Texas’ defensive stats may not look promising on paper, but they don’t tell the whole story.
The Longhorns’ defensive unit ranks 60th in total defense out of 103 FBS schools, right behind Tennessee and just ahead of SMU, Charlotte and Louisiana Tech. Texas is surrendering more than 30 points per game for the second consecutive year and has allowed its opponents more than 400 yards of total offense in four of its six games this year.
Nevertheless, defensive coordinator Chris Ash said there are plenty of ways to affect the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“If you look back at some of our other games, we’ve hit quarterbacks a lot,” Ash said in a Wednesday teleconference. “It may not show up in the stat sheet, or the fans might not see the effect that it’s had because there may be a completion, but we’ve hit the quarterback a lot.”
After allowing 56 points to Texas Tech in the second week of the season, Texas’ defense has consistently improved. The unit vastly improved its tackling against TCU the following week and held the Horned Frogs to 23 fewer points than it did the week before. In its next game against Oklahoma, the defense only allowed 31 points in regulation.
Texas finally capitalized on its defensive performances in the last two weeks by knocking off Baylor and the No. 6 Oklahoma State Cowboys. Ash said he felt the defense actually played better against Oklahoma State than it did against Baylor in the previous week, despite allowing more total yards of offense.
“I looked at the real key stats in that game that tell me that we played better,” Ash said. “We had five sacks. We hadn’t done that in a game. We had four takeaways. We hadn’t done that in a game. (Our defense) was three-of-12 on third down. (If) you stop the run, get the ball back and (are) good on third down, you have a chance to win games. We did that more so than any other game so far this year.”
Part of the improvement can be chalked up to an emphasis on turnovers in practice. Ash said the team goes through weekly turnover drills that emphasize ball extraction and recovery.
“We’ve got some core beliefs, and the number one is ‘the game is about the ball,’” Ash said. “There are certain things that we're doing really well on defense, there’s certain things we are not. But at the end of the day if we can continue to get the ball back, it's going to give us a chance to win games. I think last Saturday was a really good indication of that.”
Ash is aware that Texas’ penalties still need to be cleaned up, but he said defensive pass interference calls come with the territory when a team plays as much man-to-man press coverage on outside receivers as the Longhorns do. He also said the defensive back’s pass coverage technique and fundamentals need to be more consistent.
“We’re not coaching our guys to play scared,” Ash said. “We’re going to coach them through the techniques and the fundamentals that they need to improve on. That’s the style of play that we want to play here. It’s the style of play that we want to recruit to here. Our guys embrace it, but we do have to clean some things up and help them get better.”