Place blame where you wish, but simply put, the 2015 Texas Longhorns secondary was well below the standard of the DBU moniker.
And yes, there was certainly blame to be distributed throughout — the abundance of youth seeing the field, returning talents underperforming, the mixture of youth and underperformance colliding to equate in blown assignments, mismatches and inconsistent play, which wasn’t aided in any way by NFL-caliber receivers and quarterbacks; often teamed up.
While the secondary, collectively, certainly wasn’t horrible, it was understandably mediocre, at best.
Statistically, Texas’ struggles were evident across the board, as well as on film.
For the above noted reasons, as well as others, Texas’ secondary was a far cry from what was required to compete at the level necessary to win in 2015.
In the pass-happy Big 12, the Texas defense, and secondary in particular, squared off with four of the nation’s top eight passing offenses in Texas Tech (No. 2), California (No. 3), Oklahoma State (No. 7) and TCU (No. 8).
In regards to overall scoring offense, Texas battled with six of the top 17 offenses in the country, including Baylor (No. 1), Texas Tech (No. 2) and Oklahoma (No. 4). Regardless of the personal in the secondary, this was a tremendously daunting task for a noteworthy amount of youth and sub-par (by Texas’ standards) veterans.
Consequently, Texas secondary allowed 2,801 yards through the air (T-73rd nationally); 233.4 yards per game, which ranked 79th nationally, as well as 24 touchdowns (99th nationally). Between Texas’ young talent — which had it’s share of growing pains to accompany the flashes of future brilliance — and often unequipped veterans lining up across some of the most qualified quarterback-receiver duos in the country throughout the season, Texas often gave up one chunk of yardage after another.
Blown assignments, lapses in coverage and simply not playing as aggressively as an experienced, high-level and even confident defense back typically does are all to blame, and often provided quarterbacks with wide open targets across the middle, underneath, and over the top.
The opposition’s yards per catch average of 12.2, which left Texas ranked 64th nationally, was no surprise as the secondary allowed 117 10-yard or greater completions, as well as 33 connections for at least 20 yards and 14 more for at least 30 yards.
The porous rushing defense didn’t do much to stop the bleeding, which only applied more pressure to a secondary that already had its hands full; less often that opposing receivers did, though, as quarterbacks completed 60 percent of passes against the Longhorns defense. On average, quarterbacks playing Texas finished with a QBR of 135.5, which, for Texas defense, was ranked 88th nationally.
It’s also worth noting that the defense saw the fewest passes attempted against it of any Big 12 team last season, so the numbers could be a lot more damaging to a regretfully reminiscing mind.
I could go on, but the point is the Texas secondary was among the many reason’s the Longhorns fell short of bowl eligibility and 2015 and though the results are inexcusable to Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford, such struggles won’t be the case for the nearing season.
Let’s consider the secondary landscape for 2016.
Sophomores Holton Hill and Davante Davis aren’t the freshmen thrown into the fire anymore, and now have 13 starts between them after earning that starting role’s and never looking back.
More notably, between their elite physical tools, each have the makings of potential All-Big 12 performers.
Meanwhile, both played in all 12 games, as did Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke III, the projected starter at nickel back.
The last line of defense with the safeties should also see a fairly noticeable uptick in production.
While senior Dylan Haines and junior Jason Hall are expected to initially remain the starters after sophomore DeShone Elliott was on the verge of pushing Hall to reserve reps, the two-deep at safety is now at a level that last season’s lapses won’t be as easily accepted. A game or two of last season’s efforts from Hall likely means Elliott, whom many believe is more qualified for first-string reps, becomes the starter.
On play of day in scrimmage, Strong said S Dylan Haines made "unbelievable interception," guarding Duvernay.— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) August 13, 2016
Haines won’t be as easily replaceable courtesy of his ball-hawking nature and understanding of the scheme, but if his lack of physicality continues to be a crutch for Texas, Bedford should be able to lean on Brandon Jones — 2016’s top-ranked safety — at some point during the season.
Brandon Jones breaking on this throw... pic.twitter.com/Lk1PIsJjaD— Ryan Bridges (@RyanBridgesCFB) August 21, 2016
Even further down the depth chart, freshman Eric Cuffee, sophomore John Bonney, junior Antwuan Davis and a finally-healthy senior Sheroid Evans provide further depth at corner, while senior Kevin Vaccaro and freshman Chris Brown do the same at safety. Essentially, Strong and Bedford don’t have to continue living with critical mistakes because the options at hand aren’t very appealing.
It also doesn’t hurt that eight receivers Texas faced last season are now in the NFL, including three first-rounders, as well as the No. 1 overall pick in Cal quarterback Jared Goff. Not only will the circumstances and talent Texas faces last season not be quite as exceptional as it was in 2015, but the talent available to handle the task of preventing receivers in 2016 from making a name off the Texas defense is much more suited to compete at a high level with plenty of capable depth; not to mention, the much-needed additional experience.
Exactly how much improvement in the secondary can we expect? We’ll get our first glimpse September 4 against Notre Dame, but there’s no question the secondary ceiling of yesteryear is long forgotten. The talent in Austin is fully capable of living up to the DBU label and it will be evident this season.