall understanding, just being able to actually trust what the safeties tell them,” Jones said. “Usually we communicate to them what they’re supposed to do, and a lot of time they have so much stuff going on in their head that … they’re listening but they’re not really understanding what we’re telling them.”

Saturday will put that mental concentration to the test. The Cowboys have consistently been a tough matchup for the Longhorns, regardless of ranking. Last season, Texas travelled to Stillwater, Oklahoma, with a six-game winning streak under their belt. Oklahoma State ended it.

“On the defensive side it was tough,” Jones said. “The key for us is to make teams (as) one-sided as possible, and the fact that they were able to do what they wanted, (running) the ball and throwing it, making it real hard for coach Orlando to call certain calls — it was tough.”

Oklahoma State will have no sympathy for the young defensive backfield when 6:30 p.m. hits at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Jones will try to have his secondary ready, but it is up to the rest of the group to be prepared for the Cowboys.