AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Two games into the season and new defensive coordinator Chris Ash has a big, fundamental problem at Texas.
Tackling. The really poor kind.
A dismal defensive effort in a 63-56 overtime win at Texas Tech had Ash had the No. 9 Longhorns (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) regrouping and rededicating themselves to the basics this week before hosting TCU and multi-threat quarterback Max Duggan on Saturday.
Coach Tom Herman hired his old friend after Ash was fired as head coach at Rutgers. After a solid start in an easy win over UTEP, Ash didn't even want to count the missed tackles against Texas Tech. He pointed to a lack of reps in the spring and preseason training camp, and to Tech’s athletic receivers being big and fast and hard to wrap up.
“It was a rough day. I didn't see that coming,” Ash said. "The speed of the game got to us a little bit.”
Welcome to the Big 12, coach. Eight more games to go, starting with TCU. The Horned Frogs are 6-2 against the Longhorns since 2012.
Duggan was certainly tough and slippery in putting up a career game to beat Texas last season with 345 total yards and three touchdowns. Duggan missed part of training camp with a previously undiagnosed heart condition, but has returned and played well off the bench in the second half of last week's loss to Iowa State. The question is whether he's in good enough shape for play a full game.
While Texas has averaged a whopping 61 points its first two games, Herman said his defense was “embarrassed” by all the miscues that were overshadowed by the late comeback led by quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
TCU coach Gary Patterson shrugged off the Longhorns defensive struggles last week.
“They'll be better," Patterson said.
EHLINGER ON A ROLL
The senior is playing arguably the best football of his career, with 10 passing touchdowns and another on the ground the first two games. One of his worst games came last season against TCU when he threw four interceptions against a physical, aggressive Horned Frogs defense.
Running back Zach Evans was a five-star recruit and the surprise gem of the Horned Frogs’ 2020 class. But he missed the first game after sitting out chunks of training camp because of COVID-19 issues with contact tracing. Patterson said Evans didn’t get sick, he just had to sit out. He will be available Saturday.
Anything can happen when Texas special teams get on the field. Last week, Texas gave up a fumble on a punt return for a TD. They also had a punt blocked but then blocked a punt of their own and returned it for a TD. They also gave up an onside kick, and later recovered one to set up the tying touchdown. Kicker Cameron Dicker made his only field goal attempt.
TCU's rebuilt offensive line gave up six sacks last week. Texas, which had a major weak spot in 2019 with a lack of pass rush, had none while Texas Tech threw more than 50 passes. TCU must protect Duggan and let plays get into the suspect Texas secondary.
“We’ll get to the quarterback, I promise you,” Ash said. “When and how often, I don’t know the answer to that yet.”
SMITH IN THE SLOT
The Texas offense has been humming along just fine, but Ehlinger may get another passing option with the return of starting slot receiver Jake Smith. He missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. Smith is one of the Longhorns’ fastest players and Ehlinger has used the slot position as a favorite target.
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