AUSTIN — Vance Bedford feels your pain. His defense is giving up 512.3 yards per game. It’s enough to make John Mackovic blush. And it’s certainly enough to keep Bedford awake at night.
“People are mad, and I’m mad, too,” Bedford said. “I can’t sleep sometimes.”
Coaches tend to lose more than sleep when their defense is on pace to finish as the worst in program history. That dubious distinction belongs to the 2013 squad that allowed 407.2 yards per game. As former coordinator Manny Diaz learned, coaches don’t stick around long with numbers like that.
It does not appear, however, that Bedford need lose any sleep over job security. He just needs the nine freshmen in his 2-deep to grow up in a hurry. Even so, Tank Jackson rejects the notion that lapses should be expected on a crew that replaced six starters.
“If you’ve got a scholarship to be a Division-I football player, you’ve got to play like it,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter what your age is. I played every game since I’ve been here. I played a lot as a freshman. It doesn’t really matter what your age is. You’ve got to be able to play.”
The youthfulness in the back 7 has as much to do with Bedford’s decision to drop his DBs much deeper into coverage. Bedford’s preference is to bring DBs so close to the line that they’re practically “in the face” of the receivers. He styles himself as an old-schooler who will load the box since championship-caliber defense always begins with stopping the run.
“If they run the ball just two times, and if you can’t stop those two runs, you will not win the football game,” Bedford said.
Two runs may have been the difference in Texas’ 45-44 loss Saturday. Cal RB Khalfani Muhammad had a career night, but nearly all of his 164 yards came on two plays. His 49-yard run to the 26 setup Cal’s TD response after Texas jumped to a 24-14 lead. The safety and cornerback were both in position to limit the damage.
Then, his 74-yard run up the middle on Cal’s final possession of the third quarter gave the visitor’s a 21-point cushion.
Texas sophomore DT Poona Ford said he didn’t know what happened on that play because “I wasn’t on the field.” But Bedford watched it unfold in slow-motion, again and again, in the film room.
“We had a 3-technique in the A-gap, and the Fox (End) in the B gap, and they split us right down the middle when we’re boxed-up with the corner coming off the edge…The guy running the ball is a sprint champion the year before. Any time you have a vertical seam, and the guy can run, you’re not going to bring him down. It’s fundamental football. It’s engaging up front with the linebackers and coming for the ball, it’s things we’ve been working on and talking about this year and last year and 10 years ago. It hasn’t changed but, right now, we’re doing a very poor job of getting those things done.”
Texas did force three stops during Saturday’s 4th quarter rally against Cal.
“That was a confidence booster,” Poona Ford said. “We battled. We know what our defense is capable of.
Bedford has a different perspective. Cal tried to drain the clock by slowing the tempo and running the ball after it jumped to a 21-point lead.
“They threw it when they had to,” he said.
The defense continues to struggle with the basics, namely: getting off blocks, maintaining proper run-fits, and then simply tackling. In other words, it’s the same laundry list of mistakes that coaches have (for weeks) said are correctible – but it ain’t fixed yet.
Bedford told his troops that he didn’t need them to make big plays. If you just do your job, he told them, that’s the same as making a great play.
“When guys try to do more than what they’re asked to do, they get in trouble. When they try to do someone else’s work, it makes you weaker in your own area.”
Bedford was the latest to rave about QB Jerrod Heard’s debut the past two weeks, but refuses to think that a rejuvenated offense gives him more margin for error. Presumably, he believes that if your offense puts up 44 points, as Texas did Saturday, then you should win the game. Prior to the evolution of the spread, the goal was to hold offenses to 17 points, Bedford said. Now, the goal is to hold a team below its scoring average.
Said Bedford: “The name of the game is this: if you can get off the field on third down, you take points off the board. Let’s say a team is scoring 35 points per game. If you hold them to 21, that’s a good thing. You held them to below their average.”
Texas safety Jason Hall returned to practice after missing most of the Cal game with a shoulder injury. Backups P.J. Locke and Kevin Vaccaro did a “decent” job Saturday, Bedford said, but “the most important thing is we gained depth at that position.”