Jimmy Burch

Defensive breakdowns doom Texas in shootout loss to Cal

Jerrod Heard, running for a touchdown Saturday against Michael Barton and Cal, finished with 527 total yards to break the Texas school record set by Vince Young (506).
Jerrod Heard, running for a touchdown Saturday against Michael Barton and Cal, finished with 527 total yards to break the Texas school record set by Vince Young (506). AP

Mike Perrin, Texas’ interim men’s athletic director, spent his first Saturday in his new post in full-throttle goodwill mode.

Perrin, who took over the department following Tuesday’s resignation by former AD Steve Patterson, snacked with tailgaters, met with members of the marching band and greeted the Longhorns’ team bus on arrival at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Perrin encouraged coaches and players as they headed into the stadium, saying he “just wanted them to know I supported them” during a drama-filled season that has seen more high-profile personnel changes (4) than football games (3) in September.

From a football standpoint, the most visible of those personnel tweaks — the elevation of quarterback Jerrod Heard into the starting lineup — continues to pay dividends for the Longhorns. But all of Perrin’s goodwill gestures could not cover up the performance of a Texas defense that surrendered season-high totals for points and rushing yards (280) during a 45-44 loss to California.

The Golden Bears, playing without leading rusher Daniel Lasco, ran roughshod over the Longhorns during a game-turning 31-0 stretch after Heard and the offense staked Texas to a 24-14 lead late in the first half. Quarterback Jared Goff (268 passing yards, 3 TDs) clicked through the air, a trio of Cal running backs thrived, led by Khalfani Muhammad (164 yards, 1 TD), and the Bears finished with 16 plays that covered double-digit yardage.

Heard, who finished with a career-high 527 yards in total offense, kept the Longhorns (1-2) within striking distance by leading a fourth-quarter rally that fell short when kicker Nick Rose pushed the PAT wide right after the Longhorns’ final touchdown with 1:11 remaining. But the Texas defense had no answers for stopping the Golden Bears (3-0), who entered the contest averaging 54 points and 570.5 yards per game.

It marked the third consecutive game that the Longhorns’ rebuilt defense surrendered at least 462 yards, with opponents rushing for more than 200 yards in all three. Coach Charlie Strong, who lost six starters to graduation from last season’s defense, knows the unit must improve or the Longhorns will waste more prolific performances like the one Heard unleashed Saturday (364 passing yards, 163 rushing yards, 3 rushing TDs). Heard’s 527-yard outburst is the most in school history, breaking the previous mark held by Vince Young (506).

“It’s a major concern,” Strong said of his defense. “That’s three straight games we have not played well on defense. I’m excited about our offense but it is negated by how poorly we’re playing on defense.”

In particular, Strong took issue with a third-quarter stretch when the Bears ran 18 plays, gained 190 yards and scored three touchdowns to seize control of a game that had been tied 24-24 at halftime. The final TD came on Muhammad’s 74-yard burst up the middle, which was particularly vexing to Strong.

“There’s a lot of mistakes that are being made,” Strong said. “We didn’t get off blocks. We didn’t fit blocks very well. And when you’re in zone coverage, you’ve got to have all eyes on the ball [on runs up the middle]. We just didn’t play that well on defense. We’ve still got a ways to go.”

And the next team up on the schedule is No. 25 Oklahoma State (3-0), in next week’s Big 12 opener. That gives the Longhorns seven days to improve its defense before facing an offense that spent Saturday pounding UT San Antonio 69-14.

In terms of offense, Heard has helped Texas’ attack evolve from a pogo stick to a turbo jet in the span of two starts. The Longhorns, limited to an FBS-low 163 yards in their season opener against Notre Dame, rolled for 650 yards (286 rushing, 364 passing) against Cal.

With Heard’s passing (20-of-31) and running accounting for most of the damage, the Longhorns rallied from a 21-point deficit in the final 13:24 and found themselves in position to tie after Heard scored on a 45-yard run on a quarterback draw with 1:11 remaining.

But then Rose’s PAT slid wide.

“This one really hurts,” Strong said. “You think the PAT is automatic. I didn’t even look. Then, I see one of their guys running down the field celebrating, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ 

On the opposite sideline, Cal coach Sonny Dykes was preparing for an overtime that never arrived.

“We just assumed after they scored, we were going to overtime,” Dykes said. “I’m still in a little bit of shock.”

For the Longhorns, the ongoing hurt is the one on defense. Because the offense, with Heard at the helm and a fresh play-caller in place, has averaged 43 points per game since scoring a lone field goal under former quarterback Tyrone Swoopes against Notre Dame.

“Watching Jerrod and the offense and how they kept answering, I’m so happy with that. There was a lot of growing up tonight,” Strong said. “No one gave up. But there were too many mistakes out there.”

Especially the ones on defense.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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