AUSTIN, Texas -- The good vibes and positive momentum Texas got from a much-needed win on Saturday just took a big hit.
Texas beat Kansas State 31-21, but the cost of that victory was significant. Starting linebacker Jordan Hicks will have surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon and is done for the year.
Of all the starters Texas has sidelined with injuries right now, this was the guy the Longhorns could not lose, especially when you think back to the effect that losing Hicks in 2012 had on the defense.
Last year, Hicks went down with a hip injury that supposed to keep him out a few weeks. He missed the rest of the season, and Texas missed him badly.
That injury, suffered in the nonconference finale against Ole Miss, came before a four-game gantlet of Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor. The results for Texas’ defense were ugly.
In those first four games without Hicks, Texas gave up 197 points and 2,320 yards. The defense lost its confidence and couldn’t stop the run, allowing 266 yards per game on the ground. By the end of that stretch, Texas had a Big 12-leading 76 missed tackles.
This year could be a different story for a few reasons. The imminent schedule is a bit more favorable now -- 11 days off, then a road trip to play an 0-2 Iowa State team, then eight more days to prepare for Oklahoma.
Plus, losing Hicks last year meant former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had to throw several linebackers into the lineup. A total of seven earned starts on the year, which means that group is now more experienced and better prepared for Hicks’ absence this time.
Now that Texas is getting into its Big 12 schedule, where it will face many more spread offenses, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can get away with playing two linebackers in most games.
Some combination of Steve Edmond, Peter Jinkens and Dalton Santos would likely make the most sense right now, though Edmond can’t play in the first half of the Iowa State game due to a second-half targeting ejection against KSU. Texas likes the experience it has in veteran backups Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson.
Missing Hicks for 10 games last season means Texas will be ready for this scenario, but that doesn’t make it any less of a big loss. Hicks was one of the respected leaders of Texas’ defense and established himself as the team’s best linebacker.
He was playing some of the best ball of his career on Saturday, with seven tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. It appears Hicks could be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt and a sixth season of eligibility.
Texas played the run better against Kansas State, holding KSU to 115 yards on the ground, but it’s still one of this defense’s weaknesses and Big 12 foes will surely try to exploit it.
Another lapse in confidence and execution like the one the Longhorn defense had without Hicks a year ago would spell trouble. There’s not much margin for error right now with a team that’s already lost two games.
Simply put, Texas is better prepared to play without Hicks than it was a year ago. But that doesn’t mean this will be easy.