Leaky run defense a problem

Texas second-to-last in Big 12 in defending the run with Sooners game looming

Updated: October 9, 2012, 1:51 PM ET
By William Wilkerson | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns players insist they are correctable mistakes that have enabled opponents to knock Texas into unfamiliar territory, one lackluster Kansas team removed from being the worst run defense in the league.

"Just little things like people not standing on their feet," defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. "As a team, we got cut too many times or we didn't get into the gaps. There were little mistakes that you saw on film that you just look at like, 'Man, we were right there.' We just had to move over another gap."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie, Kenny Vaccaro
Tim Heitman/US PresswireKenny Vaccaro and the Texas defense is allowing 182.4 rushing yards per game this season.

Texas coaches are echoing similar sentiments.

"We've just been gashed some inside," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We have to fill better at safety and have better linebacker play. We just have to play better there."

Only time will tell if these mistakes will be corrected in time for the Red River Rivalry on Oct. 13. But history suggests they'd better get things shored up before they reach the fairgrounds.

Since 1999, the first year of Mack Brown vs. Bob Stoops in this rivalry, the team to outrush the other has won every time but once. The lone exception came in 2006 when each team registered 124 yards rushing.

This is an issue that hasn't been one of concern in Austin very often under Brown's tenure. It was a point of emphasis when he took over and inherited a ground defense that ranked no better than No. 64 nationally in the five seasons prior to his arrival.

Texas had ranked in the top six in rush defense in five of the past seven seasons, but will arrive in Dallas ninth in the Big 12, allowing 182.4 yards per game.

The signs of concerns were bookmarked against Ole Miss, which rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns. But they've really become worrisome over the past two weeks.

Oklahoma State, the conference's leading rushing team, piled up 305 yards and two scores on 40 carries (6.9 yards per carry). Joseph Randle, who gobbled up 208 yards and both rushing scores, was seldom touched until the second level of defense.

"I was really disappointed with us against the run because we knew we would have to stop the run and force them to throw it, but we didn't do a very good job of that," Brown said after that game.

The task at hand was vastly different against West Virginia, which strolled to Austin having passed for eight touchdowns against Baylor a week prior. Texas had to sell out on the pass but got ripped by the run.

The Mountaineers, without starter Shawne Alston, rushed for 258 yards, 224 of which came from Andrew Buie, who also scored two times.

"The run was supposed to be eliminated, and it is disappointing to see that," safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "The run game basically saved them. It made them two-dimensional when they could pass and run."

So what now? Oklahoma is an equal opportunist when it comes to run-pass ratios, having run 134 times and passed 152 times. Landry Jones has been efficient but not spectacular through the air and there have been rumblings from the Sooners' fan base that he should be replaced by Blake Bell.

That's not going to happen, but they are relying on the run a fair amount thanks to the emergence of junior college transfer Damien Williams and walk-on Dominique Whaley.

Williams, a transfer from Arizona Western, has 44 carries for 354 yards and five scores while Whaley has rushed 32 times for 190 yards and a score.

Whaley, a walk-on who became the team's starting running back a season ago, gashed Texas in a 55-17 trouncing in 2011. Oklahoma did much of its damage through the air, as Jones threw for 367 yards and three scores, but Whaley played a key role with 92 rushing yards, including a 64-yard score late in the third quarter with the game well in hand.

Brennan Clay has also factored into Oklahoma's running game with 17 carries for 105 yards and two scores. As has Bell, the Sooners' 6-foot-6, 254-pound backup quarterback, who has scored three short-yardage touchdown runs in the past two games, including two of the 1-yard variety against Texas Tech.

Jeffcoat expects a heavy dose of the aforementioned Sooners.

[+] EnlargeJosh Turner
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireThe Longhorns allowed Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle to run wild two weeks ago.

"Most definitely we will see a lot of the run," he said. "They pop on the film and they see people getting a lot of yards on the run. People are going to try and test us on the run."

But how does Texas plan on stopping them? It could help that Oklahoma is as balanced as it is.

"We just played so many prolific offenses right now, so many pass-happy teams," Alex Okafor said. "You've got to pick something to stop, and they kind of switched it up on us and exposed us through the run game. We've just got to be able to play an overall solid game."

It would also help if Jordan Hicks were healthy enough to play after missing the past two games with a hip injury. His status is uncertain at this point, but Brown did say there was at least a chance because he was "running and doing more things" this week.

Brandon Moore is another week removed from his illness that made him unavailable against Oklahoma State and not entirely healthy for West Virginia, though he did play. And filling better at safety, which Brown spoke of, could happen with a confident Mykkele Thompson now the starter over Adrian Phillips.

"We've just got to limit those small mistakes that turn into big problems," Vaccaro said. "I think if we just pull it all together, we'll be great."