Last week against Kansas, Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns reached the highest achievement a defense can strive for, a shutout. The Longhorns continually took the ball away from Kansas and, more importantly, capitalized on those turnovers by scoring points. Texas was able to make the big plays when they mattered most and they did this by playing great team defense.

Kansas operated, a majority of the time, in spread/shotgun formations which forced Texas to play a little differently than they have in the past. This season Texas has used a four man defensive line against most of the formations they faced. Versus Kansas, however, Longhorn fans were able to see more of Charlie Strong’s three man defensive front and it was effective.

By using Malcolm Brown, Cedric Reed, and Hassan Ridgeway, Texas was able to move linebackers and defensive ends like Steve Edmond and Caleb Bluiett on and off the line, as well as in space; and to blitz them in untraditional ways.

Late in the first half Kansas began their ‘two minute’ drill and Texas entered the 3-3 defense while still rushing four defenders on almost every play. With just over one minute left in the half, Texas lined up with one high safety and a clear man coverage call. By encouraging Kansas’ offensive line to slide away from the blitz, Steve Edmond managed to run through their line, virtually untouched, to force an errant throw from Cozart which led to another failed fourth down conversion (fig 1).

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By staying consistent with man coverage blitzes and calls for most of the game, Texas was able to utilize their zone blitzes to impact the game. In the second half when Kansas was down (but not out) the Texas coaches decided it was time to mix it up. Texas, while still in a Nickel Package (five defensive backs), walked the ‘Will’ linebacker down to the line of scrimmage to simulate a 4-2 front. This alignment put Kansas in a blocking scheme that took the slide to the left and had the offensive line account for the four ‘down’ lineman and the ‘Mike’. As Texas’ blitz unfolded, it forced two blockers to cover only one defender and another blocker to miss his assignment completely. At the snap of the ball, Texas rolled the coverage towards the field and successfully blitzed the Nickel for the sack (fig 2).

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Texas stayed in man coverage for most of the game for the simple reason that it was working. Even as Kansas drove down to the five yard line, with the game still winnable, Texas came up with a big play in man coverage.

Down 13-0, Kansas was in the Red Zone and decided to take a shot at the endzone instead of settling for the field goal. The Jayhawks lined up in the gun with two receivers and a tight end to the right, forcing one-on-one coverage to the left. With a simple one step throw, Cozart threw the fade to the back left corner of the end zone for a completion…to Duke Thomas (fig. 3).

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At that point in the game it was Duke Thomas’ second interception and he became Cozart’s ‘leading receiver’.

As Coach Strong has said, this team has a ways to go, but they are by no means in trouble – the Texas defense will continue to be the highlight of this team. With the upcoming Big 12 opponents, Texas will face more and more spread formations. This could be great news for the Longhorns because of the success they have found defending the pass and rushing the passer. Texas’ three man defensive line was able to account for fifteen tackles, four tackles-for-loss, a sack, and two quarterback-hurries. As this Texas team progresses expect to see more complex stunts, blitzes, and three man fronts.
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