Diaz, Texas defense in crisis mode

Season's potential for Longhorns marred by failure to capitalize on momentum

Updated: December 11, 2012, 11:53 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

Texas continues to produce seasons that warrant backward glances, if only to make sure the past stays put. No one wants to relive that again. But the time has come to look over the shoulder and the damage that 2012 hath wrought, where it all went wrong and why it might get better in 2013.

This week, HornsNation takes a look at the 2012 program. Up today is the defense and how it will leave its mark as the worst in Texas history.

On Thursday, room will be saved for punter Alex King, arguably the most consistent and reliable of the 2012 Longhorns, and the special teams unit.

AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no need to sidestep what has become an increasingly bad sideshow: Texas' defense right now is the worst in school history.

Whew, there it is. Right off the bat. It's liberating, in that Bill W. admission sort of way, to acknowledge the elephant in the locker room.

Speaking of which, wasn't this the year Texas was supposed to be like the SEC and Alabama?

That worked out about as well the pairing of Affleck and Lopez in "Gigli." (Saw it. Don't hate. Not as bad as the Oklahoma game this year.) But Texas does have a defensive coordinator right out of central casting. He wears cleats to work, for goodness sake.

Too bad Manny Diaz's defense never got any traction.

Yep, Texas slipped and slid its way to allowing 4,947 yards. (Quick conversion: That's 2.8 miles of offense allowed.) The 2012 total is 122 yards worse than the previous worst defense in school history, back in 2007. And wait, there's more: Texas has one more game to go, so the 5,000-yard barrier will soon be eclipsed.

OK, now let out the agonizing groan -- or sadly, more typical to these parts lately, the sigh of acknowledged resignation -- and bemoan the fate of what once was a great defense.

And maybe that fact (or maybe it was the more than 100 missed tackles) is what made this year so unpalatable and unbelievable. Texas had been great. From 2008 to 2011, Texas was the No. 1 defense in the Big 12.

In 2012 the defense had returning starters everywhere. It had talent everywhere else. It had a rising star as the coach. Anyone else remember the halcyon days when Diaz was rumored for the Arkansas head coaching job? Now FIU is a hope and a dream.

It had two possible NFL first-round picks with ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. It had another at safety Kenny Vaccaro. It had two corners, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom, also certain to play at the next level.

It gave up 63 points to Oklahoma.

It allowed 412.3 yards per game, the worst in school history.

It allowed 6.1 yards per play, the second worst in school history. (The 5-5-1, 1993 team gave up 6.7 yards per play.)

Texas coach Mack Brown pointed out, accurately, that in the last five games the defense made strides.

Let's break it down this way: In the first three games of Big 12 play Texas gave up 571 yards per game. In the next three, Texas gave up 440.3 yards. In the final three, it gave up 309.3 yards per game.

So, on the surface, it does appear as though things improved as the year progressed. But despite Texas' -- the football team and the state, mind you -- propensity to celebrate the superficial, such numbers do demand slightly more inspection. It's then that the wool of stats is removed from over the eyes.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesSenior safety Kenny Vaccaro was named the team MVP.
Texas played well defensively against four Big 12 teams:

Kansas -- It's Kansas. Enough said. And there was a 64-yard run by James Sims in which Texas admitted later it had the wrong personnel on the field.

Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders could be seen as a feather in Texas' cap but Tech did have 441 yards and also scored just 20 and 24 against Oklahoma and Kansas State, respectively. Those are the two Joneses Texas is trying to keep up with right?

Iowa State -- See Kansas.

TCU -- The Horned Frogs drove 109 yards for their first score (they overcame a 15-yard penalty), had a backup quarterback playing, were led by a true freshman running back, and for some inexplicable reason chose to kick field goals rather than go for it against a team that allowed 17 of 22 fourth-down conversions. They converted three crucial third downs with quarterback run plays on drives that ended in scoring attempts.

That run of four games, coupled with the first half of the final game against Kansas State, allowed for hope to be high or at least cresting just beyond the horizon. But, then along came dang wily old Bill Snyder and his madcap halftime adjustments.

Kansas State scored 35 points in the final 30 minutes. Every time but the last time KSU touched the ball in the second half, it scored. Now, two of those scores were direct results of offensive turnovers, but in the first three possessions of the second half, KSU had touchdown drives of 75, 67 and 55 yards.

It is hard to seriously contend that the defense made strides, unless they were running toward and subsequently off a cliff.

That doesn't preclude Texas from dusting itself off. Again, the team has talent -- arguably more than any other team in the Big 12. That talent will be there for the bowl game against Oregon State, and all of it, save for Okafor and Vaccaro, should be back in place in 2013.

Diaz's return is not so certain. Brown has not fired him. It's still recruiting season and the second-year assistant is a magnanimous personality embraced by players. To publicly replace him at this moment might not be the prudent move, given the uncertain climate that already surrounds the program. But, as mentioned earlier, his name has been shopped for at least one other job.

The more pressing job for Texas has to be admitting the defense was a problem throughout the season, and then finding the strength to fix it.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation

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