The Texas defense has been a hit-or-miss proposition through the first two games of the season and a large part of the blame, according to Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, has been inconsistent play from its linebackers.
The Longhorns’ linebackers are among the team’s most dynamic playmakers, especially speedy “hammerhead” Gary Johnson, team captain Anthony Wheeler, and the 280-pound Malcolm Roach, who is a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Wheeler is second on the team in tackles with 13 despite having to sit out the first half of the season-opener against Maryland because of a suspension. Johnson, a presumptive candidate for Big 12 defensive player of the year, missed the last three quarters of that game after being flagged for targeting.
“I know we have to play better at linebacker,” Orlando said during his weekly media availability on Wednesday. “There are plays that we are missing that we have to make – that’s one of the things that’s hurting us in the run game. We have to solidify our run game. We are not where I think we need to be. We have to get more out of that position.”
Orlando said there are ways the Longhorns can get on track on defense, and that they will need to do so to have a chance to beat Southern California when the two teams meet on Saturday in Austin for the first time since 1966.
“I can’t wait – the whole team is so excited for this game,” Orlando said. “It’s going to be a special night, and I think our kids have a sense of that. When the game is on the line, we have to play shut-down defense; our guys need to cut it loose and trust their training.”
Orlando was asked if he’s held back some of the defensive playbook during the Longhorns’ first two games – a loss to Maryland and a tougher-than-expected win over Tulsa – to try to surprise the Trojans this week.
“No – if we’ve done less it’s just based on what we see in practice and how we can execute,” Orlando explained. “If we put guys out there and they’re not sure what they are doing and can’t get lined up right or we are breaking down stuff without them earning it, that doesn’t help us.”
–Steve Habel (@SteveHabel), Field Level Media