Stat guy: Texas defense must improve to keep up with Big 12 offenses

Akshay Mirchandani

Tell any Texas fan last Friday that Rice would beat the Longhorns in first downs 30-11, total yards 462-277 and time of possession 44:02-15:58, and they probably would have prepared for doomsday. A loss to Rice? That’s rock bottom after a 38-3 loss to Notre Dame.

But despite getting beat in nearly every major offensive statistic, Texas still took down the Owls 42-28.

Granted, part of the reason the offense wasn’t on the field was thanks to two special teams and defensive touchdowns. Plus, the offense worked fast. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard led Texas on four quick touchdown drives, spanning a total of 6:51.

Still, for the most part, the offense wasn’t on the field because the defense couldn’t get off it, which is shaping up to be a big issue for Texas.

The defense was the strength of the Longhorns last year, ranking No. 2 in the Big 12 in total defense. Through the first two games of this season, they’re sitting at No. 8 in total defense, allowing 494.5 yards-per-game.

This stat clearly isn’t ideal. Notre Dame is a good offensive team, so the young Texas defense struggling in that game isn’t a shock. But, a team like Rice running all over the Texas defense is concerning. The Owls are a good Conference USA team, but if they did that against Texas, I shudder to think what the elite Big 12 teams might do.

There were plenty of times on Saturday when the Texas defense had Rice on third down but couldn’t get off the field. The Longhorns are last in the NCAA in defensive third down conversion. Opponents have had third downs against Texas 35 times and converted nearly 63 percent of the time. Essentially, the Longhorns leave plays on the field. Head coach Charlie Strong said in his Monday press conference that Texas missed eight sacks.

Overall, Texas has allowed 221 rushing yards and 273.5 passing yards per game, which is eighth and ninth in the conference respectively.

None of this bodes well when stacked up against the better teams in the Big 12. Junior quarterback Baker Mayfield is averaging 287.5 passing yards per game for Oklahoma, and the Sooners still have sophomore running back Samaje Perine.

TCU, led by senior quarterback Trevone Boykin, is piling up 538 total yards-per-game. Baylor is still explosive, averaging 61 points and a whopping 754 total yards-per-game, which leads the Big 12.

Even Texas Tech has put up offensive fireworks in its first two games. Freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes is passing for an average of 393 yards-per-game and has thrown eight touchdowns to one interception. Tech is the No. 1 scoring team in the conference, putting up 64 points-per-game.

A lot of these teams have faced inferior foes, but the Big 12 is still a very good offensive league. Texas’ defense has to step up if it hopes to have any semblance of a successful year.

It seems like the offense finally found a spark after switching play callers and going to Heard as quarterback. Strong and Vance Bedford are good defensive coaches and have a budding star in freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson. There’s some optimism, but this young defense needs to grow up fast.