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Sunday, August 31, 2014
Plays that changed the game: Texas

By Max Olson

AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong promised fans would see a Texas defense that played tougher in 2014. The first impression he and his players presented Saturday, in a 38-7 beatdown of North Texas, did not disappoint. Texas held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, 15 passing yards and picked off four passes to begin the Strong era.

Here's a closer look at four of the Longhorns' top defensive plays, one from each quarter, and how they shaped what proved to be an easy season-opening victory.

1st: Walk-on gets the pick party started


Dylan Haines burst onto the scene this spring with an interception in the first quarter of the Orange-White spring game. He did it again Saturday night. The third-year sophomore ran to the right place at the right time when Josh Greer's third-down pass deflected off the outstretched hand of tight end Marcus Smith. He grabbed the ball and took off for a 22-yard return.

Teammates mobbed "White Chocolate" -- Haines' nickname handed down from Texas' veteran DBs -- as soon as the play ended. "It's a really special moment," he said. "To share it with the 10 other guys on the field and have everyone come up and celebrate me was a truly awesome feeling." Though Texas didn't capitalize with points, Greer seemed rattled after that misfire. After the game, Haines told reporters Strong did put him on scholarship earlier this month.

2nd: Ten players, no problem?


Watch this one closely. Unless there's a player hiding somewhere off the screen, it seems Texas got stuck with 10 defenders on the field for a third-and-4. Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford have a reputation for being fearless when it comes to blitzing, and on this play, they send six. Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson takes on the center, clearing the way for linebacker Demarco Cobbs and safety Mykkele Thompson to run past them. Cobbs gets to backup QB Andrew McNulty first and Thompson finishes the job.

UNT punted and Texas answered with an eight-play TD drive. It's a nice breakthrough play for Thompson and Cobbs, who've both endured some struggles in recent years but appear revitalized this fall under the new staff.

3rd: A rare chance to get pressure


North Texas did not want to throw the ball in this game, especially once Texas started grabbing interceptions. The Mean Green finished with 17 pass attempts and their quarterbacks had more sacks (four) than completed passes (three). Here's one of the few times Greer, a juco transfer making his first FBS start, attempted a pass on first down. Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, one of the team's most enigmatic players, had no trouble here. He went right around UNT's right tackle and brought Greer down from behind. Teammates say the light bulb is coming on for Ridgeway, whose lazy habits limited his opportunities last season. He's the No. 3 defensive tackle in this lineup but could develop into a force.

UNT went three-and-out here and Greer attempted just two more passes the rest of the quarter. "Because they were young, they came in not to lose that game," Bedford said. "They played close to the vest, didn't give us a chance to really get after their quarterback enough. We finally got him in the third and fourth quarter."

4th: One more for the road


Texas had three interceptions with four minutes left. Not bad at all. But they didn't stop there. More misfortune for Greer, a pass over the middle that bounced off his receiver's hands. Cobbs swooped in to grab the ball out of the air and dashed 28 yards for the pick-six. Cobbs sat out the 2013 season while recovering from a knee injury. The new coaching staff gave him a fresh start, and he rewarded their trust Saturday. If Texas' defense can be this prolific at forcing turnovers and turning them into points, they're going to be a tough out for any opponent.

"Hopefully you see a lot more of that," Bedford said.