The Texas Defense has made a dramatic change from a year ago. Charlie Strong has started to reshape a team that was labeled as soft into a somewhat familiar image to what he put on the field at Louisville. Those teams used versatile hybrid players at LB that could move in to pass rushing roles as needed. Strong switches between the 4-3 under and a traditional 4-2 nickel, in addition to his tried and true 3-3-5 packages. Against the Hogs we will probably see the 4-3 under primarily on early downs and some pressure out of the 3 down lineman odd front on 3rd downs.
Chris Brown Grantland, on Charlie Strong's early Defensive Coordinator career:
"What he came up with was the 3-3-5 or "30 stack" defense - a defense still in vogue around college football, and one that stood as an important predecessor to the NFL's use of versatile and athletic "hybrid" defenders who have become increasingly valuable despite not being built for traditional roles." "
Lets take a look at a few key matchups to watch in Houston and points that the Texas defense will emphasize in Bowl practices in preparation for the Hogs.
Gameplan Point 1: Wreak havoc on 1st down in the Arkansas backfield and create opportunities for tackles for loss.
Texas ranked 34th in tackles for loss with Malcolm Brown leading the way at 12.5. Strong and Bedford will take some chances on first down as many teams have tried to do in order to force Brandon Allen into difficult third downs.
Malcolm Brown on playing Arkansas" It's not a challenge. You kind of get [excited] about it because you're a defensive tackle and they're running the ball, so that's your chance to get tackles and stuff. It's what we have been waiting on all year, a team to come downhill on us. Our defensive line is pretty good and they have a good offensive line, so we'll just see who wins it in the end."
Malcolm Brown is a very versatile 3 Tech that fits with what Strong likes to do with his interior lineman. When given fewer responsibilites and reads he thrives, as Oklahoma St. found out on the opening series here.
As the game went on it was obvious that the OSU offensive line had no answer for Brown and the other Texas defensive line rotation.
The interior line for Arkansas must slow penetration and I have a feeling the gameplan will be similar to how Chaney prepared for Auburn. The scheme is different but the 1 gap attack mentality is pretty much the same with Charlie Strong's defense. For me there isn't much worry about the right side of the line with Cook and Kirkland. The concern is whether Tretola, Smothers, and Ragnow have the quickness to keep them from disrupting the running game, and keeping Allen clean on passing downs.
Georgia and Missouri gave the front 5 of Arkansas fits with twists, stunts and overall quickness. For this offensive line against Texas it will be a thin margin between opening a crease for a 15 yard gain or losing yards. A big focus for me early in the game will be to see what Chaney and Pittman have planned in the protection packages.
Gameplan Point 2: Win the Turnover Battle, Force Fumbles, Take Chances in Pass Defense.
Texas was 2nd in the Big 12 in interceptions with 15, and went +9 in the turnover margin in games they won. If Texas is able to sell out on those early downs and disrupt the running game Arkansas will be forced to throw in play-action and on normal passing downs. The Texas secondary likes to use a lot of flat foot reads with its safeties and nickel corners. This keeps them in better position to break on shorter routes. Against teams like Kansas St, and TCU Texas struggled with faster wide receivers. Arkansas does not have that threat so look for the Texas DBs to sit on any routes right at the first down marker.
Texas LBS vs Hunter Henry, AJ Derby?, Jeremy Sprinkle and RBs.
Can this group take advantage of the aggressive blitz packages on 3rd down and convert big plays? Iowa St. TE EJ Dibbs gave the Longhorns fits, and it took a last second FG to win. Dibbs had 10 catches for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns against Texas.
Kansas St was able to take advantage of the pressure packages and get Tyler Lockett open over the middle. The big decision for Jim Chaney will be whether to use Henry and his backs in protection packages for Brandon Allen in those passing situations or whether to leak them out for outlets.
Cornerback Quandre Diggs is another big part of the Texas defense. The Longhorns have used him mostly in the slot where he could possibly be matched up against Keon Hatcher or Hunter Henry in those bunch formations. Diggs has 11 picks throughout his career and packs a punch. In Strong's scheme they don't produce a lot of pass break ups like what Arkansas has done this year, even in the pass happy Big 12, but they have forced turnovers.
Texas secondary coach Chris Vaughn spent 7 years at Arkansas as a position coach and recruiting coordinator. So he may have a different perspective on the rivalry than the Texas players who have not been around.
These matchups favor Arkansas in the short yardage game. Not sure what the status will be for AJ Derby after having his knee scoped but having him on the field with Henry would be a huge advantage. Texas gave up 5 catches to UCLA RB Paul Perkins, and 4 more to BYU RB Algernon Brown. Most of those came on quick checkdown or hot routes when Texas brought pressure. There is some big play potential there when they bring 5 and 6 rushers if Brandon Allen is able to get the ball out quick.
For Arkansas the ground game will be there as it has been with the exception of the Georgia game after the first drive. How they attack the Texas defense early on will set the tone for the game. Breaking one or two big runs when the Longhorns guess wrong on a blitz call could set the Arkansas crowd into a frenzy reminiscent of past big victories over Texas. 1964, 1979, 2000, 2003, 2014?