Texas still trying to solve option defense

AUSTIN, Texas -- Even Mack Brown isn’t afraid to have a good laugh about Texas’ run defense.

“Kansas State will run the option,” Brown said Monday. “I told our defense this morning, if they didn't run it, they'll put it in. My gosh, we’ve got to stop it.”

The Longhorns’ new defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson, is hard at work trying to find solutions in his second week on the job. The past two Saturdays have taught his players that making those stops is easier said than done.

Robinson had to simplify his plans against Ole Miss, considering he hadn’t coached this defense since 2004 and had so little time to prepare. What the team didn’t know is just how straightforward the Rebels would be on offense.

Ole Miss’ offensive attack was stunning in its simplicity. The Rebels appeared to have two go-to sets on Saturday: A concept built around a sweep-read, and a read-option with an offset back.

Runs, passes, play-action passes, read-option keepers, screens. All built around and made possible by two looks. Those two sets, plus 10 plays out of a standard three-back pod formation, accounted for 56 of the Rebels’ 72 snaps on offense.

Twenty-five plays came from variations of the zone sweep, the play for which Texas had few answers on Saturday. Ole Miss picked up 218 total yards of offense on those 25 snaps, or nearly half its total yardage.

Speedy scatback Jeff Scott does deserve credit, as does the decision-making of quarterback Bo Wallace. The scheme suits their talents. The problem is, Texas defenders saw all of these offensive wrinkles on film. They knew this was coming, and they couldn’t stop it.

“We knew that Ole Miss was going to take a page out of BYU’s playbook, because we didn’t stop it,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We knew that we had to come out there and if we wanted to be successful, we had to stop what we saw the week before. We couldn’t get the job done.”

Both BYU and Ole Miss leaned heavily on the read-option, probably more than they’d planned going in, because Texas just didn’t defend it with correct reads, gap integrity and in-game adjustments.

“If you have the quarterback, you have to take the quarterback,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “If you have the dive, you’ve got to take the dive. You have to do your job. It’s just little things in there. Some people, including myself, are trying to make plays and miss their job. We have to get back down to technique and do our job.”

Texas’ run defense now ranks third-worst in the nation. The unit has permitted 30 rushes of 10-plus yards, second-most in FBS. The BYU blowout inflated those stats, no doubt, but they are what they are.

Might fatigue be a contributing factor? The Longhorns' defense has been on the field for 255 snaps, more than any team in the country. They’ll face several more high-tempo teams now that Big 12 play has begun, making depth a must.

Brown likes his defensive line and is confident he has two future NFL defensive ends in Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Ole Miss usually struggled when those two got in the backfield and pressured Wallace. But it takes 11 guys playing their assignments effectively to make a defense really improve.

Robinson had only three practices last week, and because of that, Brown understood why his new coordinator had difficulty against the Rebels. He’s raising his expectations this week.

“We had more trouble making adjustments against their option than we should,” Brown said. “Hopefully that will be better this weekend, because we have six days to prepare for that instead of trying to get things lined up right. We didn't make the decision for Greg for last weekend. We made it for the Big 12 Conference.”

The first four Big 12 teams Texas faces all have quarterbacks with rushing days of 70-plus yards on their resumes. The option game isn’t going away, especially not after Ole Miss made it look so easy.