If the Texas Longhorns offense is expected to produce at a higher-level than ever before, the defensive unit has even greater expectations after struggling their way through 2012 and causing serious questions to be asked about the long-term future of Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz on the Forty Acres.
Texas fans were promised a more hungry unit in 2013, one that would play with a consistent level of effort and intensity — something which was missing at crucial times during 2012. In the 56-7 blowout win over New Mexico State, the Texas defense showed some signs of delivering on this promise but some of the same old issues are still readily apparent.
Defensive Line (including Ends): A
The Texas defensive line and ends played well throughout the evening, and at times, were dominant. Senior leader Jackson Jeffcoat and the imposing Cedric Reed had their way throughout the evening with an under-sized Aggie offensive line. Reed was particularly impressive, ending up in the backfield throughout the night and dominating the line of scrimmage, finishing with seven total tackles (1 TFL) and two quarterback hurries.
Malcom Brown and Chris Whaley were also an intimidating presence for a Texas defensive line that was just too much for New Mexico State to handle. As a whole the unit played with consistency and a sense of urgency, both of which will be of great importance as the level of competition quickly increases over the next few weeks.
The primary emphasis for the Texas linebackers in 2013 will be gap control, positioning and preventing short-runs from turning into explosive plays. For the most part, the unit was successful in doing all three against New Mexico State last evening, with sophomore Dalton Santos leading the way with several solid open-field tackles including a couple of his signature big hits.
Jordan Hicks was solid as a rock in his return to the Longhorns after missing most of the 2012 season and showed the leadership and consistency which will be a big part of the success of the unit for the rest of the season. Where Santos showed what could be the promise of an increased role ahead, Hicks showed just what he needed to and will be expected to do every Saturday for the linebacking unit to turn around as a whole this fall.
The Texas secondary needs a few guys to step up to a new level to increase the overall success of the defense in 2013, and they may have just the guy in Sheroid Evans. It seemed like Evans had a double last evening, as he tallied six tackles and was always in the right place at the right time.
Mykkele Thompson and Adrian Phillips both had solid games and played nice position defense in the primary nickel formation for Texas. Quandre Diggs recovered a fumble and made two outstanding pursuit tackles in the open field, operating as the nickel back for the majority of the evening.
In simplest terms, the secondary played just as expected.
The Texas defense will undoubtedly be a work-in-progress in 2013 and must rise to the occasion for the Longhorns to win the close games which will be a constant Saturday reality. For now, consider their performance against New Mexico State the first battle win in what will be a long-term war.