Once a Joke, Texas' Defense Should Be Strength for Longhorns in 2014

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2014

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 13:  Brennan Clay #24 of the Oklahoma Sooners carries the ball against Dalton Santos #55 of the Texas Longhorns, Cedric Reed #88 of the Texas Longhorns and Mykkele Thompson #2 of the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 13, 2012 in Dallas, Texas. The Oklahoma Sooners beat the Texas Longhorns 63-21. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The 2012 Texas Longhorns defense was historically bad. That's not an exaggeration—it was actually the worst in school history in yards allowed.

The 2013 defense looked like it was on a similar path. The 'Horns infamously gave up 550 yards rushing in a 40-21 loss to BYU in Week 2. Not 24 hours later, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired.

Greg Robinson, who succeeded Diaz, actually did a nice job improving the defense for the rest of the season. Though Robinson got off to a rough start in a 44-23 loss to Ole Miss in Week 3, Texas held Oregon's offense to 16 points in a 30-7 Alamo Bowl loss in December.

That's a big transformation under an assistant who jumped in mid-season.

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson wants to see that transformation continue. Patterson went in a defensive direction when he hired Louisville coach Charlie Strong earlier this month to succeed Mack Brown. Don't expect the 'Horns to be a high-scoring team that loves to get into shootouts with opponents. Rather, Texas should be all about field position and defense in 2014.

Unlike the past two seasons, Texas' talent and experience should equal better results. Hopefully, they'll have health on their side as well. 

Jordan Hicks
Jordan HicksHarry How/Getty Images

Texas loses defensive end and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat. That hurts, but the Longhorns return basically the rest of their defensive front seven, including linebacker Jordan Hicks. Defensive end Cedric Reed and defensive tackle Malcom Brown will anchor what should be a stout defensive line.

Linebacker has been a bit of an issue since the departure of Emmanuel Acho in 2011, but there's a lot of experience coming back with Hicks, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond.

Experience is a bit harder to come by in the secondary with the departures of defensive backs Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom. Fortunately for Texas, cornerback Quandre Diggs announced this month that he, along with Reed, would return for another season.

In all, four Big 12 Second Team or Honorable Mention players are returning.

Texas' defensive coaching staff is a mixture of Strong's staff at Louisville (defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary) with two assistants from Alabama (defensive line coach Chris Rumph) and Memphis (defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn). 

In 2013, the Cardinals finished No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, No. 2 in turnover margin, No. 4 in passing-efficiency defense and No. 5 in red-zone defense.

As Bedford would say, that's "fun" defense.

It's too early to tell if Texas will replicate those kind of numbers, but defense should nevertheless be a strength. The bigger question mark falls on the other side of the ball, where the Longhorns replace most of its veteran offensive line.

Texas has great running back depth, however, with Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. So expect a heavy dose of pounding the rock. It's what Texas did best a year ago and that doesn't seem likely to change.

Still, if Texas' offense struggles to score points, it's going to be up to the defense to keep the 'Horns in games. Keeping games close has been Strong's calling card. In four seasons at Louisville, Strong only lost two games by double digits. Texas lost all five of its games in '13 by double digits.

Question the competition if you must, but the Cardinals were a wreck of a team when Strong took over in 2010. He simply doesn't get outcoached and outclassed often.

Who knows how many games Texas will win next season, but this should be a competitive group that plays with an edge.

That will be the biggest transformation for the Longhorns from a year ago.

 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats courtesy of the NCAA.