Saturday was a wake-up call for Texas, which skated out of Lubbock with a 63-56 overtime win against Texas Tech. The game confirmed Ehlinger’s place among Longhorn greats and sent Texas’ defense back to the tackling doghouse it occupied for the majority of the 2019 season.
Fans remain haunted by former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s unwavering stubbornness against changing the scheme and former Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb taking the secondary’s ankles as prisoners. With tackling needing desperate improvement, head coach Tom Herman brought defensive coordinator Chris Ash and his rugby-style tackling technique to Texas.
But even these solutions couldn’t overcome the unique set of challenges the COVID-19 pandemic created in the offseason, such as the lack of offseason workouts. That seems to be the only explanation for the abysmal performance. Tossing Orlando’s scheme and getting players healthy seemed to be the fix, but tackling issues in Ash’s defense were as prevalent as ever in Lubbock last Saturday.
“I felt like it was last year. With no spring ball, very limited contact in fall camp and playing UT-El Paso in our opener, I think the speed of the game got to our guys a little bit,” Herman said in the postgame press conference. “All of these are really good teaching moments. We will celebrate the things we did well and go back to work on the things we didn’t.”
Sure, Texas looked rough, but it was just game two in 2020. Let’s not make a sweeping judgement on Texas’ defense until more games are played. We’ve seen what the defense can do when it has time. Texas fans were relieved when the Longhorns took down No. 11 Utah in a 38-10 beatdown at the Valero Alamo Bowl, showing defensive prowess over a Pac-12 powerhouse.
Ash admitted he thought the tackling was in a good place after Texas’ game against UTEP, but Texas Tech exposed the remnants of last year's problems in the third quarter. On third-and-16, a play that would surely put the ball back in Texas’ hands, the Longhorns’ coverage gave senior wide receiver T.J. Vasher too much space, allowing sophomore quarterback Alan Bowman to connect a pass that would catalyze a scoring drive. The drive would be capped by a 29-yard touchdown from Vasher, who left a tumbleweed of defenders rolling behind him.
The same thing happened on sophomore running back SaRodorick Thompson’s 75-yard touchdown play. Thompson broke multiple tackles and flew past the second level. Members of the Texas secondary thought the play was over and even walked as they watched Thompson mangle the defensive line and dart down the sideline.
Ehlinger and the offense won the game, but the defense got a taste of redemption when senior defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham snuffed out Thompson for a 4-yard loss that would be the first nail in the coffin for Texas Tech’s overtime dreams.
The wake-up call in Lubbock will either rally the defense and help Texas reach its Big 12 championship goals or further expose the defense's flaws. TCU will be a great test for the Longhorns and will show if this team's resilience has changed at all since 2019.
“We didn’t blame each other,” sophomore defensive lineman Keondre Coburn said after Saturday’s game. “With previous teams, when stuff happens we’d like to blame, but this defense is different. We knew that we made mistakes; it’s the reason why they scored. But (we knew that) we had to keep on to the next play and play after play.”