AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas knows Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is going to let it fly. Repeatedly.
But the Longhorns also believe they know how to keep those throws from turning into long touchdowns.
“The way our defense and coverage is structured, it is big-play proof because there is always going to be a safety overlapping,” safety Blake Gideon said. “There are a lot of eyes on the ball. If a few tackles are broken we always have a chance to get the guy on the ground.”
Which is why, in the passing game at least, Texas has not given up a touchdown pass of 20 or more yards. The Longhorns are the only team in the FBS that can say that.
“We always say the worst thing that can happen if we don’t give up big plays is that they end up in the red zone, and red zone defense, that's just a mindset,” Gideon said. “That's a toughness thing and obviously we prove ourselves on wanting to be the toughest team.”
Griffin does present a few more problems than the average quarterback. With that in mind, Texas will deploy a few other things to try and disrupt his flow.
“You gotta rattle a guy like that,” linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. “You have to get after him from the jump. You have to make sure he feels our presence. That's really the starting point.”
Texas does that with its myriad defensive fronts and blitz schemes. The Longhorns have more than 180 of the latter. But they will have to be judicious in deploying their blitzes. Griffin is adept at slipping through tackles, and if he makes the player blitzing miss, he will have plenty of room to run.
Running is exactly what Texas doesn’t want Griffin, or ay dual-threat quarterback, to do.
“You have to make them one dimensional,” Acho said. “You have to be able to stop their run and make them into a pocket passer. When they're a pocket passer then they become essentially the same as every other quarterback. But that's much easier said than done.”
Texas was successful turning Kansas State’s Collin Klein into a one-dimensional player by getting a solid outside rush from the ends. That kept Klein in the pocket and allowed the defensive tackles and linebacker to clog any of his running lanes. Klein finished with four yards on 26 attempts. He had averaged 101 yards per game.
Griffin is a better athlete than Klein. He’s not as tough, but is a much smoother runner. Still, the same principles will apply. Where the worry comes into play, is that unlike Klein, Griffin has learned to throw on the run. That forces the defensive backs to hold their coverages longer.
“We have to cover twice because he is going to scramble out of the pocket,” safety Keny Vaccaro said. “Now that he has developed his passing game when he scrambles out of the pocket he is going to look downfield and try to make the play. In the Oklahoma game right at the end he could of took off but he just made the great throw.”
Texas will have to use a mix of zone and man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Against Texas A&M, they were able to go with more man coverage with Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom.
But if they play man, and Baylor sends three or four guys 40 yards down the field, that leaves a huge gap for Griffin to exploit with his legs. Now, the Longhorns could deploy a spy on Griffin, but that isn’t possible on every play.
“They are so dynamic as far as how they spread the field and where they place their people around,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “If you try to spy them, you will have more spies than the CIA. You can't all spy. Someone has got to go play.”
And someone has to figure out how to stop Griffin.