Defense wins championships, the saying goes.
If the Texas Longhorns (6-2, 5-0) take the Big 12 Title, it will have been because of a defense that looks entirely reshaped and re-energized by a defensive coordinator who inherited the group after two games this season.
Yes, Greg Robinson has seemingly transformed a Texas defense that was vulnerable all over the field and lacked the discipline and physicality to get consistent stops into a unit that has set a brand new tone defensively that has not been felt since 2009, when a couple of guys named Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.
Yes, the defense that gave up 550 rushing yards to BYU, including 259 yards to QB Taysom Hill, followed by 272 yards to Ole Miss will have a physically imposing and dominant defense by season's end.
Here is why.
The Battle in the Trenches
Texas' defensive success can be rooted with its improving play along the defensive line, which features two of the most disruptive ends in the Big 12 in Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.
The senior Jeffcoat has returned as strong as ever coming off of his second consecutive off-season surgery. Jeffcoat is second in the conference in sacks with seven and fifth in tackles for loss with 10.
Reed, a junior, is an emerging star at the position, filling in quite successfully after Alex Okafor's stellar final season in Austin. Reed is fourth in the Big 12 with five sacks and comes in ranked seventh with 9.5 tackles for loss.
Combine this with the steady and standout play from Chris Whaley and Malcom Brown at defensive tackle, who have combined for 13 tackles for loss, four sacks and three fumble recoveries. Whaley has returned his two fumbles for touchdowns.
The Trickle Effect
With the switch in defensive coordinator, Texas looks more disciplined and in better overall position to make tackles. Inconsistencies in these areas ultimately led to Manny Diaz's sacking.
Robinson's philosophies have kept things much simpler for the Longhorns, and that has allowed them to utilize their athleticism and general skill to make plays. At the end of the day, players win games, not schemes, and Robinson has his guys just playing football.
The improved play from the defensive line has had its effect on the rest of the defense. The linebackers are visibly improving in their positioning and tackling, notably Dalton Santos, who has filled in nicely with Jordan Hicks suffering a season-ending injury.
Steve Edmond is also beginning to flash some of his open-field abilities. His development has been much slower than many anticipated or would have hoped for, but the raised level of play from the defensive line has to be helping Edmond's ability to make plays.
Stopping the Run and DBU
Texas has had an ever-growing list of defensive backs to have come through Austin and gone on to the NFL, thanks to DBs coach Duane Akina.
The standard is always high for Longhorns defensive backs, and though they do not have the flashy numbers to compare with the 2009 unit (22 interceptions and 53 pass break-ups), they have shown glimpses—some more than others—of the talent that does hold up with their predecessors.
As long as the defensive front continues to generate consistent pressure, the defensive backs behind it will have every opportunity to make plays, and that is where DBU can shine.
|Texas 2013 Defensive Breakdown|
|Games 1-2||Games 3-8||Games 6-8|
|Avg. Rush YPG||327||150.5||105|
|Avg. Pass YPG||185.5||194||166.6|
The Bottom Line
The numbers are hard to ignore, but the visible improvements and increased confidence seem to be turning a new page in Texas' 2013 season.
Texas is averaging 2.5 sacks per game, tied for 35th in the FBS. The 5.9 average tackles for loss per game is a far from top-notch, but there is no doubt that the Texas defensive front is getting into the backfield with general regularity, helping to guide this defense to much better outlooks.