Diaz on the defensive...again

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By Bill Frisbie, Inside Texas Lead Writer
Posted Oct 24, 2012
Copyright © 2014 InsideTexas.com


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Cedric Reed

How in the name of Tommy Nobis does a Texas defense ever get so reeking, stinking awful?  Is it the scheme?  Is it personnel?  Is it the offensive-minded league?  Is relatively inexperienced coordinator Manny Diaz in over his head?  

 

It’s the kind of questions that Diaz fielded this week after Texas surrendered 607 yards in a six-point win over Baylor.

Diaz responded to questions with a question of his own.

“How could a scheme just all of a sudden not be able to stop a run or how could a scheme all of a sudden not stop the pass?” Diaz asked.

Inquiring minds want to know: how is it that Texas is failing to do what it generally did last year when, despite giving up big plays in lopsided losses to Oklahoma and Baylor, it led the Big 12 in total defense?

“It comes down to teaching,” Diaz continued. “You keep pounding and pounding to get the guys to where they’re there. You know it’s going to happen.  What makes me the most proud of where we’re at right now is they’re not surrendering, they’re not flinching and they’re not giving up.  They’re fighting for each other.”

If Diaz’s players are, in fact, fighting “for” each other rather than fighting each other – several frontline players in recent weeks publicly chided teammates for their lack of effort while express no confidence in the team’s ability to stop the run – then Diaz will have taken a giant step toward healing some of the discontent in his own room.

Previously, Diaz located many of the deficiencies involve an over-thinking defense playing hesitant. It’s something he addressed prior to the Baylor game.

“We asked the defense Saturday to play hard, to be aggressive and not be intimidated,” Diaz said.  “Don’t play the game as if you’re alone.  As the game went on, we saw guys who would just ‘go!’ in ways better than we had.  I thought we tackled better. There were more and more plays that get you excited and less and less plays that get you frustrated.  That’s part of the maturation of these guys.”

It is, at best, cold comfort and, at worst, excuse-making, to mention that this is the youngest team of the Mack Brown era.  Only three FBS schools have fewer than Texas’ nine scholarship seniors. (For comparative purposes, Kansas State has 21).  Only Texas and TCU are playing as many as 16 true freshmen.  There are 15 freshmen and sophomores in this week’s defensive depth chart.  Diaz concedes that he’s constantly brainstorming about ways to more effectively teach his concepts.

“It wasn’t any different last year with (former seniors) Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho or any of the older guys,” Diaz said. “They were older, so they got it a little bit sooner.  This is about teaching and persistence.”

It’s just that a halo quickly becomes a noose in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football.  And, lately, the fall from grace for the Texas defense has been a nosedive into unprecedented levels of futility.  The Longhorns rank 107th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in both total defense (472.1 yards per game) and run defense (215.7 yards per game).  It’s enough to make former UT coach John Mackovic look like a defensive mastermind. 

“It’s about points, not yards,” Diaz said.  “Yards can happen.  Points can’t.”

But they have.  In buckets.  No Texas team has ever given up the kind of scores Texas has yielded the past four ballgames:  50, 63, 48 and 36.  The Longhorns currently rank No. 102 in scoring defense after allowing 35 points per game.  At this rate, Diaz’s defense will have sunk below Mackovic’s low water mark, when his 1997 defense set a new school record by allowing 33.3 points per game.

True, Texas has faced four of the nation’s Top 10 offenses the past five outings.  Then again, they do play some defense in the Big 12. Four teams (OU, Kansas State, Texas Tech, TCU) rank among college football’s Top 25 in total defense.

There are, in fact, a few things this defense does well.  Texas ranks 10th in the FBS in tackles-for-loss (7.8 per game).  The Horns have also intercepted nine passes (NCAA No. 26), including a couple of pick-sixes.

There have been individual bright spots, notably Big 12 sack-leader Alex Okafor (seven sacks on the season).  Against Baylor, middle linebacker Steve Edmond and strong safety Mykkele Thompson played the best games of their careers, Diaz noted.

“It’s all about plugging away and seeing where this thing takes us. There are things our guys are excited about.”

 

 

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