AUSTIN, Texas -- When Emmanuel Acho is in the middle of a huddle, communication is key. The message must be clear.
"It's a joy trip. They want you to have fun," Acho told his teammates in the huddle on the grass at the Rose Bowl. "But you better win. It's about the win."
Everything is about the wins these days for Acho. That's because his days are numbered. He is a senior. He doesn't want to be remembered for 5-7. He wants to remember what it was like in 2009. That's why, when the new coaches and the new systems were put in place, Acho made sure his place was front and center on the defense. He wanted to be the hub of the wheel.
"It is more of a load, but I asked for it," he said. "I am the senior. I am a leader. I am a linebacker, and the linebackers have to be the ones to communicate. I would rather have the pressure than anybody else."
The pressure is not only to perform at his position, but to make sure everyone else knows how to perform at theirs. Being at the weakside linebacker spot means Acho must read the opponent's scheme and communicate to his teammates what shifts they need to make, where the gaps will come and where all 11 players should be.
"We try to get it where Keenan [Robinson] talks to the defensive linemen, and I talk to the defensive backs, but that can reverse just depending on the play," Acho said. "You get in trouble though, when one of us messes up, so me and Keenan try to always be on the same page."
Early in the season, those pages might as well have been written in Mandarin.
Players were jumping, waving, shifting and moving before every snap. Even when the players watched the Rice game during the bye week, they were stunned at how discombobulated they were on defense.
"They were like, 'Who are these guys?' " defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "What they were is, they were just guys feeling their way around."
As the weeks have progressed the feeling is more of familiarity. Acho and the defense are beginning to understand what is expected of them and how to communicate with each other.
"[We're] a lot more comfortable," defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. "We're a unit. We're getting better with each other, getting better team chemistry. We're understanding what other people do on the field and what everybody else's assignments are."
Better communication also has led to more confidence, which in turn has led to more players in the right places.
"We look fast because our steps are a lot quicker," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Our trust in the defense has definitely increased a significant amount. We're just buying into everything and going for it."
They are also listening more, especially the young cornerbacks. Those players were not used to Acho's voice on defense, and on top of that they weren't used to the defensive schemes. That made for a few interesting plays.
"We've found weaknesses where we need to communicate with the [defensive backs]," Hick said. "Maybe they weren't getting the calls, and so we were just learning week to week on who needed what, and what we needed to fix. It's gotten a lot better."
It will have to be better against Iowa State. The Cyclones, because of their quarterback Steele Jantz, have a knack for extending plays and putting pressure on defenses.
"Really, the name of the game will be discipline on our part," Diaz said. "Discipline in our rush lanes and discipline in our coverage; discipline when we come out of our coverage."
With that, there will be even more pressure on Acho to make the right calls and communicate those calls to the rest of the defense. And now, unlike the first few weeks, the senior said he knows all the right calls to make.
"I am 100 percent for sure," he said.
Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation
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