Lots of New Faces:
There were a lot of household names on the Longhorn defense last season. Malcom Brown is now the starting defensive tackle for the defending Super Bowl champions, Jordan Hicks is working his way into the Eagles linebacker rotation, and Quandre Diggs is working with the DB's in Detroit. Those are just the stars. In total, the Longhorns lost seven starters from last season's 6-7 campaign. That does not mean that the current Longhorn defensive group lacks talent. This defense is peppered with future star talent and guys that have worked their way through the system and are now getting their chance. Two examples of that are Shiro Davis and Peter Jinkens. Davis, the former U.S. Army All-American was the only Longhorn to record a sack last week against Cal. Jinkens would be active all over the field against Cal, making six total tackles. Jinkens was also used in the Longhorn blitz from the linebacker position. The former Dallas Skyline High School standout won't be the only linebacker sent on the blitz though on Saturday.
A Budding Star:
From an outsider's standpoint, the easiest takeaway about this defense is the impressive debut true freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson has had. Jefferson, who was regarded as the top linebacker in the entire country last season, has made his presence felt early and often for the Horns. They're lucky to have him too. Jefferson has recorded nine tackles in each of his first three games as a collegian. It would not be a surprise to see Jefferson easily surpass 100 tackles by years end. Jefferson has yet to record his first sack but against the suspect Oklahoma State offensive front, that milestone may come sooner rather than later. Jefferson is not the only teenager making waves though. The 2014 recruiting class brought the Longhorns Jerrod Heard, but it also brought them starting defensive tackle Poona Ford and safety John Bonney. Ford is slightly undersized for his position but is as well rounded of a young interior lineman as there is in the Big 12. Bonney redshirted a year ago but is proving his worth in a seasoned secondary.
Of all the position units, the Longhorn secondary is the "safest" group in the starting 11. Three starters return to the group of four. The new addition is the aforementioned Bonney. Duke Thomas will be the leader of the unit. The preseason All-Big 12 corner projects to be an NFL Draft pick in 2016 and should go slightly higher than 2015 Longhorn draftee, Quandre Diggs. Mason Rudolph will need to pick apart the Horns DB's with short intermediate passes and hope that Cowboy receivers can work well in space. If the Cal game is any indicator, the Cowboys will have to run the ball efficiently with Chris Carson and Rennie Childs, so that the short and intermediate passing game is continuously available. Otherwise, this Longhorn secondary will be able to disrupt the Pokes' offensive flow. In the first conference game after some shaky non-conference displays, the Cowboys need to keep things smooth and efficient.
Don't be surprised when this game is close later than desired. Cowboys will find a way though and keep the road team winning streak alive in this series. Final score: 31-20 Cowboys.