Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
Taking a look at the Texas Longhorn defense ahead of this weekend's game against the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence.
The Texas defense was sold as the unit that was going to return the Longhorns to Big 12 title contention. The talent on the roster was going to be on par with some of the best in the country and Texas was going to lean on this group to get them back over the hump as they cautiously waited on offensive improvement. Unfortunately it's been quite the opposite. The Texas offense has been productive, perhaps more productive than originally expected. Unfortunately the Texas defense has been sub par at best and that has led to a 5-2 record and renewed doubts in terms of where the Longhorns sit in the Big 12 pecking order. This is still a team and a program with plenty of talent and they can lean on that, but this unit needs to improve a great deal before Texas is in the Big 12 and National Title hunt once again.
FS - Kenny Vaccaro - 6'1" 218 Sr.
Vaccaro is one of the senior leaders on the defense and the leader in the secondary which was a group that was supposed to anchor the Longhorns this season. Texas returned all four starters yet for some reason the communication and cohesiveness hasn't been where it was expected to be. While the pass defense is the best part of what the Longhorns have been able to do this year, it's still near the bottom of all of college football and in the bottom three of the Big 12 conference.
SS - Adrian Phillips - 5'11" 200 - Jr
CB - Quadre Diggs - 5'10" 200 - Soph
CB - Carrington Byndom - 6' 180 - Jr.
The remaining three in the secondary all entered the year with significant snaps with the starting unit. It's a group with plenty of talent, yet they've underperformed to the standards that were set heading into the season. Granted this is a group that has played high powered offenses in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Baylor and Oklahoma State. That does put the numbers in perspective, but it's still somewhat unacceptable given some of the preseason statements about this unit and what they would do for Texas.
MLB - Steve Edmond - 6'3" 255 - Soph
SLB - Demarco Cobbs -6'2" 218 - Jr
WLB - Kendall Thompson - 6'3" 240 - Soph
WLB - Jordan Hicks - 6'2" 235 - Jr
WLB - Peter Jenkins - 6'1" 213 - Fr
This is the group that has really been at the root of the problem for Texas if you had to point the finger at one group. Edmond is the leading tackler, but in general this is a young and inexperienced crew that hasn't been getting the job done for Mack Brown and the Longhorns. It probably should have been expected that this group might experience some growing pains, but sometimes Texas is given the benefit of the doubt in these situations because of their recruiting advantages and the talent they bring in year in and year out.
Buck - Cedric Reed - 6'6" 250 - Soph
Reggie Wilson - 6'3" 260 - Jr
DT - Desmond Jackson - 6'1" 300 - Soph
DT - Chris Whaley - 6'3" 292 - Jr.
Strong End - Alex Okafor - 6'5" 265 - Sr
Okafor and Reed have been fairly solid for the Longhorns and Whaley has turned himself into a serviceable defensive tackle after finding a home on defense. The main problems here have been on the interior and again it seems to revolve around the youth at the nose tackles spot. The Texas run defense is 107th in the nation and that boils down to this group, especially the interior, and the linebackers just not living up to the preseason expectation. Yes they've dealt with injury, youth and they've played some great offenses, but the expectations in Austin don't take a year off.
If you're reading the above and thinking that Kansas has a strong chance against Texas I'd stress caution. This is a team that has struggled, but they've struggled against a tough schedule. Kansas is still on the lower tier of the Big 12 and at this point we only really have a small sample that points to competitiveness for the Jayhawks. Here's the good news for Jayhawk fans. Kansas was blown out by Kansas State and Oklahoma. Those are the top two teams in the league. The Jayhawks were competitive against TCU and Oklahoma State, those are middle of the pack teams in the Big 12 and it's a HUGE middle of the pack. Texas is in that mix, so maybe just maybe Kansas can take this game four quarters and provide a little bit of hope. It's a process, an upset isn't likely, but top teams aside it would be great to see Kansas compete with the second tier in the league and Texas might fit in that category depending on which team shows up on Saturday.