The lone lowlight of Texas’ opening-week victory over Notre Dame came on the defensive side of the ball. The Longhorns allowed Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer to throw with ease, surrendering five passing touchdowns on the evening.
Those same issues plagued the Longhorns once again in Saturday’s 50-43 loss to California, a sharp reminder that their defense still has a lot of work to do prior to the beginning of Big 12 play.
“This is a tough and disappointing loss,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We gave up too many big plays on defense.”
The burnt orange defense spent its night chasing California receivers as they streaked down the field, unable to slow down the Bears’ passing attack.
Senior quarterback Davis Webb shined at California Memorial Stadium, picking apart the Longhorn defense throughout the night. The Texas Tech transfer went 27-40 for 396 yards, tossing four touchdowns in the process.
“Going in we knew what Cal was capable of,” senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “We underachieved tonight, but we got 12 days to regroup before we start conference play.”
The biggest issues stemmed from Texas’ secondary. The Longhorns cornerbacks fell behind in coverage on numerous passing plays, and their safeties failed to provide help over the top. The Bears gained 19 first downs through the air and averaged nearly 15 yards per completion.
“We just have to get defensive stops and we have to make plays on defense,” Strong said. “If you go back to the start of the second half, we were able to get off the field... But we do have to get better on defense.”
Junior wide receiver Chad Hansen gave Texas fits all evening.
Another transfer product — this time from Idaho State — Hansen moved freely throughout the back end of the Longhorns defense. He torched the Longhorns for 12 catches and 196 yards while also hauling in two touchdowns.
“We knew [Hansen] was their go-to guy,” senior cornerback Sheroid Evans said. “We prepared for him but we just didn’t execute as a secondary ... We’re going to have to go back and adjust and come out better next game.”
Discounting the shutdown performance against UTEP in week two, Texas has now given up 97 points in two contests. At 48.5 points allowed per game, the Longhorn defense would rank tied for No. 120 in the nation, worse than all but one Big 12 team.
And there seems to be no relief coming for the Longhorns in the coming weeks. Texas escaped its non-conference slate at 2–1, mainly on the backs of its newfound offensive success. Now, the Longhorns will look ahead to their conference opener on Oct. 1, where they face off against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The Longhorns will face several prolific passing attacks throughout the remainder of the year. Three quarterbacks on Texas’ schedule have already thrown for 1,000 yards in 2016, and the Longhorns also have to face former Heisman Trophy contender Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
It’s not an easy slate ahead for the Longhorn defense, and surrendering 50 and 47 points in two of their three contests isn’t going to cut it. Texas’ secondary has failed to impress through three weeks, and must rebound for the Longhorns to succeed in 2016. The season is young, but Texas must regroup and readjust before facing the passing attacks of the Big 12.
“We just gotta pick ourselves back up.” Evans said. “Tonight was a learning lesson for us before Oklahoma State.”