Leonard on TD, UT DBs, Cyclone focus
After having a touchdown catch wiped out against Oklahoma State due to replay review, junior Dorian Leonard bobbled then held onto a long throw from freshman Shane Buechele to reach the end zone officially for the second time this season. The 6-foot-4 pass catcher from Longview double checked to be certain he made the catch.
“I went back and watched it,” Leonard said. “I think I bobbled it three times. Then I finally grabbed it, made sure my feet were in, and held the ball up the whole time. That was exciting for me right there, right in front of your fans. I’m glad I scored on our side than the OU side.”
Leonard’s touchdown reception was part of the 40 point barrage the Horns put on the Sooners at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. However, it was not enough for the Horns to prevail, as the Texas defense surrendered 45 points on 672 yards.
Even with the poor defensive performance, Leonard, like several other offensive players, maintains the offense does not face added pressure to win the game themselves.
“It’s not really pressure,” Leonard said. “We just know we have to go out there and play our game. We have to come out and click from beginning to end. That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Leonard took an opportunity to complement the accuracy of his freshman quarterback.
“Shane puts the ball in perfect position,” Leonard said. “Everybody always talks about the catch and everything, but the ball placement that he puts it in is just unreal. Puts it exactly where the DB can’t get it, and only his receiver can get it.”
With the continued struggles the Texas secondary has faced through five games, Leonard was asked whether the offense regularly gets past the defense in practice as they have in recent games. Leonard said the match up usually remains close.
“The thing is pretty even,” Leonard said. “When we’re out there in practice, it’s like a battle. Whenever we have one on ones we know we have to go out here and give our all. Even though it’s just practice we have to go out here and treat them like they’re opponents. If you don’t they’re going to make you look bad. It’s always a battle out there in practice.”
Following last year’s game against Iowa State in Ames, Leonard said the team is not taking the Cyclones for granted.
“No matter the record, obviously as far as them and us, the team is better than what their record shows,” Leonard said. “You can’t go out there and take anybody for granted. We’re going to go out there and give our all this weekend and try and pull out another win.”
That is not to say Leonard forgot about Ames. “I can’t forget about that,” he said.
Hall on position, playing at home, defending the Big 12
Ever since junior safety Jason Hall gained the attention of Longhorn fans following his solid freshman campaign in 2014, Hall’s role has evolved. For the most part, he plays one of the safety positions for head coach Charlie Strong and the Longhorn defense. This year, his role has evolved based on personnel, as he takes on more of a linebacker role at times against spread teams. When asked to describe his position, Hall struggled to think of what to say.
“I’m not sure to be honest,” Hall said. “Coaches tell me what to do, and I try and play to the best of my abilities.”
After a month on the road, Hall said his team will benefit greatly from playing at home. He said it gives the team more of an emotional edge, and they feed of the energy more than when on the road. Hall said not only will the team benefit, but they are also excited to be back.
“For every game, you want to be fired up,” Hall said. “Give your all. But playing back at home is a great feeling because you’re in your own back yard.”
The Texas defense is again on pace to set records of the negative variety. That said, Hall mentioned the defense does succeed in practice against the much improved Texas offense. It just has not made it to when Texas plays other opponents.
“We’ve got to translate it to the game,” Hall said. “That’s just something we’re not getting the job done as a whole. We have to make sure we get that done.”
Over the past several weeks, fans have called into question the job done by defensive backs coach Clay Jennings. Since Jennings was hired to replace Chris Vaughan, the secondary play has continued to struggle like last year. Even with all the mistakes, Hall still says the players need to do their part.
“Coach Jennings is a great coach,” Hall said. “He lets us play. Coming back to film and also on the field, he tells us corrections and what we can do to play better and make more plays. At the end of the day, it’s us out there on the field that’s playing. He’s just guiding us to success.”
Hall was also asked about the dangers of playing pass defense in the Big 12. Hall said there were additional challenges playing safety in this conference, but that does not make up for poor play.
“You probably get more snaps than the average team would run,” Hall said. “You don’t want to ever make an excuse for that.”
Hall concluded by saying the way to success was not a terribly difficult path. “If you do the film study and do your job and do everything you are supposed to do, you should be able to come out and compete just as hard as the other team.”
Nelson talks positioning, fan support
Sophomore defensive tackle Chris Nelson has played various positions on the line this season, including lining up both at tackle and end. In this defense, the defensive end is often asked to line up at the 4i technique, placing him on the tackles inside shoulder. Defensive ends often are often positioned at the 5 technique, on the outside of the tackle’s shoulder.
While this sounds like a major change, Nelson said the players still have to do what the coaches ask. “4i, out wide, we still have to do our job at the end of the day.”
Even after taking over play calling duties, the defense still allowed plenty of points, plenty of yards and missed plenty of tackles. Nelson said he thought his team did show improvement because they were able to play more freely rather than having to think.
“I would say it was just going out and playing more,” Nelson said. “He tried to cut out the thinking, and tried to get us to play freely. I believe it worked. The second half, we kind of fell off.”
Nelson did say there was a specific reason for the fall off. “Too many big plays,” he said.
Because of the changes in play caller and all that goes with that, Nelson was asked if the reason there were so many lapses was because the defense was too complex. He did not feel that was the case.
“I feel like it’s an easy defense,” Nelson said. “I feel like they make it comfortable for everybody to play.”
Nelson would go on to say he was really excited to finally be back home. When asked if he expected a good crowd, Nelson said he thinks the fans will still make it.
“I feel like our fans are still going to come out and support us,” Nelson said. “I know we have supportive fans. I know they’re going to be there. It’s a home game. We’ve been on the road three games in a row. They’re ready to see it turned around.”
Nelson is too, and he knows how it can be fixed to get that big change.
“I just feel like we’ve got to look at ourselves,” Nelson said. “If we look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we’re doing wrong, I feel like we can have a big turnaround.”