Fundamentals key against Cowboys

AUSTIN, Texas -- Before the Oklahoma game, Mack Brown pumped the brakes on the praise for a secondary that was ranked No. 5 nationally in pass efficiency defense.

"They were all proud the other day," Brown said of the secondary's reaction to the ranking. "I told them to check it again in two weeks."

How about one week?

The Texas pass efficiency defense only fell to No. 7 following the Oklahoma loss. But in the secondary, heads are hanging much lower than that after giving up 367 passing yards and three touchdowns, not to mention a 40-yard pass on the first play of the game and a 30-yard pass play on a third-and-25.

"That was the play of the game, because it was 13-3, it was coming off of a turnover for us," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "They don't get it, they're faced with probably a punt, the idea to punt. And it's a situation where we should have had help on the play, and again, we did not execute the coverage."

The reason they didn't execute is not because of freshman corner Quandre Diggs. He was supposed to have safety help over the top. It never arrived. Similarly, on a third-and-goal from the five, there was supposed to be safety help. There wasn't, and Oklahoma scored.

Texas has 20 hours -- all the time allotted for practice by the NCAA in a week -- to fix what Oklahoma so convincingly broke. Because this week Oklahoma State, statistically a better passing team, is headed to Austin.

"It's going to start with getting aligned," safety Blake Gideon said. "That is the first thing is to have the correct alignment and everybody be on the same page and have the call in the game.

"It is having your eyes right and not getting caught with your eyes in the backfield or being sucked down by any sort of backfield action."

Not allowing third-down conversions is also important for the Longhorns this week. The Sooners were 8-of-15 on third-down conversions. Seven of those first downs were gained through the air.

"That's where the game was won." Diaz said.

Oklahoma State converts 56 percent of its third downs, with most of those first downs coming through the air. Shrinking that percentage is a top priority for Texas.

"People are finding ways to get the ball out quickly on us ... your coverage has to be able to match up against that," Diaz said. "And then usually when that's the case it brings it back to third down, because usually when they're throwing the ball shorter, then usually they're going to get into third downs, and that's why it always comes back to our third downs."

Translation: Texas is forcing plenty of third downs; now it has to step up and stop the opponent on third down.

Another priority should be raising the group's collective spirit. These are guys who were crowing about how good they were, only to have Oklahoma bring them down to earth. Diaz went to work on the collective psyche of his players Sunday.

"We watch the film with our players, and the reality is there's a lot of good stuff on that film," Diaz said.

That includes the play of Carrington Byndom. The sophomore cornerback proved to be up to the task at every turn, including three fade passes he turned away. Up front, Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat and Calvin Howell might have had their best games of the season. Howell's play was so inspired that he has earned the starting nod over Ashton Dorsey this week at defensive tackle.

"So it's always easy to paint the broad brush stroke and say everybody is down in the dumps," Diaz said. "There are some things we have to fix. There's some things that we can do better. Some of the credit has to go to who we play, but I think we'll feel good about our chances on Saturday."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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