Concerns arise about Longhorns defense

Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes to say his unit’s No. 1 goal is holding foes to one fewer point than the Longhorn offense scores.

But what if that offense puts up 66?

By the conditions of his simple directive, Diaz’s defense more than did its job Saturday night against Ole Miss. Texas did win by five touchdowns.

But a defense that wants to be one of the nation’s best won’t settle for the contentment of “a win is a win,” especially not after giving up as many points as Texas did in the 66-31 road victory.

The Longhorns made the big plays that mattered on defense, no question, and this week they finally put any issues with starting slow to rest.

Five minutes in, linebacker Steve Edmond picked off a pass, stumbled, regained his footing and ran 22 yards for the score for the game's opening points.

“When you’re on the road and the place is going crazy, it’s all about who’s going to make the first momentum play,” Diaz told reporters after the game.

That interception swung the tide of momentum Texas’ way, and it didn’t dissipate much. The Longhorns never trailed on the night. The points kept coming.

When Diaz fires up the projector this week and his defenders begin to go over film of Saturday’s showing, they’ll have plenty to ooh and aah about. Two more interceptions, both by Quandre Diggs. A handful of hard hits, highlighted by a Kenny Vaccaro blast that knocked the wind out of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace.

But Wallace and his fellow Rebels had Texas gasping for air a few times, too. The film these Longhorns review won’t hide these:

• Ole Miss’ 12-play, 89-yard drive to end the first quarter. That touchdown drive was perhaps the best a team has put up against Texas all season. The Rebels kept their pace fast, picked up six first downs and produced six plays of 9 yards or more, including a 30-yard completion on a third-and-17 situation.

• Two third-quarter drives in which Ole Miss put up a combined 160 yards and two touchdowns on only nine plays. The first score, a 75-yard touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief, came on third and 2 and could’ve been stopped by two Longhorns. The other came on a 48-yard Jeff Scott run in which he avoided two tackles and outran Texas’ defense despite losing a shoe.

• And, after enjoying a week of uncommon praise and attention for its standout play, Texas’ kickoff coverage squad gave up a 100-yard touchdown return. It appeared as many as seven Longhorns had a chance to make the stop. Instead, they let true freshman Jaylen Walton do his best Reggie Bush impersonation.

The Rebels had their backs against the wall and an arsenal of speedy athletes on offense. They had no choice but to take shots. They landed more than a few.

The bust on Moncrief’s 75-yarder was purely a man-to-man failure, Diaz said. The crime isn’t giving up the catch, but rather not making the key tackle. Same thing happened on an 80-yard touchdown Wyoming scored in the season opener.

“Part of it is really who we’re playing and that guy making a play over our guy,” Diaz said. “It’s correctable. We’ll look at it and talk angles and tackling and get it fixed.”

A Texas offense that’s now averaging 49 points per game is giving his defense leeway. The starting 11 and rotations are already well-established. All that’s really left is day-by-day improvement.

There’s a case to be made that a silver lining exists in those scores. The defense will go into Big 12 play without an overinflated ego. The Longhorns have two weeks to make adjustments and a healthy helping of motivation.

“It’s kind of fun when you win 66 to, what, 31? But the defense felt like we gave up too much,” UT defensive end Alex Okafor said. “It’s good to have a win like that but still feel like you have a lot of work to do. It keeps us hungry and keeps us getting better and better each week.”

In the grand scheme of things, a 31-point humbling may be just what Texas needs.

But this is likely the last week that sentence can be written. Nonconference play is over. Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma are on the horizon. Each has an offense capable of much more than 31 on a good night.

Make no mistake: The story of the night was Texas’ offense enjoying a stunning and necessary breakthrough. What David Ash and his receivers achieved in Oxford trumps any defensive breakdown.

On Saturday, the Longhorns learned they have enough offensive firepower next time they find themselves in a high-scoring battle. Now it’ll be on their defense to put a stop to the shootouts.