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Even with diminished depth, Texas’ defense will not make things easy on Missouri

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It’s about time to start previewing the Texas Bowl, huh?

NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Orlando’s tenure as Texas defensive coordinator under Tom Herman could not have begun any worse. The Longhorns welcomed Maryland to town to begin the Herman era and proceeded to give up 482 yards in just 58 snaps in a 51-41 loss.

Maryland would then proceed to lose about 16 quarterbacks to injury and fall apart, which would make this effort look more and more statistically awful as the season progressed.

Since the moment that game ended, however, Texas has fielded a defense that is somewhere between strong and excellent. USC needed overtime to hit even 27 points a couple of weeks later, and the Horns were the only team all year (so far) to hold Oklahoma under 30.

Despite the statistical anchor of the Maryland game, Texas currently ranks a solid 26th in Def. S&P+, up from 60th a year ago. They are aggressive on standard downs, they invade your backfield against the run, and if nothing else, they are pretty well-acquainted with the style of play that Missouri will bring to the table. Whereas Mizzou is a stylistic outlier in the SEC, that’s not the case in the Big 12.

Of course, the Horns are also nowhere close to full-strength. We’ll see what impact that has. One of the major developing stories of this game has been the shaky status of Texas’ two-deep, both because of injury, early defections to the pros, and now suspension.

Still, I expect a strong effort from the Texas defense. Herman has proven to be a tremendous motivator in his brief head coaching career, and considering a Texas loss would clinch a fourth straight losing season for the first time since the 1930s, I’m figuring he’ll find a way to get his troops up, no matter who’s playing. That probably means a trick play or two on offense, and it likely means quite a bit of effort on D.

Defensive Line

NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas State
Poona Ford
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

DE

  • Chris Nelson (6’3, 300, Jr.) — 15.0 tackles, 3 TFLs (1 sack), 6 run stuffs, 18% success rate allowed (out with elbow injury)
  • Ta’Quon Graham (6’4, 280, Fr.) — 5.0 tackles, 2 TFLs (1 sack), 1 run stuff, 33% success rate
  • Jamari Chisholm (6’4, 300, Jr.)

NT

  • Poona Ford (6’0, 305, Sr.) — 25.5 tackles, 8.5 TFLs (1.5 sacks), 11 stuffs, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 17% success rate
  • Gerald Wilbon (6’4, 305, So.) — 4.0 tackles, 0.5 TFLs (0.5 sacks), 3 run stuffs, 17% success rate

DE

  • Charles Omenihu (6’7, 280, Jr.) — 20.5 tackles, 6 TFLs (3 sacks), 7 run stuffs, 1 FF, 21% success rate
  • Malcolm Roach (6’4, 270, So.) — 25.0 tackles, 4 TFLs (2 sacks), 11 run stuffs), 1 PBU, 15% success rate
  • Breckyn Hager (6’4, 245, Jr.) — 18. tackles, 8 TFLs (4 sacks), 7 run stuffs, 4 PBU, 11% success rate

That Maryland game is a pretty crazy outlier at this point, almost single-handedly keeping Texas out of the Rushing S&P+ top 10. The Terps averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rushed for 263 yards; no one else would top 4.5 per carry or 177 yards on the Horns the rest of the year.

Using my advanced stats, Texas is second in the country in both power success rate and stuff rate. Mizzou stunk in short yardage this year (87th in power success rate) but did avoid moving backwards, ranking sixth in stuff rate.

Consider that Key Stat No. 1. If Mizzou avoids negative rushes, the Tigers will have taken away one of Texas’ best weapons.

But if they don’t, Drew Lock will be throwing a lot on second- or third-and-long.

Linebacking Corps

San Jose State v Texas
Anthony Wheeler (45) and Breckyn Hager (44)
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

BLB

  • Naashon Hughes (6’4, 250, Sr.) — 25.5 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 6 run stuffs, 2 PBU, 39% success rate
  • Jeffrey McCulloch (6’3, 245, So.) — 8.0 tackles, 1.5 TFLs (1.5 sacks), 1 run stuff, 50% success rate (questionable)

MLB

  • Anthony Wheeler (6’3, 235, Jr.) — 30.0 tackles, 4.5 TFLs (2.5 sacks), 4 run stuffs, 42% success rate
  • Edwin Freeman (6’2, 245, Jr.) — 5.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 67% success rate

ROV

  • Malik Jefferson (6’3, 240, Jr.) — 94.5 tackles, 10 TFLs (4 sacks), 20 run stuffs, 31.1% success rate (questionable with toe injury)
  • Gary Johnson (6’1, 220, Jr.) — 40.5 tackles, 6 TFLs (2 sacks), 12 run stuffs, 1 FF, 26% success rate

Jefferson is dynamite. He’s not only Texas’ leading tackler with 94.5 ... he had 38.0 more tacklers than Texas’ second-leading tackler. He’s been slowed by turf toe, which could keep him out of Wednesday’s game.

That said, the Horns aren’t without talent even if he’s out. It could simply mean more playing time for Gary Johnson, who’s ben pretty exciting in his own right. He might not be as sure a tackler, but he’s got as much or more havoc potential — 15 percent of his tackles have been behind the line (11 percent for Jefferson), and his success rate allowed is lower than Jefferson’s. He knows what he’s doing, and both Anthony Wheeler and Naashon Hughes are steady, too.

This is a good front seven, in other words. Even if Jefferson and starting lineman Chris Nelson don’t play. If Mizzou’s passing game can’t stretch the secondary, the run game might not be able to maneuver all that well.

Secondary

NCAA Football: Texas at West Virginia
Antwuan Davis (7) and Brandon Jones (19)
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

CB

  • Kris Boyd (6’0, 200, Jr.) — 44.5 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 3 run stuffs, 2 TFLs, 14 PBU, 61% success rate
  • Josh Thompson (6’0, 200, Fr.) — 10.0 tackles, 67% success rate

S

  • DeShon Elliott (6’2, 210, Jr.) — 56.5 tackles, 8.5 TFLs (1.5 sacks), 7 run stuffs, 6 INT, 9 PBU, 3 FF, 65% success rate (out)
  • Jason Hall (6’3, 220, Sr.) — 16.0 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 run stuff, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 31% success rate

S

  • Brandon Jones (6’1, 205, So.) — 54.0 tackles, 4 TFLs, 5 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 68% success rate (questionable with head injury)
  • John Bonney (6’1, 205, Jr.) — 15.5 tackles, 0.5 TFLs (0.5 sacks), 1 INT, 3 PBU, 75% success rate

CB

  • Davante Davis (6’3, 200, Jr.) — 19.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 run stuff, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 75% success rate
  • Josh Thompson (6’0, 200, Fr.)

NB

  • P.J. Locke III (6’0, 205, Jr.) — 26.0 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 3 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 56% success rate (probable with ankle injury)
  • Antwuan Davis (6’1, 200, Sr.) — 23.5 tackles, 2 TFLs (1 sack), 1 run stuff, 2 INT, 1 FF, 50% success rate

Texas’ pass stats are a reflection of Texas’ conference: The Horns are 44th in passing success rate allowed and 97th in passing IsoPPP (explosiveness) allowed ... but once you adjust for opponent, they are a much more solid 17th in Passing S&P+.

They got torched by Oklahoma (18-for-28 for 344 yards and a 183.9 passer rating), but over the six games that followed (which included battles against Oklahoma State, TCU, WVU, and Texas Tech), they gave up just a 59 percent completion rate and 118.4 passer rating. There were minimal big plays — opponents averaged just 11.4 yards per completion.

Granted, this was with DeShon Elliott, Holton Hill, and P.J. Locke III. Elliott is an absolute stud safety who elected not to play in the bowl in the name of draft preparation. Meanwhile, Hill is suspended, and Locke might not be 100 percent thanks to an ankle injury. They combined for 10 run stuffs, 11 tackles for loss, and 24 passes defensed, and without Elliott and Hill, this might not be a top-20 pass defense.

Once again, though, there is still talent remaining. Sophomore safety Brandon Jones is solid (and, as of Sunday, questionable with a head injury), and if Locke can’t go, backup Antwuan Davis has been similarly disruptive. Depth will be just about non-existent, but the remaining guys are still solid.

At corner, per CFB Film Room, Kris Boyd has allowed 45 targets, 19 catches, and 350 yards. He is all-or-nothing, as are Mizzou receivers J’Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall. Key Stat No. 2 could be how Boyd fares against whoever he’s matched up against.

Or is Key Stat No. 2 how the other corners are doing? Mizzou’s got excellent balance in its passing game at this point — Moore and Hall ended up with 147 targets, but slot men Johnathon Johnson and Richaud Floyd had 89, and, of course, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam had 37 and became an increasing target as the year went on.

Special Teams

Texas v Oklahoma State
Michael Dickson
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

K

  • Mitchell Becker (6’3, 200, Sr.) — 10-for-10 PAT, 0-for-1 FG over 40
  • Joshua Rowland (5’11, 205, Jr.) — 34-for-34 PAT, 8-for-10 FG under 40, 2-for-7 FG over 40; 63 kickoffs, 64.3 average, 33 touchbacks

P

  • Michael Dickson (6’3, 205, Jr.) — 73 punts, 48.4 average

KR

  • Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6’5, 225, So.) — 3 KR, 20.3 average (long: 37) (suspended)
  • Kris Boyd (6’0, 200, Jr.) — 7 KR, 26.4 average (long: 38)
  • Kyle Porter (5’10, 220, So.) — 6 KR, 25.3 average (long: 41)
  • Devin Duvernay (6’0, 205, So.) — 4 KR, 22.0 average (long: 34)

PR

  • Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (6’1, 185, RSFr.) — 15 PR, 10.1 average, 1 TD (long: 91)
  • Armanti Foreman (6’0, 210, Sr.) — 3 PR, -0.3 average (long: 2)

It’s good news, bad news, when you face the Texas offense, as we’ll discuss in a few days. On one hand, the Horns aren’t very good and will punt a lot. On the other hand, they have the best punter in college football, one of the few guys better than Missouri’s Corey Fatony. Texas ranks first in punt efficiency, and Michael Dickson, who is going pro a year early, basically adds an extra first down’s worth of yardage to every punt. Here’s to hoping he gets plenty of reps on Wednesday, huh?

If it becomes a place-kicking battle, Mizzou might have the edge there. While Tucker McCann grew increasingly stable as the year went on, Joshua Rowland proved to have pretty limited range. He’s decent within 40 yards but very much not from beyond 40.