FanPost

2004 and 2008: The setup to a national title run? Part 2, Defense

I forgot to mention in my previous post that all the stats come from cfbstats.com or Mack Brown Texas Football.

I looked at the offenses of both years in the first post, and now I want to look at how the defenses compare, which may arguably be more interesting.  The two offenses in 2004 and 2008 were pretty different but were both very successful; in 2004, we averaged 42.4 points per game with 475.8 yards of total offense and in 2008 we averaged 35.3 points per game with 464.4 yards.  Everyone knows we had a great offense last year and a dangerous one in 2004.  However, the perception of many is that our defense was all around stronger in 2004, at least statistically, so I'll look at some numbers to see how the two look.

 

2004 2008
Pts/game 17.92 18.8
Pass yds/game 212.67 259.38
Pass yds/att 6.61 6.87
Opp. Passer Rating 114.23 124.23
Rush yds/game 107.42 83.54
Rush yds/att 3.18 3.05
Total yds/game 320.09 342.92
Interceptions 13 6
Fumble rec. 10 10
Sacks 22 47

 

Before I get into this, I'll mention that this comparison is pretty hard because the offenses and teams we faced are so different.  There's no question the Big 12 evolved from a run-first league to a pass happy league these past couple years, and because of the many good QB's, it wasn't a bad choice for Big 12 offenses.  However, it makes comparing the two teams pretty stretched.

Defensive Line

The big statistical advantage for '08 is in sacks, which is no surprise since we had Orakpo and Kindle.  The two of them had 21.5 sacks together despite Orakpo missing time, and that nearly matches the 22 of 2004.  The player with the most sacks then was Tim Crowder with 4.5.  To be fair, the 2008 team faced A LOT more pass plays, but 47 sacks on the year led the NCAA and it was one of the greatest strengths of our team.

However, Orakpo is leaving, as well as other two starters in Henry Melton and Roy Miller.  This is very different situation than 2004, where all the starters returned for the '05 campaign (although Dibbles was replaced by the freshman Frank Okam).  While you can make a case that Orakpo is the best DE we've had in the Mack Brown era, at least in his senior season, the biggest question mark this defense faces, and arguably this whole team faces, is at the DT position.  With the loss of Miller, we're pretty thin there, making Houston probably the most indispensable player besides Colt McCoy.  Furthermore, while we have some interesting new guys coming in, I don't know if any of them can step in the way Okam did his first season.

Because Kindle is moving down to DE (at least much of the time), we have other established guys there like Eddie Jones, and we have some exciting new recruits like Okafor, I think most Horns fans are much less worried about that position even with the loss of Orakpo.  While our pass defense has struggled since 2005, we've always had a pretty stalwart rush defense, giving up only 3.05 yards per carry despite the success of Beanie Wells and Pryor in the Bowl game.  Hopefully, Houston has a strong year, although I do not believe he will be asked to handle double teams like Roy was.

Linebackers

Because of Derrick Johnson alone, not to mention Harris, the linebackers of 2004 were a better unit, in my opinion.  However, we had a pretty solid unit this year led by Muck and Kindle, although we were not totally satisfied with the play from Bobino and Norton.

In 2005, we lost the great Derrick Johnson, and although our unit was fine since Harris played well and Killebrew, Bobino, and Kelson probably had their best seasons as Longhorns that year, he was the key loss for the defense going into '05.  In contrast, this season we only lose Bobino, but while we appreciate that he bled for the program, it is not a major loss.  We return Muckelroy, Kindle, and Norton, as well as the likes of Keenan Robinson and Acho.  Kindle will move down to DE this season but I still think our group is going to be pretty good.

For all the criticisms Bobino and Killebrew received in their times here (much of it deserved), I'll give them this: They did step up to help Aaron Harris out in '05 (as did Kelson) and help fill the void left by Johnson.  You don't believe me?  Check out this quote from PB from way back when:

--I like Robert Killebrew to slide in for Aaron Harris, and I think he's going to be just outstanding. Given the chance to shine, he was in many ways the best linebacker on the team for the second half of this year, and I expect him to anchor what will be an experienced and speedy group of linebackers. The wildcard here is Sergio Kindle. How much will Mack Brown and Gene Chizik play the talented freshman? From all reports, he's going to be too talented to keep on the sideline much. I've revised my projection to put him in as a starter, perhaps forcing Kelson back in to the secondary.

This is not to embarrass PB but to make the point that Killebrew did step in to play well to at least not make the LB position a glaring weakness in an otherwise outstanding defense, so PB's expectation was not all that unreasonable.  The fact that the personal foul machine proved to be a disappointment afterwards is a separate point.  On a side note, I always liked the speedy Drew Kelson, and I think he could have done much more for us if he stuck with one position.

For 2009, we do not have to replace anyone near the caliber of Derrick Johnson and we have several players already established.  Thus, going into this season, I think our LB situation is much better than going into 2005.  If Killebrew can give us one good season, than guys like Robinson surely can.

Secondary

We gave up a lot more pass yards this season, but even here, if you go by averages, the stats are pretty similar.  The reason the pass yards are so different (nearly fifty yards worth) is that we faced over 100 more pass attempts this year than in 2004, which comes out to roughly 8 more passing attempts per game.

The big advantage for 2004 is in interceptions, although 13 isn't a huge amount.  I even remember Dan Fouts in the 2006 Rose Bowl joking about our great secondary, saying that perhaps we don't get a lot of interceptions because our guys can't catch the ball (Tarell Brown had just let a Leinart pass bounce off his hands).  Unfortunately, that perhaps is more true of 2008.  I don't think we need to lead the NCAA in picks, but we have to get more than 6.  The Blake Gideon drop has burned an image in the minds of the Longhorn faithful, and the lack of turnovers caused is a concern.  Ten fumble recoveries is alright, but we need to double that interception count, especially if we're facing as many pass attempts as we are.  Our '04 team got double the amount while facing 100 less passes and in one less game.

Like 2004 to '05, we lose no major parts in the secondary.  The 2005 secondary is famous among Horns fans, with all four starters plus the nickel back going into the NFL (Huff, Griffin, Griffin, Brown, and Ross).  Our talent right is nothing to sneeze at either.  We return everyone but Ryan Palmer, who although had a much appreciated career, was simply not the most talented guy we've had.

I'm very, very excited about this unit, more so than any other on our team.  I thought they looked fantastic in the spring game and I hear it's much the same in practices.  I think Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams will be excellent, and I like our depth with Curtis Brown and a hopefully rejuvenated Deon Beasley.  I also have high hopes for the playmaker Earl Thomas, who hopefully will be the guy who forces the most turnovers for our team.  Scott will be a good hybrid guy and I love how physical he is.  Gideon, too, has high expectations from me.  Gideon has the misfortune of being judged by his dropped interception against Tech and his poor performance in the Fiesta Bowl, but he had a fine year and if you watch the OU game again, he arguably had a better game than Thomas, although Thomas ended up with two picks (the second one was meaningless).  If you want to make any good comparisons between '05 and '09, this is it:  We look to field a very, very athletic and physical secondary that will make this pass happy Big 12 frustrated.  Due to our documented troubles in pass defense for the past few seasons, it's a nice change.

Teams with the a physical run game will be a concern, but for those who want to throw the ball with us, I think they will be in for a world of difficulty.

Conclusion

So here are the strengths and question marks of each team:

2004 to 2005 strengths:

Return all starters on the D-Line
D-line depth
Excellent secondary and depth

2008 to 2009 strengths:

Young, talented secondary with depth
DE depth
Solid linebackers

2004 to 2005 question marks:

Departure of Derrick Johnson
And... that may be it.  How well Okam would play, I guess.

2008 to 2009 question marks:

Losing three starters on the D-line
DT depth and who will step in
Causing turnovers (namely, interceptions)

As much crap Big 12 defenses in general received from critics, the Longhorns weren't that bad and aren't far behind 2004, only giving up a point more per game.  We ranked in the top 20 in points allowed.  Furthermore, our averages in yards per rush and yards per pass were pretty similar. The Big 12 is different now, and 2004 did not see the kind of offenses we see now (though our '05 team still would have killed any of these spread teams we saw nowadays).  Considering the potent offenses of the Big 12, I think our defense had a better than expected year.

We return several starters, as did that '05 team.  With Will Muschamp leading the way, I have little doubt in my mind that we will field the best defense in the Big 12 again and I think we have the potential to be considered among the top defenses in the entire country.  The big question mark, of course, is defensive tackle.  I think it's unrealistic to expect to be as strong there as we've been in the past, but Muschamp can certainly scheme his way into covering this up.

Florida has the defense everyone is talking about and deservedly so, since they return everyone.  But I feel like we can make our own noise, and if we're going to win a national title, it can't just be on Colt McCoy's shoulders; our defense will have to be strong all the way through.  Our schedule is not as tough as it was this past season but we still have to play a dangerous OU team and also play OSU in Stillwater.

Part 3, if there is one, will be about special teams and misc. crap.

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