Right now the Texas defense feels like a college basketball team that has great talent, an intricate offense, a brilliant 2-1-2 matchup zone press defense...but can't dribble. The defensive performance in Oxford felt very 2011 Oklahoma State. The positive side of the ledger can't be undervalued: three forced turnovers, a defensive touchdown, Ole Miss held to 4 of 12 on 3rd down conversions, five sacks. There are advanced statistics arguments that can be made that this was a solid defensive effort. But I won't make them. Because they miss the subjective truth that was pretty clear for us all to see: Our defense has some fundamental deficiencies, is underachieving relative to its potential, and a bye week to simplify, re-evaluate, and decide on our identity is much needed.
The Texas defense was gashed for 6.2 yards per play and 399 total yards despite inflicting 5 first half sacks and three turnovers. It's worth noting that those five sacks were our only tackles for loss - we did nothing against their running game to influence down and distance. Remove sacks from rushing totals and Ole Miss carried the ball 29 times for 205 yards and 2 TDs. 7+ yards per pop, all on option or basic spread run plays. Take away Jeff Scott's long run and he still averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Bo Wallace averaged over 10 yards per carry on normal running downs.
Best tackle of the game.
If we played Oregon right now, Mack might take Diaz's headset away at halftime.
So what's up?
- Poor tackling. I stopped counting at 12 missed tackles in the early 4th quarter. I always distinguish between losing a physical battle (forgivable) and blowing a tackle with bad fundamentals (not). We did both. Sometimes a 6-2, 215 pound wide receiver overpowers a cornerback and that's just football. But scat backs can't run through arm tackles and our back 7 can't thud tempo or dive at ankles and then look shocked when the RB keeps running.
- Poor communication. Coaches to players. Players to players. The coaches are too often late getting in their defensive calls and our desire to make the perfect call late instead of an acceptable call early is forcing our players who aren't on the line of scrimmage to over-think, play slow, lose fundamentals, and panic. See the Ole Miss 3rd and 17 conversion from Wallace to Neat. We were caught in the middle of a last second audible. On 3rd and 17. Call a defense, let your defenders line up with confidence, get off of the field. Way too cute by half. That's bullshit.
- The option. Nothing clarifies like the spread option. It reveals freelancers and incomplete understanding. Texas is having a lot of trouble defending it. I don't know the root cause - and I lost half an hour trying to puzzle through Alex Okafor's take two steps inside and squat technique against New Mexico (our DEs usually had the dive against Ole Miss, no squatting to be found) - but the QB is an eligible runner
- Fundamentals. Angles, tackling form, pursuing inside-out. List goes on.
- Identity. Are we a Cover 1 base? Cover 2? Cover 3? If we're Cover 1, our corners have to play with some cushion and our LBs need to be Johnny-on-the-spot in their drops. If we're Cover 2, let's press underneath and let Phillips and Vaccaro see the field. If we're Cover 3, let's practice and perfect zone, give up short stuff, and tackle hard. We seem so multiple and obsessed with disguise that we have nothing to hang our hat on on key downs and our players are losing any team concept of what it is we're trying to do.
I thought they played well overall. Good pressure on Wallace on traditional passing downs and generally solid in their run responsibilities. Okafor and Jeffcoat combined for three sacks, Reggie Wilson and Brandon Moore also notched one each, and Ole Miss didn't get a lot going between the tackles.
They need simplification and certainty. ASAP.
Steve Edmond made a great play on his interception return but he really struggled at times, Several missed tackles (on Bo Wallace on his first keeper, against Mackey's first TD run...I can go on). He's taking poor angles and struggling to make plays in space. And before your plea for Santos, check his 4th quarter of action.
Demarco Cobbs is still a one trick blitzing and grass covering pony. Lost on some plays.
Jordan Hicks missed a tackle on Jeff Scott early on a blitz and had a costly horse collar (debatable call) on 3rd and long but his injury really hurts us in cleaning up some of our alignment issues and he's our most reliable 2nd level player by a huge margin. If he out long-term, that's trouble, and we'll have to play Vaccaro as a de facto LB.
I was really pleased with what Phillips and Vaccaro gave us in run support. Both rattled some fillings. Phillips had some errors in the passing game, but I think it's addressable and you also have to understand that when he's in Cover 1, he has deep responsibility for all open grass. That's tough duty and our corners need to protect themselves. Vaccaro has played lights out for three games in a row, but Ole Miss did a great job of assiduously avoiding him in their game planning.
Quandre exhibited great playmaking with his two interceptions, but he also surrendered a long pass play when he was overpowered by Moncrief and he even uncharacteristically got into the sloppy tackling game (check his blown tackle on Mackey after the Moncrief play). Byndom. Our former lock down corner is hurting some and I think it's because of the Identity issues I detailed above. If they want to put him on an island, he needs to give some ground because he lacks straight line recovery speed (actually both of our cornerbacks do). And he needs to know exactly where his help is. And isn't.
I think we're trying to disguise coverages but guys are losing the idea of what the call is trying to force from the offense. And - I will certainly grant you - that's it's also leading to interceptions when we guess right.
King boomed another 48 yarder, but he's a little slow and late. Thompson blocked another punt. The kickoff coverage team was great until they allowed the 100 yard TD return to the slippery Ole Miss freshman. That can't happen. Nick Jordan was 1 of 2 again. We need Fera back ASAP. If we can continue to start opponent offenses inside their 20, we can absorb one kickoff return for a TD in the grander scheme of things, but we can't surrender anymore cheap scores. Similarly, our own kick returners need to understand that any kick in the end zone with a decent hang time has to be kneeled.
Growing pains were expected in our defense early, but now the staff needs to clean up our tackling and settle on a core identity. Until we address some really basic fundamentals, our defense can have all the sophistication in the world but it'll be lit up a like a pinball machine against quality Big 12 offenses.
One of the strengths of Diaz's defense is its formlessness. One of the weaknesses of Diaz's defense is its formlessness. Doubt needs structure. Certainty can freelance.
Give them form.