AUSTIN (KXAN) — The old sports cliche of a team “bending but not breaking,” is of course rooted in a myriad of examples, and the Texas Longhorns defense certainly fits that bill so far this season.
Baylor reached the Longhorns’ red zone, the area between the 20-yard line and the goal line, six times and came away with only two field goals. Two of the times the Bears advanced the ball that deep in Longhorns territory were from muffed punts, but even when Baylor’s offense marched it close, the Texas defense stood tall.
In four games this season, the Longhorns are tied for second in FBS in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score just five out of 10 times. Four of the scores are field goals and the Longhorns are one of just four teams that have yet to allow a rushing touchdown in the red zone. The Longhorns are tied with Michigan and Duke while Syracuse has allowed teams to score in the red zone 44.4% of the time (4-for-9).
It isn’t just coincidence, either. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Saturday’s 38-6 win that the team practices situational defense extensively through a highly competitive drill.
“We do a thing called red zone lockout that our offense and defense both take a lot of pride in,” Sarkisian said. He said the first-team offense and first-team defense go at each other during the drill, and the intensity and attitude during practice has carried over. “I think there’s a lot of trust in our defense that the calls are going to come in and they’re going to execute it. When you can step up and play defense after giving up a short field, that’s a huge bonus for us.”
As far as senior linebacker Jaylan Ford is concerned, it’s all a state of mind and being able to communicate on the field.
“It’s something we have to keep building on and striving for, and we just shut them out,” he said. “Communication is the biggest part, it’s the best attribute we have. Our mindsets have changed tremendously, and we have a better understanding of all the schemes.”
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Baylor gained three total yards combined on the drives following the muffed punts. The first was a 4-play, 2-yard drive in the second quarter that began on the Texas 21, and the Bears settled for a field goal. The second started on the Texas 19 in the third quarter, and the Longhorns forced a turnover on downs after allowing 1 yard on six plays. Texas had another turnover on downs in the fourth, stopping a 12-play, 60-yard Baylor drive at the 20-yard line.
Ford said the lockout drill in practice “brings the best out of everyone.”
“We have to have that iron sharpens iron mentality,” he said. “We’re doing the things that we’ve practiced, and it’s almost second nature now.”
Ford had an interception in the end zone to kill a Baylor red zone attempt in the third quarter. Texas scored on the ensuing drive, taking the ball 95 yards on seven plays culminating in a 21-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Worthy from Quinn Ewers.
Ford was part of the Longhorns team that went 5-7 in Sarkisian’s first season as head coach, and he said the guys who endured the bad year remember it well and don’t want it to happen again.
“We had a lot of hard times, and for the guys that are still here, it brought us together,” Ford said. “It allowed us to form a foundation for leadership and to pull the other guys with us. Now we’re doing what we expect to do instead of doing what we hope to do.”