Where are the Defenders?

Texas’ defense has given up over 1,000 yards and 80 points over the last two games.  P.J. Locke and Anthony Wheeler have been widely and deservedly criticized, if not ridiculed, as the glaring weak links on the porous defense.  The lack of veteran depth on the defense has pressed freshmen Caden Sterns into a starting role and B.J. Foster into a key backup role.

Sterns and Foster were five-star recruits and Sterns has played well.  He leads the team in interceptions with four but his play the last two weeks has fallen off with some blown coverages and missed tackles. Foster has an interception, some big hits and has played well enough to indicate that he will be a solid starter for the next three years but has missed his share of tackles and blown coverages.

I understand Texas is rebuilding—still—but Charlie Strong’s 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes were ranked tenth and seventh nationally.  Those recruits from those highly-touted classes are now third and fourth year players so why is Texas so heavily relying on two sub-standard players and two true-freshmen?

Where are the defenders?

2015 Class

Linebacker Malik Jefferson, a five-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the third-round and he’s listed fourth on the depth chart at weak side linebacker. He has four tackles for the season.   I wonder if he would have been better off, NFL career wise, to stay for his senior year.

Cornerback Holton Hill, a four-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017. He was Texas’ best cornerback in 2017 and was projected as a first-round draft pick.  After he was suspended for the last three games of 2017, he was undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. He has started one game this year, has one interception and 17 tackles.

Safety DeShon Elliott, a four-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017 in which he led the team with six interceptions and was a consensus first-team All-American.  He was drafted in the sixth-round by the Baltimore Ravens. He fractured his arm in preseason game and is out for the season.

2016 Class

Safety Brandon Jones, a four-star recruit, is one of the starting safeties. The junior has played pretty well and has had his moments but is not yet the standout that he was projected to be.

Safety Jeffery McCulloch, a four-star recruit, is a key backup.  He hasn’t shown great instincts and he appears to be nearly as slow as the starter, Anthony Wheeler.

Linebacker Erick Fowler, a four-star recruit, was high-profile recruit who flipped from LSU to Texas. He missed most of fall camp his freshman year because of grade issues and played in nine games primarily on special teams.  He left the team in the spring of 2017 presumably to transfer but a cursory internet search didn’t turn up any information on him after he left Texas.

Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, a four-star recruit, transferred to Missouri after his freshman year.  After sitting out 2017 because of transfer rules, he’s listed as the second-team nose-tackle and has 14 tackles this year.

Defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald, a four-star recruit, gave up football in August of this year. He was redshirted in 2016, did not play last year and was not projected to play this year.

Cornerback Eric Cuffee, a four-star recruit, transferred to Trinity Valley junior college in August.

Defensive Tackle Marcel Southall, a four-star recruit, transferred to Tyler Junior College after his freshman year and then transferred to Florida Atlantic University where he is currently a backup.

Some amount of attrition is standard issue when a school changes coaches. It’s debatable whether the players who left early for the NFL would have benefitted professionally long-term if they had stayed with Longhorns for the senior seasons.  It’s not debatable that the 2018 Texas defense would be vastly better if even one of them had stayed.

Without a linebacker with Malik Jefferson’s speed and football instincts on this year’s defense, it’s clear that Todd Orlando’s signature “Dime” defense isn’t working.  In his media availability this week, Orlando said he would play less Dime and more Nickle against Texas Tech.  In laymen’s terms, this means four defensive linemen instead of three to put more pressure on the passer and defend the run more effectively.

Hopefully this not just a lot of loose change.

Night games in Lubbock

Maybe the difficulty of beating Texas Tech at night in Lubbock has been over-hyped. Texas has won four out of the last five times they’ve played at night in Lubbock.  I’ve blocked permanently from my psyche the one they lost.

Speaking of the 2008 Texas Tech game in Lubbock (okay I do remember), here’s a headline in today’s Statesman sports section, Ten years later, Gideon knows his career not defined by one play

The hell it isn’t.

HooK ‘Em,

W.E.

Texas Tech Over/Under 18

  • Wesley averages 16.8 yards per reception
  • Tiebreaker: Pick the winners against the line. Scores aren't required

    Ohio St. -3 1/2 @ Michigan St.
  • Baylor + 14 1/2 @ Iowa St.

2 Comments to “Where are the Defenders?”

  1. Hoping I was wrong in picking Tech to score more points than Okie State.

  2. It’s always nice to delude yourself. The Blake Gideon drop is forever etched in every Longhorn’s mind. It’s one of those “I know exactly where I was when that happened” moments.

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