When the Longhorns lined up to begin the game against Oklahoma State on defense, there was experience all around. The secondary was filled with upperclassmen and the defensive line featured cagy veterans. The linbacking corps, however, served as the exception.
Combined, sophomore Steve Edmond and junior Demarco Cobbs had made six starts entering the contest, and freshman Dalton Santos was making his first ever collegiate start in place of Jordan Hicks, who was out with a hip injury.
The inexperience showed in their play, too. Cobbs, Santos and Edmond consistently took bad angles to the football, didn’t tackle well and looked confused as to their assignments, especially in defending against the hurry-up offense the Cowboys employed.
“Our youth and inexperience is showing up,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “We’re playing in difficult environments, difficult learning environments. Nobody has any sympathy for our plight ... Nobody is going to wait for us to grow up. We have to do it in a hurry.”
A big part of their issues stem from Hicks’ injury. He’s the leader of the unit, makes adjustments at the line and just keeps his fellow linebackers accountable. Not to mention the fact that he’s an excellent player himself — Hicks is still the fourth-leading tackler on the team despite missing a game.
As of now, Hicks’ status for the West Virginia game is unknown. But if he’s out again the Longhorn defense will continue to skip a beat.
“It was very tough out there without Jordan, because he’s a big leader,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “But, Jordan’s been in their ear all week, so it helps to have him around talking to everybody.”
With or without Hicks, the linebackers must elevate their level of play, otherwise Geno Smith and West Virginia’s 53-point-per-game offense will dissect Texas’ defense at will.
The linebackers serve as an in-between for the secondary and the front four. Their job is to contain the run from reaching the second level and to defend the middle of the field and the edges in the passing game.
Against Oklahoma State, they failed to excel in either of these aspects. Joesph Randle and the Cowboys’ rushing attack gashed Texas for 275 yards, and it wasn’t much better defending the pass, as true freshman quarterback J.W. Walsh threw for 301 yards, with the majority of those coming over the middle of the field.
“You have to take something away,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We didn’t either way. That’s something we have to try to do a better job of this weekend. We’ve got to be more physical.”
Intensity attacking the ball is great, but the linebackers really need to focus on staying in lanes and playing the correct coverage. Diaz was quick to point to the linebackers’ youth as a reason for their struggles and was pretty candid in saying that the game moved quickly for the group.
“Some of the things they saw when they watched the film, they couldn’t even believe that it was them on film,” Diaz said. “They saw it, and they just couldn’t believe the simplicity of the mistakes they made.”
They’ll have to alleviate their issues quickly; otherwise the 578 yards of offense Oklahoma State put up will look light compared to what West Virginia could do on Saturday.