Texas' defense gives offense time to grow

LUBBOCK, Texas -- So Texas wants to run the ball. It didn't in Saturday's 24-14 win over Texas Tech, carrying the ball 32 times with its top two backs, Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, for an average of 2.8 yards a carry. Johnson carried the ball 17 times and his longest run went for five yards.

Texas wants to take care of the ball, too. Who doesn't? Texas didn't on Saturday, losing the turnover battle, 4-3.

The Longhorns offense isn't championship caliber. At least yet.

But Texas' defense is. And as long as that's the case, championship-caliber play from the offense isn't necessary for a win. Even in one of the toughest venues in the Big 12 against a talented, experienced Texas Tech team more than capable of upsetting the No. 4 Longhorns.

"Tonight we were pretty dominating," Texas coach Mack Brown said of his defense.

It dominated Texas Tech's passing game, limiting Taylor Potts to just 158 yards on 21-of-35 passing and precipitated a third-quarter QB change to Steven Sheffield for a series. Previously, Potts topped 290 yards in both starts and threw seven touchdowns without an interception.

It dominated the running game, giving up one 25-yard run to Baron Batch, but limiting Batch and backup Eric Stephens to just 19 yards on their other 11 carries.

Pop all that in a calculator, subtract some yardage for Texas' four sacks and a 21-yard loss on a snap over Potts' head on the first play from scrimmage, and it's 144 yards. The last team to hold Texas Tech under 150 yards? Miami. In 1990.

"They did unbelievable all night long," said quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 21-of-36 passing. His second touchdown to tight end Barrett Matthews all but sealed the game. All three of his interceptions were tipped balls.

"They were able to get off the field and get us back on there," Gilbert said of the defense.

They did it with a luxury few can afford to lean on: a four-man rush. Texas played 10 defensive linemen on Saturday by coordinator Will Muschamp's count, and its starting front of Sam Acho, Kheeston Randall, Eddie Jones and Tyrell Higgins kept Potts on the run and eliminated the running game.

It all came against an offense that returned seven starters from a unit that ranked fourth nationally in total offense last season.

"We couldn't slow their front down," said Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, who fell to 4-1 when coaching on his birthday. Today was No. 56. "They just turned loose on us in the second half."

Add sophomore Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, a true freshman playing in his first conference game, to the mix, and Texas' depth on the front line makes Tuberville's take unsurprising.

"He really understands flipping his hips in the rush and using his hands in the rush," defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said of his freshman, who ranked among the best in his 2010 class nationally. Jeffcoat had a hand in a pair of sacks and also recovered a fumble on his first play when Texas Tech center Justin Keown snapped the ball over Potts' head inside Texas Tech's 10-yard line.

"Obviously, he's been tutored pretty well. Coming into camp he was well beyond his years because of that. He's certainly given us a lot of juice on the edge."

That push up front made an easy night for the seven dropping back, including a secondary full of NFL talent. They picked off three passes and frustrated the Texas Tech offense for most of the night. Most poetic were interceptions by Curtis Brown and Blake Gideon. Goats two years ago on the same field, they left as winners, key pieces of a defense that will rank among college football's most dominant by year's end.

Brown stood up in the postgame locker room and told his teammates he "felt as good tonight as I felt bad then."

"The happiest time for a player, a coach or a head coach's life is when you whip somebody, a rival in a tough place on the road in a tough game and you can be in that dressing room satisfied, and go back and get on that plane together," Mack Brown said. "You understand you did something a lot of people don't do out here."

The reason for those feelings Brown and his players experienced on Saturday night is simple: defense.

And best of all? Everyone on Texas' sideline saw a dominating performance, but they also saw a defense that could provide more.

"We played well, but there's still a lot of work we need to do to get to that top level," Acho said, looking back on Potts' fade route to Lyle Leong in the end zone for the Red Raiders only offensive score and Batch's 25-yard scamper. "We played very well, we're very excited about what we did, but we know there's a couple areas of improvement."