AUSTIN — Texas coach Charlie Strong significantly simplified the defense during the second week of his dual role as head coach-and-coordinator, he said Monday.
Strong also addressed chronic miscommunication issues last Saturday by fitting defensive players, for the first time, with wrist bands listing the defensive sets.
The defensive game plan in Texas 27-6 thumping of Iowa State was limited to just three or four plays, Strong said.
“I had one call for third-down,” he said, “and on first- or second-down, I just rolled with it.”
The defense rolled like it hadn’t in years. The Cyclones may be one of the league’s lesser lights, but it’s hard to keep any team out of the end zone. It’s particularly impressive considering the Cyclones had put up 73 points in two previous outings against Baylor and Oklahoma State. The six points allowed were the fewest by a Big 12 team this season.
The scaled-back game plan also helped Texas play more instinctively. Previously, Texas’ defense was “very complex,” Breckyn Hager told me, and later said it represented “a mental workout.”
“Our defense is very complex,” said Hager, “but this was very simplified. We’re gonna keep it simple, and (coaches) are going to preach physicality. That’s what it’s going to be all about.”
The wristbands were intended to keep opponents from stealing defensive signals, Strong said.
“It helped tremendously,” Strong said. “Now, you don’t get caught in one defense (following an audible), especially if (offenses) know what you’re in. Now, if they change, we change. It makes it hard for offenses) to go back and re-change.”
The wrist bands, apparently, are here to stay.
“To be honest, I was getting most of the calls from Malik (Jefferson),” Hager told me. “I was asking him, ‘Wasssssup?’ He said just to go out there and go fast.’”
Strong has provided more oversight during defensive meetings since demoting Vance Bedford. The result has been a smoother transition from the meeting room to the practice field, Strong said. Now, players are less confused when hearing a unified voice.
“Everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s hearing the same voice where it’s not three different people trying to talk,” Strong said. “Then, also, when we go out to practice, we have a script. I’m there to make sure we’re getting down what we say we need to get done.”
Other than keeping ISU out of the end zone, Saturday’s most impressive defensive stat was the right sacks registered against two QBs. It was the second-most by an FBS team this season, and Strong counted at least four sacks that were left on the field.
Strong also made some personnel changes at CB since taking the reins of the defense. CB John Bonney logged his first start of the season (replacing Holton Hill), and responded with six tackles.
“This was the best I’ve seen Bonney tackle,” Strong said.
Kris Boyd notched his second start this season. Teammates and coaches frequently label him “fearless” and “confident,” and that’s part of the reason his mouth runneth over. (If the Big 12 had an All-Trash Talk Team, Boyd would be 1st-Team). The excitable sophomore would be more productive if his effort was even keeled
“He plays with so much energy, but you’ve got to calm him down. I tell him to calm down and that we don’t need all the talking. I tell him all the time that, when he talks, he allows a guy to take away from his game. Don’t listen to it. Stay level-headed and continue to get better.”
Shane Buechle’s career-best 296 yards passing saw him complete balls to 10 different receivers – but John Burt was not one of them. Burt’s productivity has fallen off considerably since the home opener against Notre Dame (6 grabs, 11 yards). The sophomore had just two catches against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, respectively, and with a couple of glaring drops against the Sooners.
You can add a hip-pointer suffered last week to a hand injury Burt sustained earlier in the season.
Burt’s absence Saturday, according to Strong, was attributed to “the flow of the game” and other receivers “playing so well.”
Dorian Leonard started in place of Burt, and the junior responded with a career-best five catches for 47 yards. But youth-was-served Saturday when freshman Devin Duvernay added a game-high 96 yards on four catches. His 75-yard TD reception in the third quarter is Texas’ longest play from scrimmage this season. For his work, Duvernay was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week.
The first half of the season has been a sophomore slump for Burt, Hill, CB Davante Davis and, to some extent, Malik Jefferson. Conversely, RB D’Onta Foreman has taken one giant step since his sophomore campaign. One could argue that Foreman has picked up right where he’s left off, considering his seven straight 100-yard games dates back to November, 2015. He trails only Earl Campbell’s streak of 11 in program history. Foreman’s 146.2 rushing ypg ranks No. 2, nationally.
Foreman is Texas’ “best player,” according to Strong. He plays with a Bevo-sized chip on his shoulder because he was lightly recruited relative to his brother Armanti. Yet, Strong knew there was something special about D’Onta when he showed up for Armanti’s recruiting visit from Texas.
“We went to see Armanti because he was the 4-Star (WR) that everybody wanted,” strong recalled. “I got to the school, and D’Onta was there. We were waiting for Armanti. I know right then that, if Armanti was late, we were going to have an issue with Armanti. He’s late, and I’m sitting there waiting on him. But D’Onta comes in and wanted to prove that he deserves to be here.”
Texas’ only road win in two seasons was, of course, at Baylor when the Bears were down to their fourth-team QB. Saturday’s foe Kansas State may be without starting QB Jesse Ertz (shoulder), but Strong believes his best chance of getting a big win in the Little Apple starts with his defense.
“Your defense has to go from the start. If we don’t give up the big plays, and if we don’t let their crowd get into the game, then you’re going to be able to get stops.”
C Zack Shackelford (ankle) was listed atop Monday’s Depth chart, but Strong says the freshman will continue to be evaluated.
“The thing about Shack is that he’s so tough. We may count him out but, all of a sudden, he’s out there working.”
One of the poorly kept secrets around the 40 Acres is converted-WR Kai Locksley’s decision to transfer.
“Kai and I had a conversation a month ago, and he felt like he needed to go somewhere else. Out of respect for him, I told him to take care of his academics so that, wherever he does decide to transfer, he’ll have a good enough GPA.”
Strong is aware that Hager predicted Texas would run the table the rest of the season. Strong is also aware Texas has not won at K-State since 2002.
“You don’t want to look down the road because it’s all about Kansas State. But our schedule is set up for us. You’ve got three tough opponents (Baylor, West Virginia, TCU) coming here at home. We’ve just got to go do it on the road.”