Since Greg Robinson took over as defensive coordinator after a Week 2 loss to BYU, the Longhorns’ newfound ability to slow opposing running games has received much of the credit for Texas’ improvements on defense.
Just as important in this turnaround, though, has been the improved play of the Longhorns’ defensive line, and Robinson has taken notice.
“It really does start up front,” Robinson. “I just think our D-line just keeps getting better. I’m really impressed by them and we have depth at that position.”
The Longhorns enjoyed considerable success in rushing the passer to start conference play, racking up 16 sacks and 26 quarterback hurries in their first four Big 12 matchups. Senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley believes the Longhorns continue to improve each week, and he expects the defensive front to get even better as the season progresses.
“We’ve been putting some pretty good things up at the front,” Whaley said. “We’ve been getting better every week. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do. That’s the plan, for us to continue to get better and be dominant every week.”
At the forefront of this has been senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who leads the team with six sacks, all of which have come against conference opponents. Jeffcoat also leads Texas with 11 quarterback hurries and 9.5 tackles for a loss.
Junior defensive end Cedric Reed also enjoyed a strong start to the year in his first season as a starter, leading the team with 46 tackles while accumulating three sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. Reed said the Longhorns defensive linemen maintain a strong chemistry with each other, and he credits Jeffcoat and Whaley for their senior leadership.
“We just came together as a unit,” Reed said. “Right before each game we tell ourselves we have to play like this is our last game. Chris leads us, and Jackson helps us out, and they give us inspirational speeches and they just get us going.”
In addition to the stellar play of their defensive ends, the Longhorns’ interior linemen continue to play a major role in the defensive turnaround. Whaley boasts two sacks, five tackles for a loss and an interception return for a touchdown thus far, while sophomore defensive tackle Malcom Brown recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks in the first seven starts of his career this season.
While the Longhorns’ ability to bring down quarterbacks and ball carriers in the backfield provides negative plays for opposing offenses, the defensive line’s impact is also greatly felt by members of the Texas secondary.
“They help us a lot,” senior safety Adrian Phillips said. “We don’t have to cover as long, and if a quarterback does get a pass off it might not be as accurate. We need our d-line to keep playing the way they’re playing. When they have chances to make plays, they make them.”
The Longhorns defensive linemen are hoping to continue making big plays each week, as every quarterback hurry, tackle in the backfield and sack makes the defense even more potent.