Ladies and gentleman, we have now played 10 consecutive quarters of actual defense. And the last two quarters were the best half of the season. Iowa State exhibited the ability to run the ball on us, but once the Longhorn offense made ISU play from behind, placing the game squarely on the shoulders of Steele Jantz and the Iowa State passing game, their productivity was done. When you make a bad offense feature their worst single dimension, it's not going to go well for them. Some of that is because of their natural ineptitude in the passing game, but we're also seeing real growth from players like Josh Turner and the emergence of an actual base defensive identity grounded in sanity.
ISU finished the game with 277 yards on 60 plays (4.6 yards per play), 2 turnovers, 3 of 12 on 3rd down, and just 7 points, but the second half featured these five drives:
Five possessions (18 plays, 64 yards), a punt, 3 three and outs, and a turnover. We're the '85 Bears!
For the game, ISU's longest pass play went for 23 yards and their longest run went for 14. Without big plays, most college offenses, particularly the bad ones, can't find the end zone. And now that Texas is no longer helping teams find those plays with silly games in our front 7 on likely running downs and allowing our secondary to actually keep their eyes on the QB instead of fretting the running game or puzzling through their assignment, we're a better defense for it.
I wrote in my preview that ISU had bad WRs completely incapable of threatening us downfield, but they also proved no real ability to separate short to beat the blitz in the passing game. Diaz figured that out as well and we put Jantz on the run for most of the game. Schematically, Texas limited the run stunt games that plagued us for most of the season and though ISU did show the ability to run the ball (31-144-4.6 yards per carry), they were at least incapable of doing it for big plays.
Amusingly, one of the instances where we ran one of our old stunts on 1st down (Texas up 14-0, Diaz clearly expects ISU to try something deep) coincided with a simple belly handoff to White that went for 12 yards through a gaping hole. I swore that I could actually see Diaz remember that "FIRE BAD, BURN FRANKENSTEIN!" and he backed off from it the rest of the game. Manny still wants to guess the perfect call and that's never going to leave his DNA.
I'm sure most of you also saw the Lincoln-Douglas debates that broke out at LB when ISU lined up in a way that messed up our call, but this is happening far less frequently than it did early in the season.
They own Steele Jantz's awful 15 of 29 for 133 yards and 2 interception stat line as much as the DBs do. Nice game overall. They understood that their primary task was to keep Jantz from hurting us with his feet and that pressure was just as useful as a sack. Both of our interceptions resulted from DL pressures (Brandon Moore, Cedric Reed) and several more incompletions stemmed from Jantz having to let go earlier than he'd have liked. Reed had four hits on Jantz just as he was releasing the ball and Okafor was excellent against the run (team leading 9 tackles). Shiro Davis made a nice tackle for loss replacing a banged up Reggie Wilson (who later returned).
We miss Ashton Dorsey a little. Getting him back healthy for TCU is important. While Moore and Jackson are capable of moving the pocket and holding up in the run game, Dorsey actually sheds the block and makes the tackle.
Peter Jinkens got the start in place of Kendall Thompson and flashed some ability. He's not physically ready and there were a couple of instances in the game highlighting that he's a 213 pound freshman, but one benefit of his lack of size is that Diaz had to play him as a true LB. He was either walked up into a gap with a specific blitzing task or covered up by DL to keep him free and told to play football. He finished with 8 tackles. Unlike Cobbs, he has legitimate natural instincts for the position.
Similarly, Steve Edmond has now strung together three OK games and he tackled better in space than at any point in the season thus far. Some of that is facing a lesser caliber of athlete, but some of that is because he's being allowed to play LB instead of gap monkey.
Demarco Cobbs played sparingly, even considering his injury.
On clear passing downs against 4 and 5 WR sets, Texas is flooding the field with DBs, bringing an extra man at the LOS to force a quick throw, and letting our man-under corners attack routes while layering some safety depth behind them. It's very basic, very effective pass defense when you have the athletic advantage over an opponent. We've been clamoring for a base identity all year and we've found it.
Carrington Byndom is having a major renaissance at cornerback. We've basically just decided to man him up on someone, tell him he has deep, late safety help, and then roll the rest of our coverage elsewhere. He's certainly responding. Diggs was solid and did a nice job of squatting down on some routes when we brought an extra man against ISU's 4 WR sets. Josh Turner is going to be a player. He had a pick, a sack, and 6 tackles. He understands what he's supposed to do at deep safety and he's willing to mix it up when we bring him up to the LOS. Mykkele Thompson had a physical tackle on 3rd down short of the sticks and he'll reach his potential after a couple more off-seasons getting stronger.
The much maligned Adrian Phillips has given us solid play now for a few weeks running now that his tasks are simplified in our nickel and we've decided to go 1s on 1s in practice and give our guys some looks at true game speed.
There is a long history of DB development that tells us that as young athletic DBs gain strength and maturity, they discover the physical player lurking within. I expect a similar trajectory for most of these guys.
ISU had 11 possessions on the game. 5 of them ended with a 3 and out. 2 ended with a turnover. That's real defense. Granted, ISU has a terrible offense and is in a steel cage death match with Kansas to determine the league's worst unit, but this is progress. The degree of that progress will be revealed in our last three games of the season.