On the Defensive...

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By Bill Frisbie, Inside Texas Lead Writer
Posted Sep 26, 2012
Copyright © 2018 InsideTexas.com

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Manny Diaz

Texas’ defensive breakdowns are correctable, coordinator Manny Diaz has said in successive weeks. No time like the present: the Horns open Big 12 play against the nation’s top offense when it travels to Oklahoma State Saturday.  What are coaches doing to plug a surprisingly leaky defense?

Texas may try to keep defensive players fresh by pulling some from special teams, head coach Mack Brown said earlier.  There is an on-going focus on the fundamentals, Diaz said, but there was a big-time emphases on tackling drills during the bye week. It’s just that there is only so much you can accomplish during practice, Diaz said, because most of the improvement occurs on game day,

We should know in a hurry. The Cowboys average 686.6 yards per game and are one of five Big 12 programs currently ranked among the Top 25 in total offense.

“Their system is like watching water run down a window,” Diaz said. “Where ever you are, the ball goes in the opposite direction.”

Great expectations were attached to Texas’ defense after it finished last season No. 6 against the run (96.2 yards per game) and No. 11 in total defense (306.1 yards per game).  One month into the current campaign, Texas’ rush defense is No. 59 (148.3 yards per game) and No. 34 overall (326.3 yards per game).

If Texas gains separation from OSU, it will probably stem was an offense that was clicking on all cylinders at Ole Miss. That’s where quarterback David Ash efficiently engineered the second-best offensive day in school history (676 yards). The final totals were mitigated, somewhat, by a Longhorn defense that yielded an extra 120 yards on 11 missed tackles. Two missed tackles alone accounted for 97 yards. 

Since then, there has been intensive film study between coaches and individual players, breaking down every missed tackle. It’s part of Diaz’ approach of “keeping it real."  That is, Diaz’ reality check is intended to reveal that the issues have more to do with fundamentals and mechanics than they do with personnel or scheme.

“You keep it to what’s measureable and what we grade on film," Diaz says. "Players see that.  When they see a guy come up and make three great tackles and over-run one and miss a tackle, (you ask) ‘What was the issue?  What would have made it different?’”

The camera, as they say, does not lie.  But pointing out even the most correctable offenses can have an adverse affect on a player’s psyche in Diaz’ version of reality therapy.

“You tell the players that two missed tackles accounted for one-fourth of (Ole Miss’) offense, it gets their attention," Diaz says. "But if you start freaking them out, they’re going to believe in something that’s not real.  That’s why you keep bringing it back to what’s real.  What’s real is the pursuit angle.  What’s real is leverage.”

The reality, this week, is Texas is trying to shore up depth at linebacker while preparing for two quarterbacks. Strongside linebacker Demarco Cobbs slid over to the weakside after Jordan Hicks injured his hip in the second quarter at Oxford.  Some fans laid the blame at Cobbs’ feet for running back Jeff Scott's 48-yard touchdown in the third quarter.  Cobbs’ missed tackle was one of “three or four things” that went wrong on that play, Diaz noted.

“We always try to spread the spread the praise around our (defensive) room and we always try to spread the blame because everybody could walk around campus and try to beat up a guy for not doing right," Diaz says. "But that was one missed tackle in a game and, the week before, I saw him play more physical than he’d ever played. The guy we missed the tackle on finished No. 8 in the SEC last year in total yards, so it wasn’t like we were tackling crash test dummies.”

The Horns will use an extra defensive back if pocket passer Wes Lunt shakes off a knee injury for his fourth start of his freshman year. Backup J.W. Walsh is more adept in the power-runs and option plays, but he passed for 347 yards and four touchdowns as Lunt’s backup.  All told, Oklahoma State set a new school record with 720 yards of offense the last time it took the field. 

Oklahoma State is the only FBS school ranked in the Top 10 in both rushing (208.3 yards per game, No.6) and passing (378.3 yards per game, No. 2) offense. And their offensive line is just one of three nationally that has yet to give up a sack. 

Diaz dismissed a reporter’s question this week suggesting that, at some point, a coach can no longer insist the problems are correctible. Diaz believes his unit has, in fact, gotten better since the home opener and will continue to improve.

“We’re all getting better, and that’s what the whole thing’s about," Diaz says. "What about (a player’s) confidence?  Don’t worry about confidence. Worry about getting better, and then your confidence exists in something real and in something you can measure. And then they’ll start making those plays and everyone will start patting them on the back.”



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