Iron sharpens iron: Texas defense shines in red zone against Baylor, and it was a difference maker

On3 imageby:Steve Habel09/23/23


WACO – There’s good defense and then there’s good red zone defense, the latter – when an opponent is inside the 20-yard line and driving toward the end zone – being more about toughness, determination, and communication than schemes.

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That want-to and fight was on keen display in the Texas Longhorns’ 38-6 win against overmatched Baylor on Saturday in the teams’ Big 12 Conference opener, and it made a huge difference in the victory.

Baylor had the ball inside the Texas 20 five times in the game – twice after the Longhorns’ dropped punts in its own red zone — and the Bears came away with just six points on two field goals from those opportunities. 

Four times Texas turned the Bears over on downs, including the Bears’ final series as backups were in the game for both teams. The fifth time Longhorns’ linebacker Jaylan Ford intercepted Baylor quarterback Sawyer Robertson to deny a touchdown.

“For the defense just having that mentality that no one gets in gets in the end zone against us, that’s something that we got to keep building on, keep striving for,” Ford said. “It was really good. They tried to get in the end zone a couple of times, and we just shut them out.”

Being at their best inside the 20-yard line is a situation the Longhorns work on in practice, in what they call “red zone lockdown.” In those drills, it’s often the first team offense versus the first team defense and things get really competitive.

“Red zone lockdown is as competitive as it sounds,” Ford said. “We’re bringing the best out of each other. The offense’s job is to score when they get in the red zone, to put up points, and our job is to stop them. 

“And you know, it’s an iron-sharpens-iron type of mentality. We were practicing in 100-degree heat in the offseason and now we’re doing the things that we practiced and it’s almost like second nature for us. Tonight when we were in that, I just said ‘they’re not getting into the end zone. Let’s just stand tall.’ And we did.”

Ford and fellow linebacker David Gbenda were among the Longhorns’ players that suffered through Texas’ 5-7 season in 2021 in coach Steve Sarkisian’s first year on the 40 Acres. Enduring that tumultuous campaign and learning and growing in the year and four games since has produced a defensive unit that plays together and is on the same page.

“The difference is just the togetherness and how much we love and care for each other,” Gbenda said Saturday. “That just drives us to go out and compete hard for each other. J ust remembering that 5-7 season but just showing that, as coach Sarkisian says, ‘we are a new Texas.’”

Communication is also important, Ford explained.

“We have as a defense with a natural ability to communicate,” he said. “We know that offenses like to try to run trick plays, they try to they try to break your defense down. Our ability to communicate, stop that and then playing with effort, running to the ball and being physical adds to it. It just makes it so much easier to play as a sound defense especially when your backs are against the wall.”

What’s the difference this year from 2021? Ford said that the team now has a better understanding of the defense and the scheme compared to when many of the players first got to Austin.

“There’s a lot of trust in our defense that that the calls are going to come in and they execute it,” Sarkisian said. “And ultimately, we’ve been doing that all year; we’ve played really good red zone defense.

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“I just I think we’re pretty good (on defense),” Sarkisian added. “You know, it’s been three years in the making putting a staff together, putting the scheme together, adjusting that scheme from year 1 to year 2 and now year 2 to year 3. We have really good veteran leadership on defense from front to back. And what comes with that is confidence.”

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