AUSTIN — Vance Bedford tried hard not to go on the defensive Wednesday during his weekly press conference and that, of course, has everything to do with Texas’ failure to get defensive for the second straight season.
Bedford vowed to continue to “shoot straight” with media, despite speaking in vague generalities on a wide range of topics, including personnel issues and Charlie Strong’s vow to become more involved with a unit on pace to set a new school record for points-allowed. It comes one year after the Horns fielded the statistically worst defense in program history.
Strong has promised, for two weeks, to become more hands-on with Texas’ defense after it was gutted for 507 yards and 50 points (really, 57) at Cal. But Strong’s presence is no different than his involvement in other phases of the game, Bedford said.
“The people who know me know that I don’t have a big ego,” said Bedford. “My ego is for one thing, and that’s to go win. If you have a great idea, we’ll implement those things. That’s why when someone asked me, back in two-a-day camp, whose defense is it, (the answer is), it’s ours.”
Indeed, many have spoken for Bedford’s defense since the Cal game – except for Bedford. That’s because he does not meet the press immediately following ball games, so Wednesday marked his first media availability since Cal hung-50 on the Horns. Bedford was ruffled when it was noted that players have since been peppered with questions – on four occasions and on his behalf – since Berkley.
“It falls back on me,” Bedford said. “I take full responsibility. I would never blame a player. Moving forward, it’s about finding out what our kids can do well and then go execute.”
Bedford continues to roughly attribute problems to miscommunication and execution. But the times, they are a’changing. There are indications that youth will be served as some members of Texas’ highly-touted 2016 recruiting may see more PT.
“We’re going to mix-and-match to see who gives us the best chance to win,” Bedford said. “We’ve play a lot of young guys already. We’ve played freshmen early this year. They’re going to continue to play.”
Then again, youth remains a mixed-blessing.
“Young guys get anxious, they show what they’re doing and the offense makes checks. Go back to the Cal game (where) we had a couple of blitzes on, they checked to a screen and we got hurt. Veteran guys have more patience not to show their hand early.”
Strong isn’t showing his hand, either. He withheld this week’s 2-Deep, suggesting he was not going to alert Oklahoma State to any personnel changes. So, which young whipper-snappers are most likely have their numbers called, early-and-often, at Oklahoma State?
Hello, Brandon Jones? What’s up, Deshon Elliott? A couple of young safeties are poised to become Texas’ last line of defense. That’s because the Poster Children for Texas’ toasted pass defense have been the two starting safeties who, ironically, are the most experienced of Bedford’s bunch.
With RG Kent Perkins sitting this one out, SS Dylan Haines is Texas’ graybeard with 25 starts. If the fan base could vote someone off the island, it would likely start with the former walk-on whose heart-and-hustle is mitigated only by (relatively) limited athleticism. It’s feast-or-famine with Haines: the busted coverages (particularly in the Red Zone) have been glaring, but Haines led the team last season with five INTs and eight PBU.
Most would be surprised to learn that his 200 INT-return yards rank No. 2 in program history, and Bedford insists that Haines is a coach-on-the-field who frequently gets teammates to align correctly. But Haines had zero INTs and zero PBU during non-conference. In fact, Texas is 0-for-September in interception even though the scheme allows for more thefts.
“We’ve been playing a lot of Zone,” Bedford said, “and when you play Zone, that’s when you get interceptions. When you play Man, there’s a lot of pass-breakups. We need to do a better job of seeing the ball leave the quarterback’s hands and then break on the football.”
Haines has probably plateaued in his development, and that’s a nice way of saying that it’s already as good as it gets with this intelligent, likeable young man who has been a serviceable, stop gap measure.
The flipside is that Jones brings the highest ceiling of any enrollee at DBU in recent memory. The freshman has the skill-set to man-up on the slot receiver and the range to drop back and play the long ball. And we know he can block punts.
“Brandon Jones is a special teams’ phenom. He’s our best special teams’ player. We’re trying to find ways to get him involved a little bit more. The biggest thing for him is to learn what to do and how to go do it. Athletically, he’s a special talent. Now, we’ve got to develop him mentally.”
Other than Haines, FS Jason Hall is Texas’ most experienced player with 21 career starts. Statistically, Hall has the done the least with the most. The senior has notched just two INTs and seven PBU in 27 career games. In fact, Hall has so little to show since he leveled Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine in 2014 that Strong has dubbed Hall as a “one-hit wonder”.
Hall has posted 11 tackles this season, but Elliott has notched eight stops as a back-up. The sophomore boasts Texas’ only turnover of the season when he recovered a fumble against UTEP.
In addition, CB Sheroid Evans has been a surprise starter, but the sixth-year senior was badly beaten on deep verticals at Cal. (If Strong harped on one thing Monday, it was that the DBs had too many balls thrown over their heads). What is the status of sophomore CB Holton Hill who started the last eight games of 2015? Wherefore art thou, Kris Boyd?
Bedford spoke only of the healthy competition at the corner before adding: “You’ve got to stand-up and go make a play. That’s what we haven’t had a chance to do, but we’re making steps in the right direction.”
Finally, it’s getting harder to keep a couple of backup DEs off the field. Freshman DE Malcolm Roach and sophomore Breckyn Hager are tied for the team-lead with two sacks apiece. Hager is Texas’ third-leading tackler (17) while Roach needs just one more sack to move him into the program’s Top 10 for single-season sacks among freshmen.
Their engines run at one-speed, and that’s full-speed ahead. Strong could easily have referenced them Monday when he said youthful mistakes can be forgiven if committed at full-throttle. Yet, neither Hager nor Roach took the field at Cal until almost halftime.
“(Cal) played a lot of 10-personnel so we were in (a) Dime (package) to try to match personnel, based on what they were doing, to get better cover-guys in there,” Bedford said.
“If you have four wide receivers and you have five defensive linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs, that’s not the best matchup.”
Oklahoma State fields the nation’s No. 11 passing attack (340 ypg) but, statistically, its pass defense is worse than Texas’. The Horns are yielding 235.7 yards through the air (NCAA No. 75) while the Pokes have been torched to the tune of 274.5 (No. 107) per outing. In addition, the Cowboys have struggled to run the ball by averaging just 126.8 ypg (No. 109). It’s cold comfort to note that the OSU offense is as one-dimensional as California’s.
Both programs are coming off losses, so Saturday’s late-morning showdown has the potential to point their respective seasons in the right direction.
“Coming this Saturday,” Bedford concluded,“ we’re going to start making those plays.”