Following a loss against Brigham Young University in which they surrendered 550 rushing yards and an average of 7.6 yards per carry, the Longhorns vowed they wouldn’t let another opponent ravage their run defense.
“After that BYU game, we weren’t going to let that happen again,” junior defensive end Cedric Reed said. “We left so much on the field. We just told ourselves we’re not going to let that happen no more, and ever since then it’s just been clicking for us slowly, but it’s kicked off during conference play.”
The Longhorns’ defenders have backed that statement over their past five games, limiting opponents since then to an average of 152.6 rushing yards per game on 3.76 yards per carry. This impressive stretch coincides with the hiring of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat believes Robinson’s ability to simplify the defense allows players to better succeed in their assignments.
“Everybody’s doing their responsibility,” Jeffcoat said. "We’re making sure we’re in our gaps, making sure we’re not looking into the backfield when we don’t need to. We’re kind of playing our keys.”
The Longhorns kicked off their turnaround against the run in their first conference game of the season, when they held Kansas State to 115 rushing yards and 3.0 yards per carry. Overall, Texas has limited its four Big 12 opponents this season to an average of 122.8 yards on the ground per game.
Texas managed to ramp up its run defense even further in its last two games. The Longhorns held an Oklahoma team averaging 246 rushing yards entering the contest to just 130 yards on the ground, and they limited TCU to 45 rushing yards on an average of just 1.9 yards per carry.
Head coach Mack Brown believes Texas’ revamped run defense has been the key to the Longhorns’ turnaround on defense in the last two weeks because doing so has forced opponents into obvious passing situations.
“You stop the run, and that’s when you get your turnovers on second-and-long or third-and-long,” Brown said. “The total difference of what we’re seeing out of our front four now is that we’ve put the last two offenses in second-and-long and third-and-long and then you have the ability for Chris Whaley, Malcolm Brown and the two ends to get there.”
Senior cornerback Carrington Byndom seconded this, adding that being able to limit opposing run games is a step towards an early season objective.
“I think we’ve made more of an emphasis on stopping the run,” Byndom said. “If you can stop the run, then you make teams one-dimensional. It’s been a goal for us since the season started.”