It took longer than Manny Diaz had hoped. But his defense finally played like it had expected to at the beginning of the season against Texas Tech.
It came two losses too late, but better late than never.
“Our vision has never changed in terms of where we have to get to,” Diaz said. “The process of getting there has been slower than we wanted, but it’s important for our players to understand that we are not satisfied with the way we played on Saturday.”
The biggest difference for the defense Saturday, compared to previous games, was the run defense. Texas sits in last in the Big 12 with 206.2 rushing yards given up per game.
But even with injuries to defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Ashton Dorsey, the Texas defense managed to hold the Red Raiders to 112 rushing yards. Other than Texas’ win over Wyoming in its season opener, that is the smallest number of yards on the ground the defense has given up. Kenny Williams led the Red Raiders with 71 rushing yards.
Members of the defense are stressing that all they needed was time for things to click.
“We trust each other more. I think we didn’t have that at first,” defensive tackle Desmond Jackson said. “We trusted one another, but we didn’t really actually start playing as a team. So now it’s like we have more trust in each other, so we’re playing at a higher standard.”
There is no guarantee that this play will continue. But head coach Mack Brown said that the defense’s confidence increased during the second half of the Kansas win, where they held the Jayhawks to just a field goal.
Texas won that game because the defense gave the offense a chance to find its rhythm.
“They’ve been under a lot of scrutiny,” Brown said after Saturday’s win. “Stopped the run today, stopped the run in the second half last week. When you stop the run, you have a chance to play. The game plan was to stop the run, stop the screen game.”
Brown has seen the defense play with more confidence and urgency these past two weeks than he did earlier this season. Diaz isn’t going to stop pushing his corps to get back to the top.
The last two weeks, offenses have averaged 357 total yards and 173 rushing yards against Texas.
The two weeks before that, the Oklahoma and Baylor offenses averaged 642 total yards and 299 rushing yards. Granted, both Baylor and Oklahoma have stronger offenses than Kansas and Texas Tech. But the steps forward the defense has taken are clear.
“Run defense is improving,” Diaz said. “We’re not giving up the big play. When you do those things it comes down to your third-down defense and your red-zone defense. That’s how you win the football game besides keeping the score down. I don’t think you can understate the importance of the first two against a team like Tech, a team you know is going to get yards.”
Tech did get 441 yards on offense. But like Diaz said, third-down defense and red-zone defense are what it comes down to. Of the six times the Red Raiders made it to the red zone, they were forced to kick field goals four times and Byndom blocked one of them. They were 4-for-14 on third-down conversions.
“But for our defense, we’re definitely improving and growing up as the season has gone along,” Byndom said. “It’s still a work in progress, but each week we’re continuing to get better, and we still have a long way to go.”
After Texas’ near loss to Kansas, the possibility increased that the Longhorns could fall in all four of its last games. The defense coming to life against Texas Tech provides the Longhorns with a realistic opportunity in its final three games to finish with 10 wins for the first time since 2010.