Texas' defense rightfully took its share of criticism during the Longhorns' 1-2 start in September. But ever since head coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and hired Greg Robinson, it has turned into one of the better units in the Big 12.
That group also features one of the best individual players in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.
Ever since Robinson took over following the 40-21 loss to BYU in Week 2, Jeffcoat has been more active for the Longhorns. Through nine games, he has 51 tackles, 14 of which have gone for a loss of 54 yards, seven sacks, an astounding 13 quarterback hurries, an interception, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
[Takes deep breath]
The stats tell a story on their own. Jeffcoat's 13 quarterback hurries and seven sacks tell us he's constantly creating chaos in the backfield. The three fumble recoveries say he's Johnny-on-the-spot and always around the football.
Jeffcoat's two best games came in wins over Oklahoma and West Virginia. Though he didn't record a turnover against the Sooners, he was directly responsible for one interception thrown by OU quarterback Blake Bell. He finished that game with two tackles for loss, two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
Bell probably never wants to see Jeffcoat on the other side of the ball ever again.
And Jeffcoat ate WVU's offensive line alive with a pair of TFLs, a sack, a forced fumble and a recovery. The Mountaineers had to move to a quick-play offense just to avoid having to block Texas' defense for more than a few seconds.
Even in a Week 4 win over Kansas State, which has a significantly better O-line, Jeffcoat was a disruption with another pair of sacks and quarterback hurries.
But Jeffcoat's value is more than numbers. It's hard to find too many instances where Jeffcoat isn't around the football. If he isn't, that's because opposing offenses deliberately run away from him. In short, he's a guy offenses have to plan around.
Jeffcoat is on the short list for a number of defensive awards this year, including the Chuck Bednarik Award for best defensive player in the nation.
And, by year's end, it's going to be hard to think of too many players more deserving of conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett come to mind, and Mueller has the best individual play this season.
But in terms of offense-altering, nightmare-inducing athleticism and disruption, Jeffcoat takes the prize.
Texas' final three games feature two of the best teams in the conference, Baylor and Oklahoma State. If Jeffcoat puts up similar (or better) numbers against the Bears and Cowboys, it's going to be nearly impossible to not name him the best defensive player in the Big 12.