AUSTIN, Texas — When someone thinks of Texas, they might think of a longhorn. Or maybe a cowboy.

In the case of the University of Texas defense, both would be correct.

Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando debuted his "cowboy" package in a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech last Saturday. It's a blitz defense that uses eight defensive backs, two linebackers and one lineman.

Perhaps you remember the "cheetah" package (five defensive backs, four linebackers, two linemen) that LSU's Dave Aranda debuted in 2017, or maybe you've heard of Ed Orgeron's much-loved "Green Team" package (four best pass rushers on the line, unrestricted by position) that the Tigers will use this season.

As Orlando explained Wednesday evening, all of these packages have the same concept.

"I just like the fact that we have a lot of speed on the field," said Orlando, who is entering his third year at Texas. "That's No. 1. If we make a mistake, we can cover it up. And then we have a whole bunch of guys that at the end of the day are really good playmakers, and that's what's unique about it."

The 48-year-old Orlando is one of the more respected defensive minds in college football, and his $1.71 million per year contract is the fifth-highest among NCAA assistant coaches.

Much like Aranda (the nation's highest-paid assistant at $2.5 million), Orlando's defenses are predicated on creativity and sometimes position-less football, where a safety can be a linebacker and a linebacker can be a lineman. The philosophy is based on allowing personnel to dictate scheme instead of the other way around.

"Todd Orlando is probably one of the best coaches, in my opinion, probably in college football as a defensive coordinator," Texas safety Brandon Jones said. "He's truly the definition of a defensive guru."

Sounding familiar yet?

The parallels between Orlando and Aranda abound.

Orlando played linebacker at Wisconsin in the early 1990s, and Aranda was the Badgers' defensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015.

When Aranda left Utah State for Wisconsin after the 2012 season, it was Orlando who replaced him.

Aranda was teammates and roommates with Tom Herman at Cal Lutheran, and when Herman became the coach at the University of Houston, it was Aranda who recommended that Herman hire Orlando as his defensive coordinator.

Now at programs in bordering states, Orlando said he sees Aranda "all the time" on the road on recruiting trips, because they're both seeking out the same type of players.

"He's a friend," Orlando said.

It's more than doubtful that the two coordinators have shared anything other than game film in the week leading up to No. 6 LSU (1-0) and No. 9 Texas (1-0) playing at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Austin.

There's not that much film on LSU's new spread offense, which has been built in part by first-year passing-game coordinator Joe Brady, who drew heavily on his influences while an assistant at Penn State and with the New Orleans Saints.

The LSU offense has changed so much, Texas players were comparing a program once known for the ground-and-pound to the high-octane schemes used in the Big 12 Conference.

"The quick tempo doesn't really scare us either, because we're so used to that," Jones said. "We get it every single week in the Big 12."

Texas safety Caden Sterns said Tuesday that Orlando has gone "pretty in-depth" with players with film studies based on what the Saints did in 2018.

In the one game in which LSU's offense has actually been captured on tape, a 55-3 win over Georgia Southern, Orlando said the looks were limited "to an extent" because the Tigers coasted after going up 42-0 in the second quarter.

So instead of clogging his players' minds with loads of limited game film, which can "make them play slow," Orlando mostly had them focused on technique and fundamentals and prepared them for the concepts to expect from LSU.

"That's what (LSU's offense) is predicated on: read the coverage, have a really smart quarterback, get the ball to the open guy and let him take off and go," Orlando said. "So, it's good. And then they'll run the football. Last year, it was underneath the center, but the run concepts are the same — they just put them in shotgun and they're doing it that way."

Orlando is also among the nation's defensive coaches seeking an answer to the "million-dollar question" of creating a pass rush against the run-pass option, which gets the ball out quickly on passes and turns blitzing defenders into liabilities.

The cowboy package could cause problems for RPOs, because a jumbled personnel could make it difficult for a quarterback to identify appropriate read keys.

But the package is mostly used on third downs and in long passing situations. After one game, Texas is tied 61st nationally with its opponents converting 35.7 percent of its third downs. Orlando said he'd like that to drop to 30-32 percent.

The Longhorns forced a sack and an interception against Louisiana Tech out of the cowboy.

LSU-Texas: Cowboy


"I told you it was going to be awesome," said Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai, who recorded five tackles and an interception. "Wasn't it awesome?"

Should LSU expect to see it more Saturday?

"We'll keep expanding on it," Orlando said, "and keep leaning forward on it."

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