Texas Longhorns v #8 Texas Christian Horned Frogs
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
Score: Texas 7, #8 TCU 24
1) Poona Ford remains dominant
CB Holton Hill, the other marquee defender of the Longhorns’ defense, didn’t have much of an opportunity to showcase his talent on Saturday. The Horned Frogs attempted very few passes on the evening–and with good reason. Hill showcased his excellent burst, physicality, and stickiness downfield in those limited reps.
DT Poona Ford, on the other hand, saw tons of action on the early downs defending the run–and he continued to impress. He has exceptional quickness and excellent hand speed early off the line, which helps him immediately win gaps. The power in his punch even becomes valuable when he’s asked to two-gap, though his lack of arm length limits him there.
But it’s Ford’s ability to bring his hips and feet through his penetration, to reset his body, redirect, and finish the play that truly makes him special. Many lightning-quick penetrators on the interior fail to match the change of direction of the RB in the backfield; or freeze in the face of the zone read. But Poona regularly demonstrates his knack for getting square in the backfield, and with his motor and burst, widens his tackle radius to make tackles many can’t.
The Longhorns’ defensive staff removes Ford from the field on clear passing downs–likely to keep him fresh. I believe he has upside there as a pocket-pusher and slanter, but more reps thereof are needed to complete the evaluation.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention LB Malik Jefferson as one of Texas’ top defenders. He simply doesn’t play the linebacker position well enough to be considered a top player any longer. I’m more interested in him as a 3-4 OLB than as any sort of true off-ball linebacker.
2) The curious case of Travin Howard
I like so many of the pieces of Travin Howard. I like the instincts. I love the sideline-to-sideline range. The blend of aggressiveness and awareness really impresses as well.
But I’m not yet ready to say that Howard’s skill set transcends my concerns regarding his size. NFL Draft Scout has Howard at 215–I’d assume he’s a little closer to 220, but regardless of the numbers, he struggles with physicality. When linemen climb to Howard, he avoids instead of attacks. The athlete he is allows him to escape with this style of play in college, but the NFL won’t be nearly as easy.
Furthermore, Texas freshman RB Daniel Young caused all sorts of problems for Howard in the hole (more on him later). A tightly-wound 220 lbs, his bruising style of play exposed Howard’s struggles tackling thick, physical runners. I know there’s a spot for a player of Howard’s athleticism on an NFL roster–but I’m not yet sold he can be more than a sub-package guy.
3) Young runners exchange punches
The decision on this bout goes to Darius Anderson, the sophomore jitterbug for TCU–but let’s start with Young, that bruiser for the Longhorns.
The decimated Texas offensive line struggled to generate any sort of movement against a tough TCU front. Solution? Put in a guy who can create his own yardage. Young has great timing as runner–knows when to be patient, knows when to push–which allows him to maximize on those tiny creases that were created. With a thick frame, Young is incredibly difficult to bring down at poor angles/with arm tackles–and he has enough burst and wiggle to challenge defenders in the alley. Add in a couple of great hands catches with good YAC work, and you might have a bellcow in Texas for a few years to come.
But, as we said in the intro, the belt goes to Anderson.
TCU has a special backfield. Kyle Hicks, the redshirt senior and early-down back, has enough vision, burst, and physicality to keep the offense on schedule. Sewo Olonilua, the sophomore behind him, has flashed throughout the year with a physical brand of running and good quickness in space. Anderson? He’s the flash-in-the-pan, human-joystick of the group–and TCU ran him hot against Texas.
Anderson embarrassed more than a few Texas defenders (read: Malik Jefferson) more than a few times in space. His suddenness is shocking and absolutely devastating, as modeled by his game-icing touchdown, on which he put talented S DeShon Elliott into another dimension with an effortless stutter step. He runs behind his pads and with good balance–but some improved decision making would be welcome. That’ll come with experience. Keep a star by this name.
4) Texas defenders that warrant mention
The Longhorns defense did a truly magnificent job against a dangerous TCU offense that possessed the ball for 33 minutes and 15 drives. Beyond the aforementioned players, here’s some quick-hitters on the Texas D.
Junior CB Kris Boyd has an NFL frame and NFL physicality as well. He’s not nearly as sticky downfield as Hill is, but in a press-heavy scheme, he can be disruptive.
Junior S DeShon Elliott flies out of a cannon when he’s closing downhill–but he also does so under control and within the defensive scheme. He made a couple of key tackles in space to limit YAC and big plays as well. Long dude, too.
Redshirt junior LB Edwin Freeman can play linebacker, man. While Jefferson may be all flash and gap-shoot, Freeman reads and flows with good instincts. He has just enough burst to close and make plays, though his athleticism doesn’t overwhelm. But he’s heady and made key plays constantly on 3rd downs and in the redzone. I’m interested in him moving forward.
Junior EDGE Breckyn Hager won’t stop making plays. Like Freeman, you can tell he has natural football instincts. His tackle radius isn’t great, nor is his bend, but his first-step explosiveness serves him well, he can rip inside, and his motor runs hot. He’s likely just a special-teams/depth guy, but you gotta love the way he plays.
5) Ranthony Texada is a sleeper you want to know
Firstly, and most importantly: First-ballot All-Name Team Hall of Famer.
Texada comes in at 5’11 and 170 lbs–but he’s a converted WR nonetheless. Obviously, that frame lends itself to CB play, but you can see his WR instincts and recognition bleed through his play. He carried more than a few routes down the field with excellent anticipation and had a play at an interception down the field if he wasn’t tackled by the WR before the ball arrived. He made a couple of nice tackles in space as well.
With such a slight frame, however, he doesn’t fight well through contact or fill nicely during the run. When against big wideouts, it’s tough for him to influence the catch point, though it seems he has nice length for his size. As he grows into the position, I expect him to become stickier and stickier. He’s a senior, so you’d have to draft him late and build him up–but there’s something there.