<
>

Okafor, Texas focusing on pressure

AUSTIN, Texas -- Sometime before it all began Saturday night, Mack Brown was in the ear of Alex Okafor:

How many sacks tonight, the coach asked the defensive end. Two? Three?

It was probably more suggestion and motivation than it was a question from Brown. But it turned out to be wishful thinking either way.

Texas came away from the Rice game without a sack. In the end, no one was all that shocked or really concerned.

"If a genie came out of a bottle and said we won't get a touchdown [scored on us] all year, but have no sacks and interceptions, I'd have to just make do with that," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.

"Sometimes the stats are misleading. We didn't sack the quarterback, but they were not going to let us sack him."

Rice used quick drops and short routes to negate any pass rush and only had three pass attempts of more than seven yards.

"I don't think every team has the same game plan as Rice" safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "I think they had a little over 70 yards, 2.7 yards per pass. I mean, you can't win games like that. I think teams are going to have to air it out on us."

Say hello to BYU. Now don't go picturing Steve Young, Ty Detmer or Jim McMahon. Not with coach Bronco Mendenhall. Quarterback Jake Heaps has thrown for 200-plus yards in each of his last six games.

That ought to mean Texas will have a few more chances to create the negative plays -- something that makes Diaz salivate. And Okafor has a chance to further assert himself at his natural defensive end position after rotating to tackle last season.

Diaz thinks it's another step toward Okafor maximizing his potential.

"I call it the Matrix Moment," Diaz said. "When does the competitive greatness come? Like when Keanu Reeves in 'The Matrix' starts seeing all those little green circles and numbers and stuff, and [Okafor] says, 'You know what? I can play. I'm at a different level out here.' "

"I've never seen 'The Matrix,' " Okafor said.

OK, so a movie buff he is not. But the analogy was not lost on him.

"There is more pressure," Okafor said of stepping up. "I love the pressure."

To be the player Diaz and others want him to be, Okafor will have to be the one delivering the pressure.

"He has to step up," Brown said. "We need him to be a dominant player in this league and be one of the best defensive ends in the country."

Even without a sack against Rice, Okafor's presence was felt. The Owls' scheme alone was a bow to his abilities.

"He has a rare combination of power and speed," Diaz said. "He can set it up both ways, almost like a pitcher with a good fastball and good off-speed stuff. So he can really keep an offense off-balance."

But against the run, Okafor and his defensive line teammates were not quite as strong.

"Every play versus the run is building a wall, and it's hard to build a wall when you're tentative," Diaz said. "Everybody is a brick in the wall. So I think the players saw that on film. Happy we got through it, but that'll be a big point of emphasis in terms of improving that this week."

While Rice ran for 130 yards against Texas, BYU managed a paltry 91 rushing yards in its14-13 season-opening win against Ole Miss. Still, the Cougars would like to use the run to set up the pass.

Diaz will spend time this week, with Okafor and the rest of the defense, making sure they play more instinctive football and do not let the lack of sacks weigh on their minds.

"We have to go in and make sure our kids aren't freaked out, because they put pressure on themselves," he said.

But as Okafor said, he loves the pressure. What he and the rest of the defense might heart even more, though, would be to put all the pressure on the guys across the line.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.

Follow HornsNation's coverage on Twitter: