Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield surveyed the field, found an open receiver and with the swift release of the ball, Texas’ defensive nightmares resurfaced.
The Longhorn defense appeared to have everything figured out –– at times. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and his defense strung together dominant performances after holding then-No. 4 USC to 17 points in regulation and Iowa State to one touchdown.
It appeared evident after Texas’ 17-7 victory over the Cyclones: this season will be led by a dominant defense and a competent offense. Then, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield exposed the Longhorn defense with an early 20-0 lead in the second quarter during Texas’ loss to then-No. 12 Oklahoma.
The Red River Showdown captured the essence of the Longhorn defense this season. After falling down 20-0, the Longhorns held the Sooners to nine points. However, the one touchdown Texas gave up was lethal, and it came off of another busted coverage from the Longhorn secondary.
Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews somehow found himself wide open down the sideline for a 59-yard game-winning touchdown. Now, the same defense who has already forced 10 turnovers this season has started receiving questions.
“With the Oklahoma game, that was on us, mostly on me, being the safety and being in control of communication,” sophomore safety Brandon Jones said. “That’s a big thing we’re working on this week is making sure we’re all on the same page and not letting something like that happen again.”
But now, Texas’ biggest defensive challenge arises: Mason Rudolph and the best offense in the country in Oklahoma State. The Cowboys, who average over 48 points per game, have owned the series, winning 5 of the last 7, including every game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium since 2008, when Colt McCoy was still the quarterback for the burnt orange.
Head coach Tom Herman said the coaching staff might simplify coverages heading into the matchup with the stout Cowboy team.
“We’ve got to be more assignment sound in coverages,” Herman said. “If that means we run less coverages, then that’s what that means. Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none, let’s be a master of a couple things. That’s my big challenge to our staffs this week: let’s go master something on offense and defense.”
With a quarterback averaging 400 passing yards and over 600 total yards per game, the Longhorn defense will have to be a master of whatever game plan they choose to pursue.
The players appear to be much more optimistic, however. When reflecting on other games, players and coaches recall being one or two big plays away from victories over USC and Oklahoma and heading into Saturday’s game with a 5–1 record.
However, the Longhorns aren’t 5–1. They’re 3–3 and they find themselves in dire need of a win.
“We know how close we are,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “We’re just trying to, like Coach says, keep working hard and don’t give up. You can be so close to gold and turn around and you’ll never find it again.”