Putting on the pressure: Texas defense piles up sacks

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Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Bryce Cottrell darted off the left edge of the Baylor offensive line. The senior defensive end zoned in on senior quarterback Seth Russell, who had just dropped back to toss the ball downfield late in the fourth quarter. 

The Baylor signal caller failed to get off a pass — he didn’t even have time to wind up. Cottrell met him with brute force seconds after his dropback without sustaining a single claw scratch from the Bears. 

Cottrell’s sack marked the fifth of six quarterback takedowns during the contest. The play helped Texas get the ball back late in the game before winning 35–34 on a field goal with less than a minute left. 

“On Saturday, it was just more pressure,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “[Baylor] allowed us to go just zero-blitz. I told [the team], ‘I said hey, we’re just gonna go blitz them and see if we can get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand.’”

Texas football has not been synonymous with defense during the Strong era in Austin. The Longhorns rank No. 103 in total defense this season, offering up 462 yards per game to opposing offenses this year. 

But through all the adversity, the Texas defensive line has found its way to the quarterback more than almost every program in the country. Texas is tied for No. 2 in the nation, with 31 total sacks, behind a historically efficient Alabama unit.

The Longhorns’ six sacks against Baylor were its second-most in a single game this season, behind only the eight Texas accumulated against Iowa State two weeks ago. Since Strong took over the defensive play calling duties four games ago, his defense has generated 17 sacks.

“I think really it’s [just been] the defense that coach Strong and coach Bedford had implemented,” senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “And just having different personnel on the field, just going out there and giving the teams different looks. I think different packages that we have [now] but didn’t have in place [earlier this season] have helped us get us where we’re at now.”

Texas features eight players who own multiple sacks this season, including Boyette and Cottrell. Sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager leads them all with five. He said the increase in quarterback pressure is a result of Strong’s “simple” defensive scheme. 

“We blitz a lot,” Hager said. “Which I don’t mind. I love it. It resulted in Baylor having to slow down, make checks. So when you’re out there blitzing, they’re not going to go fast-paced. So that’s an advantage on
our side.” 

While Texas showed unexpected ability to slow down one of the nation’s top offenses in Baylor, it will have to do it again in a hostile environment in Lubbock. 

Texas Tech boasts the No. 2 offense in the nation at 600.3 yards per game for a reason: The Red Raiders have the best quarterback in the country in terms of passing yards per game. Junior Patrick Mahomes throws for 439.9 yards per game, 74.1 more yards per contest than the next man on the list.

Strong said the key to slowing down Mahomes will be keeping him in the pocket, not letting him scramble and make lethal plays. If Texas keeps him inside the tackle box, it just might lead to another plethora of sacks for the Longhorn defense — but it sure won’t be an easy task. 

“Our hands are going to be full,” Strong said. “We’re going to have to play really good on defense.”