"Right now we have no confidence in our run defense. Any team is capable of gashing us."
-- Texas senior defensive end Alex Okafor on Monday
Okafor added that he hopes to fix the problem this week, but that sounds like wishful thinking -- the problems are too deep for a simple fix to do the trick.
On one play against Oklahoma, Kendall Thompson was knocked by at least five yards by a pulling Oklahoma offensive lineman, who then peeled off and nearly got Mykkele Thompson to nearly spring a huge gain for the Sooners.
Against Oklahoma State, Thompson was decleated by Cowboys fullback Kyle Staley. Like, absolutely mauled.
The overall group numbers are stark. Between the three starting linebackers, they were blocked on 15 plays, with Thompson the major culprit, having been blocked seven times. Edmond took himself out of 14 plays by being blocked, missing a tackle, busting a coverage, taking a poor angle, or missing a read. For Thompson, the number was 17. Demarco Cobbs was a standout with only six mistakes, though one did lead to a 95-yard touchdown run.
All told, the starting linebackers took themselves out of 37 opportunities to make a play, with at least three of them directly resulting in touchdowns. That adds up to 40% of the plays, a rough number that doesn't account for the fact that there were multiple mistakes on some plays. The number may be a little bit lower, but multiple mistakes per play doesn't make the picture any less bleak.
Dividing the tackles by the missed opportunities yields a number only two percentage points higher, so it seems safe to say that on roughly two out of every five plays, a Texas linebacker will eliminate themselves if the other team has offensive linemen that can block.
Thing is, that doesn't take out the passing plays. Oklahoma ran the ball 51 times, the number of opportunities for the linebackers to make a play in the running game. Take out the one sack of Landry Jones and that makes an even 50.
Thompson, Cobbs, and Edmond were then blocked on one of out every three running plays. Or multiple guys were blocked on an otherwise significant gain. Or one guy was blocked and the other was making a bad read or missing a tackle.
It's a tangled web of failure.
After that, it's difficult to separate out which mistakes occurred in the passing game or running game, and all this is a little bit messy, but what it reveals, well, is a team that just gave up 343 yards on the ground at 6.7 yards per carry.
No wonder Adrian Phillips and Mykkele Thompson combined for 30 opportunities. All told, Phillips, Vaccaro, and Thompson missed nine tackles combined, and that's when really bad things happened, basically.
The linebacker play puts pressure on the secondary to make every available tackle and they aren't doing it.
Back to the linebackers. For Thompson and Tevin Jackson, getting blocked was a common theme in the spring game, so it's not like there's no precedence for this. Jackson just isn't playing much, so he hasn't had the opportunities out there this season. Perhaps he's the worst of a bad group playing blocks, but it's not clear why he hasn't at least gotten a chance.
Right now, the best linebacker might be Dalton Santos. He's making freshman mistakes, but he's also acting like he knows what's going on out there a little bit. Like he's played linebacker before.
Diaz may need to consider giving Santos the greater playing time that he's earned and Jackson an opportunity in light of the other failures.
As for the blitzes by defensive coordinator, which surely have contributed to some of those numbers mentioned above, Houston sports radio host Lance Zierlein revealed Thursday that at least one NFL scout has an extremely low opinion of what's going on defensively for the Longhorns right now:
More scouts: "Manny Diaz is a fraud.He throws blitzes against wall to see what sticks. His blitzes aren't' designed to bust protection"— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) October 18, 2012
Fraud is a strong word. It's also hard to disagree with at this point.
will most likely survive the season and there's a strong chance he's back next year. But Manny Diaz, if Texas continues to get gashed in the running game, he may not last the season. Give up gains on the ground like what happened against West Virginia, which would surely contribute to a loss, and cries for the head of Diaz will reach a crescendo next week.
So, how does the Longhorns defense match up against the Baylor rushing attack?
To start out with, some Baylor fans aren't happy with the performance of starting running back Jarred Salubi, preferring instead the Glasco Martin/Lache Seastrunk combination. However, the two latter players combined for only 50 yards on 18 carries against West Virginia on a day the Bears only averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
Overall, Baylor is 58th in the country in rushing offense at 168 yards per game, with the 4.34 average per carry right around the same ranking. Against Louisiana-Monroe, West Virginia, and TCU the average yards per carry have all been poor as the ground game has sputtered a bit for the Bears.
Yet, S&P+ still really likes the Bears rush offense, ranking it seventh in the country, likely because the Mountaineers and TCU have both been good against the run in these metrics.
Texas is giving up 5.1 yards per carry at the moment. The Bears average about 40 attempts a game, which would put the Bears at right around 200 yards if they do as well against Texas as the season average allowed would suggest.
Texas can win a shootout giving up that many yards on the ground, but would need the redzone defense to step up in that event.
In the early part of the season, the Longhorns were holding their own in the regard. Were among the best in the country, actually, through September.
Then the last two games happened. After holding opponents to only three touchdowns on nine trips inside the Texas defensive redzone through the Oklahoma State game, Oklahoma and West Virginia scored touchdowns on 11 of 14 opportunities. The Sooners were six of eight.
If the tackling can avoid giving up the long touchdown plays that have been a problem, the redzone defense will have to come through. More like Oklahoma State than Oklahoma.
If that happens, the pure yardage numbers won't matter as much, because Texas is probably going to get gashed. An inability to hold Baylor to field goals would put a tremendous amount of pressure on the offense.
Even the players believe anyone can run on them. Because it's true, especially when the play by the linebackers is so atrocious.