What happens when you replace Aaron Ross with Ryan Palmer, Tarrell Brown with Brandon Foster, Michael Griffin with his younger brother, and Marcus Griffin with Erick Jackson?
Though we noted before the season that Texas' pass defense was tremendously likely to improve (nowhere to go but up, regression to the mean, etc), the improvement - at least statistically - has been better than expected, especially considering the change in personnel.
How much better has the '07 pass defense been? Take a look at the cumulative numbers:
The difference is stark; most notably, Texas has successfully avoided giving up the big pass plays this season. Once more, context counts, so let's take a minute to look at how Texas' opponents perform in the passing game overall.
(The text and numbers in red represent Texas' future 2007 opponents; the average in red at the bottom of the table what Texas' opponent averages will be with future opponents' ratings and ranks included.)
Though Texas' pass defense has improved statistically from a season ago, it's thus far been against relatively less competent passing teams. And, looking at Texas' upcoming opponents, the stiffest tests are yet to come; only A&M provides an opponent with a subpar passing game.
Conclusion? Though Texas hasn't faced much elite passing competition this year (Oklahoma excluded), the significant statistical improvement is a welcome development. Best of all, the secondary has steadily improved as this season has progressed. Deon Beasley, who struggled in the earliest games of the season, had a fantastic game against Baylor and is looking more and more each week like a legitimate starter. Ryan Palmer has been outstanding all season long (in run support, too). Brandon Foster's been picked on at times, but he played mostly terrific football against both Iowa State and Baylor.
Even more encouraging, the weakest link in the secondary has been Erick Jackson, who may have been demoted during the Baylor game after continued ineffectiveness. In limited time, Ishie Oduegwu looked like an immediate upgrade at free safety.
Credit must go to the man who also must endure the criticisms - Duane Akina. Though the starting linebackers have been subpar and the blitzing schemes too often reckless and without good design, the numbers don't lie: Akina's done a very nice job working this secondary into an effective unit. As Texas continues to usher out the KBD era and moves further into the Kindle-Norton-Muckelroy era, the defense should continue to improve.
We'll hold the champagne until we see how Texas finishes the season, but it's so far so good for the pass defense in 2007.