Longhorns bring defensive pressure in victory over UTEP

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Sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager wraps up UTEP sophomore quarterback Kavika Johnson. Hager led the Longhorns with eight tackles on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

If there was one major criticism of the Longhorns’ 50-47 victory over No. 18 Notre Dame in week one, it came on the defensive side of the ball. Texas struggled to pressure Notre Dame quarterback DeShon Kizer throughout the evening, allowing the junior to compile five touchdown tosses.

But those struggles dissipated on Saturday night, as the Texas defense swarmed UTEP en route to a 41-7 victory. When the clock hit zero at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns had amassed five sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

In his first start, sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager made an impact for Texas’ defense. Deemed “wild thing” by his teammates, Hager tallied eight tackles and one for loss. Head coach Charlie Strong praised Hager postgame, recalling a conversation he had with defensive coordinator Vance Bedford earlier in the week.

“I was telling coach Bedford, I said, ‘you know what let’s find a way to get Hager on the field,’” Strong said. “We said you know what, ‘let’s play five down and play backers and let Hager just come off the edge.’ [We] blitzed him a lot and [Hager] made a lot of plays.”

The Westlake high school product recorded just 18 tackles in his freshman season, often lambasted by coaches and teammates for being out of position. But Hager has changed his mindset this year.

“I’m now doing what coach Bedford and coach Brick Haley tell me to do,” Hager said. “Every time I listen to what they tell me to do, I make the play. Their knowledge of the game has really helped me out.”

Hager and the rest of the Longhorns’ defense were tasked with stopping UTEP running back Aaron Jones, who entered Saturday’s battle leading the NCAA in rushing. 

Texas held the redshirt junior to only 10 yards in the first quarter before he unleashed a 51-yard scamper to the endzone in the second quarter.

“It was a short week since we played on Sunday and for film, we only had one game on UTEP because they have a new offensive coordinator,” senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette said. “But at the end of the day, that’s not an excuse to come out and start off sluggish so we just have to know how to stream focus and play with a
phenomenal effort.”

But Jones’ success would end after his touchdown burst. Excluding the 51-yard run, he gained only 72 yards during the contest, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Texas’ defensive line wreaked havoc in the Miners’ backfield, consistently penetrating UTEP’s defensive line. 

“We played as one heartbeat out there,” Hager said. “We were really just focused on playing against ourselves rather than the running back.”

The Longhorns defense bounced back in a big way against UTEP. But the Miner’s offense pales in comparison to Texas’ next opponent. 

The burnt orange will head west next week to face California in its first road test of the season, squaring off against former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb. Webb has shined leading the Bears’ aerial attack, throwing nine touchdowns in two games. And while Saturday’s shutdown was a step in the right direction, the Longhorns defense says it still has plenty of work to do. 

“We want to keep building consistency and that’s what we harp on,” Boyette said. “We want to be consistent with everything we do and go out there and play at the highest level. We want to make a statement to the country that the Texas football team is back.”