Saturday, October 17, 2009
Work in trenches buries Sooners' attack
By Tim MacMahon
DALLAS -- The dudes who put their hand in the dirt form the foundation of a defense Mack Brown considers the best of his dozen-year tenure at Texas.
Oklahoma's most glaring weakness is its inexperienced offensive line, which was without senior left guard Brian Simmons because of a knee injury.
So the Longhorns defense's dominance of the trenches during Saturday's 16-13 win was predictable. It certainly was expected on the home sideline at the Cotton Bowl. The stats only hint at how UT's front four impacted the game.
Calling Oklahoma's offense in this game one-dimensional would be like observing that the fried butter served at the State Fair is fattening. The Sooners ran in reverse for minus-16 yards on 22 carries against a defense determined to shut down the ground game, whether Sam Bradford was under center or not.
"We basically had to put it on the shoulders of the front four and let the back seven take care of the passing game," said defensive end Sergio Kindle, who had four of UT's 10 tackles for losses. "We welcome for the game to be on our shoulders. We want it to be a down-in-the-trenches kind of game. What more could you ask for?"
Well, burnt-orange nitpickers might want more sacks from Kindle & Co., but the threat of the front four's pass-rushing ability did enough damage.
The Sooners' success in the passing game was reliant on runs after the catch on short, quick throws. Oklahoma obviously wasn't confident in its ability to keep Kindle, Sam Acho and the rest of the UT pass-rushers from wreaking havoc in the pocket.
In fact, the Sooners' concern with Kindle helped cause the shoulder injury that knocked Bradford out of the game on Oklahoma's second series of the game.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp knew OU would design its protection to slide toward Kindle, so he called a blitz from the other side. Cornerback Aaron Williams came clean for the sack, driving Bradford into the turf and onto the right shoulder he sprained during the season-opening loss to BYU.
"He draws so much attention," Muschamp said of Kindle, who split a sack with defensive end Eddie Jones in the second half. "They know where he is. They chip and they put a tight end on his side. He gets a little frustrated, but that's a great compliment as a football player. I always tell him that we're going to try to do things away from you to get pressure, and that's what happened."
Kindle also played a significant role in forcing Williams' interception. OU backup quarterback Landry Jones said he was trying to throw the ball away because of pressure from Kindle, who was double-teamed and provoked a flag for offensive holding on the play. Jones, drifting to his right and throwing off his back foot, couldn't get enough zip on the pass to get it over a soaring Williams on the sideline.
Jones' second interception, an underthrown pass picked off by safety Earl Thomas, essentially sealed the Sooners' fate. Those types of turnovers tend to happen when a team abandons the run, which the Sooners did in the second half (six carries for minus-1 yard).
"Once you make any team one-dimensional," UT linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said, "it's time to turn the dogs loose."
The performance of the Texas front four allowed that to happen. Muschamp toned down the creativity after the Sooners drove for field goals on two of their first three possessions, putting the onus on the front four to manhandle an overmatched OU offensive line.
"Coach [Muschamp] is always saying, 'Don't worry about anything else other than beating the guy across from you,'" said defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, who had four tackles (one for a loss) and two quarterback hurries. "That's all we focused on, and we had a great outcome."
Tim MacMahon covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail email@example.com.