Defense finds building blocks on line

AUSTIN, Texas -- Sometime between the first quarter, when Texas gave up only two field goals to Oklahoma and the fourth quarter, when Texas gave up only a touchdown, Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz found something out about his defense.

And, oddly enough, what Diaz discovered in that 55-17 thrashing was things were going to be OK on his side of the ball.

“What's funny is that when we put the film on, and sometimes you've got to dig under the rubble, but there were some things on that tape that we actually really liked,” Diaz said. “And the game is not complicated, will never change. The game always starts up front. Everything will always start up front.

“I guess that was our fifth game that was really the best game that we had played up front. Not perfect, not dominating, but there were some things that we were starting to see, the things that we were preaching. We felt maybe we had something.”

That something was a defensive line that, while not exactly dominating when it came to rushing the passer, did learn how to impose its will on several Big 12 offenses. Led by Kheeston Randall, Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, the line went on a six-game stretch where the trio totaled 30 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.

The ends, Jeffcoat and Okafor, accounted for 25 of those tackles and nine of the 10 sacks. They also had 18 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in those games.

Prior to the seventh game, Jeffcoat injured his shoulder and was limited to playing in some third-down packages. Neither Randall nor Okafor registered a tackle for loss or sack against the Bears. Jeffcoat had one of each. The Bears handed Texas its worse loss since the Oklahoma game.

The lesson there is Diaz is right: Everything will always start up front.

What bodes well for Texas is the front shouldn’t change much from this year to next. Randall has exhausted his eligibility and will get a shot in the NFL. But barring unforeseen circumstances, Okafor and Jeffcoat will be back. They will also be getting a new teammate in 6-foot-7, 330-pound junior college prospect Brandon Moore (Scooba, Miss./East Mississippi Community College).

Moore should step in and play right away alongside Ashton Dorsey or Calvin Howell. Desmond Jackson, who played as a freshman, could get some consideration there as well. Freshmen De’Aires Cotton and Greg Daniels still have some developing to do. The wild card is Chris Whaley. The one-time running back has been very impressive as a pass rusher and is up to 280 pounds.

Regardless of who else plays on the line, everything should center around Moore.

Because of his size, he is not only going to be able to plug the run but demand a double team in pass-rush situations. This is jot just to free up the other linemen but create gaps for the linebackers to shoot. It also limits the run game of the opponent because offensive linemen are taught to shed blocks and move up the field. Moore’s size makes him hard to shed.

Of course, all this hinges on Moore being as good as advertised. It also hinges on the Texas players remembering how the line came together over the six-game stretch after Oklahoma. And then duplicating that effort a little earlier in the season.