Texas Longhorns: Manny Diaz

Over the next two weeks, we’ll continue to close the door on the 2013 season. Every Big 12 team suffered at least one loss during the regular season, and losses can be as beneficial as wins. In this team-by-team series, we’ll take a look at the best loss of the year for each Big 12 team, including what happened and why it matters.

[+] EnlargeTaysom Hill
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsBYU QB Taysom Hill shredded Texas' defense, handing the Longhorns a lopsided defeat.
On Thursday, we focus on Texas.

Best loss: 40-21 at BYU on Sept. 7 in a game that opened eyes, not only in Austin, Texas, but nationwide.

What happened: The Longhorns defense watched as BYU rushed for 550 yards and averaged 7.64 yards per carry. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill had 17 carries for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Texas, which started the season with talk of being in the national title picture, looked overwhelmed, outmatched and ill-prepared in the loss. And David Ash left the game with a concussion, the start of his head injury issues that cut his season short.

Look up worst-case scenario and this Longhorns loss is a prime example.

Why it was helpful: First off it woke up Mack Brown to the realization that a change at the defensive coordinator spot was needed sooner rather than later. Getting beat is one thing, but losing while the defense is lethargic, sloppy and lacking a competitive fire is quite another. Brown fired Manny Diaz the next day and hired Greg Robinson to take over the defense. The Longhorns defense was a different unit under Robinson, who simplified things while allowing UT’s athletes on defense to be playmakers instead of thinkers.

Most importantly, this loss instilled an “us against the world” mentality into the Texas locker room. Carrying the label "Texas football player" meant one thing when they boarded the plane to Provo, Utah, and quite another thing when they landed back in Austin. From that point forward, the Longhorns circled the wagons and focused on accomplishing the goal of winning a Big 12 title. That goal was still within reach on the season’s final day thanks to a 7-1 start to Big 12 play before their season-ending loss to Baylor. The complete turnaround was sparked by this loss.

Revealing stat: 15.24. Hill averaged 15.24 yards per carry against the Longhorns’ defense, the third-highest yards per carry average by an FBS quarterback in a game this season behind UCLA’s Brett Hundley (16.1 against Virginia Tech) and Auburn’s Nick Marshall (15.29 against Tennessee).

Quote of note: “Our game plan and goal and objective was to stop the quarterback and tailback. We did neither. The decision to change defensive coordinators was based on our lack of ability to stop the run, period.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown one day after firing Diaz and hiring Robinson.

Five things learned about Texas' defense

September, 27, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- To say the past month has been a crazy one for Texas' defense would probably be an understatement. Let's take a look back at what we know and what we still don't know after the first quarter of the Longhorns' season.

Here are five things we've learned about Texas' defense after four games:

1. Run defense problems resumed

Through four games, Texas is ranked last in the Big 12 in nearly every major defensive category. A lot of that has to do with the failings of its run defense, which currently ranks fourth-worst in the nation at 260.2 yards per game. While the BYU game did inflate those numbers, and the defense's performance against Kansas State helped, the stats are what they are. To some extent, they provide a glimpse into the uphill climb the Longhorns face in repairing their run defense, which has been battered by option football and mobile quarterbacks.

2. Bringing back Diaz was the wrong call

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIJunior Cedric Reed has joined Jackson Jeffcoat to form a solid defensive end tandem for Texas.
Not trying to beat a dead horse here, but we can't talk about the Texas defense's first four games without addressing the coordinator who coached in two of them. Mack Brown brought back Manny Diaz, believing he was still the right man to run the defense after a promising finish to 2012. Then BYU rushed for 550 yards, and a day later, Diaz was gone. Brown believed he couldn't afford to stick with Diaz and let this defense get any worse. If it took only two games to reach that conclusion, it's clear keeping Diaz this offseason was a regrettable move. We won't really know the full consequences of that decision until the end of the season.

3. With time, Robinson could get the job done

At this point, the aforementioned stats do not matter at all if Texas wins. That's all that's being asked of new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson at this point: He needs to put a defense on the field that can win games, that won't fall apart in key moments. Brown trusts that Robinson can coax his players into being better tacklers and playing with passion and consistent execution. He's still getting familiar with his personnel and implementing his own concepts, and we might not know what this defense can end up being for a few more weeks. Losing linebacker Jordan Hicks was a serious blow, one that will require making some key changes. But it seems Robinson's players have bought in and are serious about turning the season around.

4. Defensive ends, line emerge as strength

Texas knew it had an NFL-caliber talent at defensive end in Jackson Jeffcoat, but Cedric Reed has been a revelation. They two have combined for 52 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks this season and have been one of the best aspects of this defense. The trio of Chris Whaley, Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson has made strides, too, to form a front that can get after quarterbacks. If this defense gets where it wants to be, this line will be a big reason why.

5. Doesn't mean a thing until Oklahoma

The Longhorns could enjoy a breakthrough defensive performance against Iowa State and play one of their best games of Robinson's brief tenure. That wouldn't surprise anyone, even after the loss of Hicks. But just as the Red River game again will be the measuring stick for this season and this program, it also will serve as the real test of the Texas defense's progress. Brown hired Robinson to fix this defense in time for Big 12 play, and he needed to have serious progress by the time his team travels to Dallas. Against Oklahoma, he could cash in on his risky move and get big results, or Texas could pay dearly for it.

Robinson sees Texas defense progressing

September, 25, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Greg Robinson can spend hours in the film room and at a dry erase board planning and scheming for opponents. That’s the easy part, the job he’s been doing for more than 30 years.

But getting to know his own kids takes time. Entering week three as Texas’ new defensive coordinator, Robinson is glad that familiarity is finally coming along.

“I don’t call them by their numbers anymore,” Robinson said with a chuckle. “Starting to call them by their names.”

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayNew Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson saw drastic improvement from his players in game two since taking over for Manny Diaz.
Robinson arrived in Austin on a Sunday night two weeks ago with the daunting task of fixing up Texas’ defense with only three days of practice at his disposal amid the embarrassing 40-21 loss at BYU that cost Manny Diaz his job.

He’s been hard at work ever since, doing everything he can to prepare for Texas’ opponents and find solutions for the flaws he inherited. Nobody expected perfection in his first week on the job, but Mack Brown needed to see progress by week 2, when Big 12 play began. And time heals all wounds, right?

The time Robinson gets this week is invaluable. A bye weekend means no opponent, which means plenty more time to focus on his personnel and implementing his ideas. It means, finally, he can slow down.

“Having a bye this week is really, really helpful,” Robinson said.

He hasn’t installed everything he has planned, but an extra 10 days could do wonders for him and his players. Getting Iowa State on a Thursday night next week also means extra prep time for Oklahoma.

As Diaz learned the hard way, this is a results-driven business. No matter the challenges Robinson faced in taking over on less-than-short notice, he has to coax better play out of his Longhorns defenders. If Texas’ performance against Kansas State is any indication, he might have this defense back on the right track.

We could go over all the numbers that say Texas’ defense got better from week 1 under Robinson to week 2, but most of them aren’t going to tell the story. Frankly, Ole Miss’ offense is better than the one K-State brought to Austin. A few numbers are promising, though.

Ole Miss averaged 6.04 yards per rush. K-State, which ran only four fewer plays than the Rebels, was held to 3.03. Texas stopped twice as many Kansas State rushes at or behind the line of scrimmage than it did against Ole Miss.

An interesting measure of a bend-don’t-break defense is how often an opponent scored after getting its initial first down on a drive. Ole Miss scored on 75 percent of those occasions. K-State? 33 percent.

Some of that is scheme and preparation, and a lot of it is motivation. Texas was staring down the possibility of starting the season 1-3. That scenario was unacceptable to its seniors.

“We control our effort,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “That’s the thing. They can’t coach effort. We have to go and play hard, executed everything. That’s what we did. We made sure we executed the plays they put it.”

In the moments after the BYU loss, the leaders of Texas’ defense offered their unconditional support to Diaz and said he was still the right man for the job. They didn’t know much about Robinson when he arrived, but they’re buying in to what he brings to the table as their new leader.

“He made the promise that he was going to give us all he had, and that’s what he did,” defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “We make the promise that we’ll give him all we have, so it was a great second week.”

Brown said he’s proud of how Robinson has collaborated with the rest of Texas’ defensive coaching staff. He has an especially strong connection with Duane Akina, the veteran secondary coach whom he’d worked closely with back in 2004.

“They’ve done such an amazing job,” Brown said. “They argue, they fight, but they did in ‘04. Then they come up with good stuff.”

They’re just getting started. Senior safety Adrian Phillips – or No. 17, as Robinson probably called him -- said he’s looking forward to finding out just what kind of coach Robinson really is over this next week.

The defensive coordinator can appreciate that. He too is starting to get a better sense of what he’s working with.

“Just being in the room with these guys, I’d be shocked if they didn’t just keep doing what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “And that’s getting better.”

Big 12 recruiting mailbag

September, 13, 2013
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This week’s Big 12 mailbag focuses on the recruiting futures of Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State. It also discusses what one touted offensive lineman is thinking. We encourage all to send questions each week, either via Twitter to @DamonSayles or @ESPNWilkerson or by email at dsaylesespn@gmail.com or wilkerson.espn@gmail.com.


From Steven Mandeville: Have you heard about any potential [Oklahoma State] decommits?

The five-part Sports Illustrated expose on Oklahoma State has been entertaining to read for some, eye-opening to read for others. In speaking with commits and targets, however, the allegations have yet to lead to a decommitment. I’m sure a couple of pledges have prematurely thought about the idea, but nothing would be finalized until -- or unless -- the football program is punished by the NCAA. If the allegations prove to be only that, look for the Cowboys to not only keep their commits but also land a couple of others.


From @dmart120: How many, if any, recruits will Texas lose because of the Manny Diaz firing?

I don’t think the Longhorns will lose any commits because of Diaz. What should definitely be watched, however, is how the Longhorns respond against Ole Miss on Saturday. Another bad night similar to the one against BYU could be a turn-off for defensive commitments and targets. A solid defensive performance will silence the critics and help recruiting. Not to put any pressure on new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, but from a recruiting perspective, this -- and not Red River Rivalry weekend -- might be the biggest game of the season for him.


From @taylormidkiff: It seems like most people think Edwin Freeman and Braden Smith are headed to TCU? What do you think?

I would agree totally on Braden Smith (Olathe, Kan./Olathe South). The ESPN 300 offensive lineman has an older sister, Megan, who is a thrower on the TCU track and field team. He knows the campus well, and with the Horned Frogs needing interior linemen, Smith could come in and see quality playing time early. Freeman has TCU high on his list with Texas, Texas A&M and LSU. Each school belives it’s a favorite, but TCU would make sense for Freeman, as his former high school coach, Kenny Perry, is the Horned Frogs’ director of high school relations.


From @beaverkman: Where does #gobeavs [Oregon State] stand with Cole Anderson? Leader?

Cole Anderson (League City, Texas/Clear Falls), a three-star offensive guard, has a top two of Oregon State and Iowa State for the time being. Iowa State was not only his first Big 12 offer but also his first BCS offer, so the Cyclones hold a special place with him. Oregon State, however, was Anderson’s first official visit last week, and he thoroughly enjoyed Corvallis, Ore. Anderson’s decision could come down to overall comfort and closeness to home, and if that’s the case, look for him to choose Iowa State. There’s still time for the Beavers to land him, as the race is still on.


From @TedFlintKansas: How big of a get is Allen Lazard for the Cyclones, and will he alone rise them above in the recruiting rankings?

Allen Lazard is a great get for Iowa State. He’s an ESPN 300 wide receiver for a reason. However, he alone can’t boost the Cyclones when it comes to the recruiting rankings. Paul Rhoads & Co. will need to land a couple more four-star and high three-star players before Iowa State sees a significant spike in the rankings. Fortunately, there are still a few targets out there. Anderson, four-star OLB Nile Sykes (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic) and three-star athlete Darious Crawley (Houston/Cypress Ridge) are among the players to keep an eye on.


In 2013, Ole Miss plays the likes of Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M -- three programs ranked in the top 10. But when Donte Moncrief was asked which game he had circled on the calendar, it was this Saturday’s game at Texas. It had nothing to do with rankings or rivalries. It was all about revenge.

“They came to our house and beat us pretty bad, so we’ve got to go back and return the favor,” the junior wide receiver said.

The Longhorns certainly had their way with Ole Miss last year. They jumped out to a three-touchdown lead at the half and cruised to a 66-31 victory. The offense put up 676 yards of total offense, 326 through the air and 350 on the ground. It was Hugh Freeze’s first loss as head coach, and one that he has not since forgotten.

Jackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisOle Miss QB Bo Wallace threw three interceptions against Texas last season.
“I know our defense spent a lot of time (watching the game) because they really had their way with us running the football last year,” Freeze said.

The message at practice has been simple this week -- don’t dwell on last year’s game but use it as motivation instead.

“Everybody knows how we felt in the locker room after the game last year,” defensive back Cody Prewitt said. “We know the sickening feeling we had in our stomach from how we played. We don’t want to feel that again. It makes you just sick, sick at your stomach, the whole thing. We looked back at Texas film, and most of us here would say that we’re a different team right now. We hope to prove that Saturday.”

The Rebels are a different team this year. They’ve added talented freshmen from a top five recruiting class, and they rallied to beat Vanderbilt in the season opener, a win that put them on the map and kept the momentum going around the program. But they were 2-0 last year before the Longhorns had their way with them in Oxford.

“(Saturday’s game) will certainly be a measuring stick for us as to kind of where we are right now,” Freeze said.

It will also be a good measuring stick for Texas, a program trending in the opposite direction.

The Longhorns gave up over 500 yards rushing in a 40-21 loss to BYU last weekend. The embarrassing performance led to the reassignment of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and the hiring of Greg Robinson as his replacement. Rumors have now started to swirl around head coach Mack Brown and his future at Texas.

Still, despite all of the off-field distractions, Ole Miss knows not to underestimate the Longhorns. They remember what happened last year.

“We expect the same type of team from last year, if not better, to be there, and we’re expecting a really fun game for people to watch,” Prewitt said. “We want to go out there and we want to perform at the best of our ability. But we’re expecting the best team that they have.

“I think it's a great opportunity for our young kids to go into an environment outside of conference play that's a very exciting environment to play in, against a team that I know will be playing with a chip on their shoulder and extremely motivated to play,” Freeze said. “I know we'll get their best shot.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nearly 24 hours have passed since Texas announced the hiring of Greg Robinson as its new defensive coordinator, and to say they’ve been a whirlwind would be a severe understatement.

Mack Brown made the call to Robinson early Sunday afternoon. Manny Diaz is out. We need you in Austin. He accepted, boarded a plane, landed in Austin around 6:30 p.m. and headed straight to practice.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTexas coach Mack Brown said Saturday's loss to BYU was unacceptable and that led to making the change at defensive coordinator.
Robinson was up past 1 a.m. cramming for his first big test as the new leader of the troubled Texas defense. He was still catching up on Texas’ defensive terminology on Monday. He is, understandably, too busy to do interviews with Texas media this week, and Brown said Monday he hadn’t even met with Robinson to talk scheme and planning for Ole Miss.

“He’ll have three practices between now and Saturday to try to get us in a better spot,” Brown said. “It’s a tough deal for him.”

It’s a tough deal for everyone in this Longhorn program. Usually these kinds of coaching changes are made on bye weeks. Brown let Diaz go Sunday in part because he had to buy as much time as he can to get Robinson ready for Texas’ Big 12 schedule.

The biggest reason may have been this: Brown couldn’t afford to sit back and watch things get even worse.

“That was unacceptable on Saturday night,” Brown said. “It went back to the three to four games we had in a row last year where we couldn’t stop the run. I wasn’t going to let that continue.”

He does not expect Robinson to work a miracle and fix every flaw in one week. Brown just needs to see progress, and the veteran leaders of his defense are ready to get to work … once they get their game plan.

“Obviously right now, we’re not sure what the game plan is,” Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Coach Robinson, coach [Duane} Akina, coach [Bo] Davis are all in there getting all the film sessions and game plans ready to go. The biggest thing we’ve got to do is execute. We felt prepared for BYU. We were prepared. We’ve got to go out there and put it on ourselves to actually execute a game plan and do that effectively.”

Hicks admitted he was shocked Diaz was let go but believes his former position coach would want the team to move on and get ready for No. 25 Ole Miss.

Brown said Monday the plan Texas had to attack BYU was a good one. The players’ inconsistent execution of that plan was the real problem, and their coach was held responsible for that.

“If we would’ve performed better, if we would’ve executed his scheme better, he wouldn’t be in this position and we wouldn’t be in this position,” Hicks said. “We feel like we could’ve played better against BYU and had better opportunities.”

Brown saw enough from working with Robinson in 2004 to know he’s the kind of guy Texas’ defenders need right now.

“Greg brings a wealth of knowledge. He’s a true veteran,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that has three Rose Bowl rings and a Super Bowl ring, so he’s been there before. He handles pressure well, he makes great adjustments. When he was here before, we tackled very well, we chased the ball and we were very sound fundamentally. He’s a guy kids love to play for.”

The big question is how different his take on Texas’ defense will be. Expect a more simplified approach focused on sound tackling and physical play, and Robinson will add his own wrinkles along the way. But there isn’t enough time at this point to implement sweeping big-picture changes.

“I guess we’ll have to see,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what to expect defensively. I’m not sure if we’re sticking with the same stuff or taking it in a new direction. I have no clue. We haven’t talked about it yet.”

To Texas safety Adrian Phillips, losing Diaz was just as painful as losing in Provo. Both results, he said, felt like a punch in the face. But he felt Robinson made a great impression in his first time meeting with the team Sunday night, and he’s confident his teammates will rally around their new boss.

“I mean, we have no choice,” Phillips said. “If we want BYU to be our only loss of the season, we have no choice but to buy in. I know my teammates want to be successful just like I do. We’ll buy into it.”

What exactly did Robinson say to his new players in his first night on the job?

“He was very brief with them,” Brown said. “He said, ‘Tough situation for all of us. I’m going to come in and try to do the best I can do to help get back on track.’ He broke them down. That was it.”

With less than 140 hours to repair Texas’ defense, he didn’t have time for much else.

Video: Texas defensive struggles

September, 9, 2013
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Mark Schlabach reacts to the latest example of the Longhorns' defensive struggles that allowed 550 rushing yards to BYU on Saturday.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
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One thing the Big 12 is not is dull. Here’s a recap of the wild weekend it was in the conference:

Team of the week: Baylor. The Bears completely dismantled a Buffalo team that hung tough with Ohio State last weekend. There was no hanging tough in Waco for the Bulls, who were chased out of town with a 70-13 shellacking. During one unreal 11-minute stretch, Baylor racked up 576 yards of offense while averaging 12.5 yards a play. The Bears also scored touchdowns on their first eight drives, and probably would have scored a ninth had they not run out of time in the first half. Baylor has won six straight dating back to last season.

Disappointment of the week: Texas. First, the Longhorns lost 40-21 to BYU. Then, they lost defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who was fired Sunday and replaced with Greg Robinson. Mack Brown said at the beginning of August he was confident this would be his best team since 2009. If the Longhorns aren’t careful, it could be his worst. Texas has at least a half-dozen losable games left on the schedule, including this weekend’s meeting with emerging Ole Miss.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.W. Walsh had a record day for Oklahoma State.
Big (offensive) man on campus: J.W. Walsh. The Oklahoma State sophomore answered many questions about his passing prowess in a 56-35 win over UTSA that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score. Walsh set an Oklahoma State single-game completion percentage record by connecting on 24 of 27 passes. He found four different receivers for touchdowns and rushed one in on his own. Even though he’s known for his wheels, Walsh now has the 17th-best passing EPA (expected points added) in college football.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Gabe Lynn. The Oklahoma safety has been maligned in the past for giving up huge plays in the pass, notably in the 2011 home loss to Texas Tech. But Saturday against West Virginia, the former cornerback was delivering the huge plays from his new position. In the third quarter, Lynn intercepted Mountaineers QB Paul Millard, then later scooped up a fumble and returned it 27 yards. The two turnovers killed West Virginia drives and helped keep the Mountaineers at bay even while the Oklahoma offense struggled.

Special-teams player of the week: Tramaine Thompson. The veteran playmaker showed why the Wildcats have one of the most dangerous return units in the country. Thompson’s 94-yard kickoff return to begin the second half put an underrated Louisiana Lafayette away. The return duo of Thompson and Tyler Lockett remains one of the best in the country.

Play of the week: The last time a Kansas wide receiver caught a touchdown pass, Justin McCay was still playing for Oklahoma. McCay, now a Jayhawk, vowed to end that ignominious streak, which dated back to Oct. 22, 2011. In the second quarter against South Dakota, McCoy hauled in a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jake Heaps at the back of the end zone that put Kansas ahead for good while ending the streak for good, too.

Stat of the week: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baylor already has 16 touchdown drives of two minutes or less, which leads the nation. Oregon has 15. No other program is in double digits. The Ducks led the FBS last year with 45 such drives. Baylor is on pace this season for 104.

Quote of the week: “I haven’t even gotten out of the game. … I’d like to watch the video.” -- Texas coach Mack Brown, when asked after the BYU game whether Manny Diaz would remain his defensive coordinator. Brown fired Diaz the next day.

Replacing Diaz a panic move for Texas

September, 8, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Bringing Manny Diaz back was better than bringing in a stranger.

That, in a nutshell, was Mack Brown’s mentality this offseason when he opted to retain the maligned Diaz amid the worst defensive season in Texas history.

He could’ve sent Diaz packing last December, and a large faction of the Longhorn fan base would’ve been satisfied. But he was convinced that Diaz, a young defensive guru who’d succeeded everywhere he went, was still the right man for the job.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesThe Texas defense led by coordinator Manny Diaz couldn't stop BYU on Saturday.
Brown would joke that Diaz hadn’t gone dumb overnight. In the end, it took only one night to end his tenure as Texas defensive coordinator.

Two games into the season, Diaz was officially relieved of his duties and reassigned within the UT athletic department on Sunday, clearing the way for recently hired football analyst and former Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to take the reigns and try to fix the mess BYU exposed on Saturday.

There were absolutely no signs this move was coming before Texas kicked off in Provo. This was a panic move by Brown, one that conveys just how concerned he is about Texas’ next 10 games.

That’s not to say this wasn’t the right move. The faith he’d put in Diaz to get Texas’ defense back on track was badly burned Saturday. BYU did exactly what Diaz had expected and prepared his defense for, and they still rushed for 550 yards -- nearly 100 more than a Texas defense had ever given up -- en route to an easy 40-21 victory.

Diaz was red-eyed and seemed shaken by what he’d witnessed when he sat down for his postgame interview. He was asked if he was confident he’d still be coaching for Texas’ next game against Ole Miss.

“Yeah. That’s not even a topic,” Diaz said.

Mack Brown did not say yes. He said he wanted to watch the game film. And the film didn’t lie: Texas did not make adjustments on defense. Diaz had no answers.

But one game, one terrible night, didn’t really do Diaz in. Add up the 15 games Texas has played since the start of the 2012 season and the Longhorns ranked No. 111 in FBS in run defense, No. 101 in yards per rush and No. 85 in yards per play allowed.

But Brown trusted him, at least publicly. When Texas announced the hiring of Robinson on July 17, as analyst who scouted UT opponents, Robinson made sure to include this quote in the press release: “In Manny [Diaz's] case, I don't want it in any way for him to feel like he has someone looking over his shoulder at all. That's not what I'm there for. I don't want to in any way inhibit him or any of the coaches. Mack and I talked about that, and that was important to me.”

Whether Brown brought in Robinson as his contingency plan if Diaz failed is debatable, but the selection of Robinson is no doubt a curious one for this reason: He is, essentially, the stranger.

Robinson last coached at Texas in 2004. He had no hand in assembling this roster. He didn’t plan to live in Austin as an analyst, instead commuting from Los Angeles for meetings, fall camp and home games.

Texas’ defensive players, the ones who insisted they 100-percent supported Diaz on Saturday night, are familiar with Robinson but hardly know him well. How will they react to the new leadership?

A fresh start might be just what they need, and Robinson could be the right guy needed to simply the scheme and put a Texas defense on the field that’s far better prepared. But there’s no guarantee this will be enough.

This is a gamble by Brown, no question. His gut feeling wasn’t wrong -- enough was enough. Manny Diaz couldn’t get the job done.

But there’s nobody else left to scapegoat and no room for excuses. Now Mack Brown has to get the job done.

Planning for success: Texas Longhorns

September, 5, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Maybe Texas players just love wearing those clean all-white uniforms.

Why the Longhorns have been so good on the road in recent years can be explained by a variety of reasons. Most of them are valid.

Texas is 52-15 in the past decade when playing away from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Its veteran players can’t quite put their finger on exactly why that is.

“Well, it’s their crowd and not our crowd,” Texas quarterback David Ash said. “It’s a different place. I don’t know. It’s a lot of different things. It’s not your locker room. It’s not familiar territory. There is a little bit different feel.”

Senior offensive lineman Mason Walters said the pressure to perform isn’t any worse on the road than at home, even with a hostile crowd roaring in the background.

“I don’t know the formula,” he said. “The coaches just do a good job with it. We’ll look to continue the trend. I think going in every week with the same preparation I’ve put in since I got here is probably going to help if history repeats itself.”

When talking about Texas’ recent history of taking to the road, 52-15 is not even the impressive statistic.

The Longhorns have won 13 straight regular-season nonconference road games. They haven’t taken an early-season loss on the road since 2000, a 27-24 loss at Stanford.

With that kind of history on his side, Mack Brown has every right to feel confident heading into Texas’ big road test Saturday night against BYU in Provo, Utah (6 p.m. CT, ESPN2).

What makes this matchup an intriguing challenge is the fact BYU’s season opener might not have revealed much about the team that will take the field against UT this weekend.

There’s no ignoring the rain factor when assessing BYU’s 19-17 road loss to Virginia. Not only did weather cause a two-hour delay in the first half, but the downpour BYU and UVA played in after produced a mess of a game.

BYU quarterback Taysom Hill completed 13 of 40 passes. The Cougars fumbled a snap for a safety and had a punt blocked. They proved they have a run game, but that’s one of the few conclusions Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz could take away from the game.

“You can see who they are and what they were trying to accomplish, but you cannot evaluate their level of execution,” Diaz said. “Because really, after the first quarter, the whole game was played on, like, a Slip ‘N Slide.”

Texas, meanwhile, will try to get off to a better start and avoid its own slip-ups after being held scoreless for the first 28 minutes against New Mexico State last weekend. A BYU defense led by senior linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Spencer Hadley should provide as tough a defensive test as any Texas has faced in its 13-game road nonconference streak.

But if that recent history holds up, the Longhorns still might have the advantage in the end -- even if that isn’t home field advantage.

Longhorns run defense passes first test

September, 3, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The numbers Texas put up against the run Saturday in a 56-7 win over New Mexico probably satisfied defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But one in particular got his attention after the game.

Diaz looked over the stats and couldn’t figure this one out. The Longhorns had given up an 18-yard rush. But when?

He racked his brain and was angry to realize he was coming up empty on an answer. He figured it out eventually.

“It was a fake punt,” Diaz said. “A fake punt was the longest run we gave up all night.”

Keep in mind that in the entire 2012 season, Texas gave up 34 rushes of 18 yards or more last season, third-worst in FBS, including four or more in five consecutive games. So, yes, this was a good first step.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMIAt least for one week, Texas' defense solved some of its issues stopping the run.
On a night when the Longhorns offense rightfully stole the show, Texas’ defense quietly and convincing passed its first test of the 2013 season.

The Longhorns held New Mexico State to 104 rushing yards and 2.7 yards per carry. Texas’ front seven accounted for six tackles for loss and was consistently disruptive for four quarters.

Holding the Aggies to just two of 12-plus yards was a solid feat simply for two reasons: Texas had said all along it had no idea what NMSU would run on offense under a new coach and offensive coordinator and, in the course of 38 rushing attempts, odds are a few are going to break past the first line of defense.

Not on Saturday. David Cazares, a safety, was responsible for the 18-yard run on the punt in the fourth quarter, and quarterback Andrew McDonald has a 15-yard run to end the first quarter.

More importantly, the Aggies went three-and-out on seven occasions. Getting off the field and making third- and fourth-down stops was a legitimate issue for the Longhorns last season, so that’s at least promising.

“I think we set the season up right,” UT defensive end Cedric Reed said. “We weren't sure we could tackle, but I don't think we missed many tackles. I think we came out with a fire and a great intensity that we wanted to show the country that we can play, that we're not the team we were last year and that we're a lot better.”

Diaz is quick to dismiss any comparisons to last season, though. To him, that's a futile exercise.

“For me, it’s not about better. It’s just about who we are. We cannot continue to try to compare ourselves to the past,” Diaz said. “That’s the same way whether the past was really good or wasn’t really good. It’s just different. These kids are different.

“This is as honest an answer as I can give you: We can never slay that dragon. And why would we try to do that anyway? Now we’re just looking in the past. We’re not trying to do that.”

The immediate future for Texas brings a challenge that New Mexico State couldn’t bring to the table.

Running back Jamaal Williams will lead the way for BYU’s aggressive offense Saturday in Provo. He had 144 yards on 33 carries in a monsoon at Virginia. The sophomore had three 100-yard games and 1,090 total yards last season.

Texas must also account for Taysom Hill. The dual-threat quarterback rushed for 42 yards and a key touchdown in BYU’s opener, and averaged 6.1 yards per carry in a more limited role in 2012.

The Longhorns have seen more than their fair share of talented rushing quarterbacks in recent years. That by itself won’t be a new challenge. But the struggles Hill and his receivers had last week in the passing game -- plus the possible absence of top receiver Cody Hoffman with a hamstring injury -- suggest new offensive coordinator Robert Anae could dedicate much of his game plan to exploiting a Longhorns run defense that was notoriously porous last season.

Because of that, Texas coaches are cautious to read too much into what they saw against New Mexico State. This will be a far more accurate measuring stick of just where Texas stands in stifling the run game.

“The front seven is playing better,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “The thing that concerned me is, we saw it was good in preseason last year and then just went away for whatever reason. We’ll know more on Saturday night."

LB Edmond ready for big year

August, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Steve Edmond was big. But he wasn’t strong.

The reason why the Texas junior middle linebacker fell behind freshman backup Dalton Santos this spring was simple: He just didn’t love the weight room enough. He was tipping the scales at 260 pounds, and progress was stagnant.

Now, it seems, everything has changed. He’s 235 pounds again. Players say he’s a menace in scrimmages, making sideline-to-sideline plays and chasing down running backs behind the line.

Edmond underwent a much-needed transformation this offseason. We’ll find out Saturday just how far he’s come, but the results so far have received unanimous praise.

“Steve started gaining respect in the offseason by losing a lot of weight,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He’s had a very good camp and it’ll be fun to watch him on Saturday night, because I think he’ll be so much better than what people saw last year that I think they’ll really be surprised and pleased.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSteve Edmond's efforts to lose weight should place the Texas defense in better shape this season.
This time last year, Edmond made his debut in the starting lineup amid high expectations. He’s prepared to live up to them now.

What went wrong last season? Edmond wasn’t ready, or at least not as much as most assumed. Once Jordan Hicks went down with a season-ending injury, Edmond had no one to lean on for help, either. Edmond racked up 103 tackles, but on the days Texas’ defense struggled he was too slow to make reads and too hesitant to make stops.

When the offseason hit, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had urged his players to take their commitment to training to another level.

“Our guys, they didn’t not prepare before,” Diaz said Monday. “They just didn’t understand the level they had to prepare at to be successful.”

Santos bought in, lost weight and started thriving in the offseason lifting. That had to push Edmond.

By the time Edmond took the field for spring practices, Diaz saw a slightly different player -- one who finally competed with urgency. But the real progress came after the spring game. That’s when the light bulb came on.

“We went into April, went back to the weight room, and now Steve started realizing, ‘Whoa, these weights are changing me,’” Diaz said. “All the sudden he saw his body change, and the way he moved around changed.”

He put that on display throughout three weeks of fall camp, leaving no doubts about who would man the middle of the Texas defense in 2013.

The Longhorns would prefer to lean on Hicks and Peter Jinkens once the Big 12 slate begins and nickel defense is a necessity, but Edmond’s efforts to lose weight put him in much better shape to contribute.

When his teammates saw him chasing down fleet running back Johnathan Gray on a swing pass in a scrimmage, they knew he was going to be trouble for opposing defenses this time around.

“He definitely got going,” Hicks said. “He’s been playing very well. He’s a force. Now he’s smarter, he’s more experienced and he’s a force back there. He’s helping lead this linebacker corps. It’s just going to make our defense that much better.”

All that progress gets put to the test on Saturday against New Mexico State. Edmond’s more confident now, but Hicks says his personality hasn’t changed much. He’s still the quiet East Texan with a propensity for big hits.

“He’s the same Steve,” Hicks said. “Steve doesn’t really change for anybody.”

But he changed for Diaz, and soon we’ll find out just how much he’s changed for the rest of the Longhorn defense.
AUSTIN, Texas -- If you understand how the Texas secondary operates, this is the best way to put it: Quandre Diggs is getting a promotion.

Texas' new depth chart made official on Monday what had been talked about all summer long. Diggs will move over from corner and start at nickel back, a decision that creates some interesting ripple effects for the rest of the Longhorns defense.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIQuandre Diggs is "very excited" about the move to nickel back.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior is being entrusted with a role that did wonders for the college careers of Earl Thomas, Aaron Williams and, last season, Kenny Vaccaro.

All three are cashing NFL paychecks these days, so from that standpoint, Diggs knows how helpful the move to nickel can be.

“I’m very excited about this position, don’t get me wrong. It’s a position that great players have played,” Diggs said. “It’s a big position in the game of football now, especially in the Big 12. Nickel defense is pretty much your base defense each and every week. I’m happy for the opportunity.”

In this conference, a trustworthy nickel back is a must. If defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s estimates are correct, Texas might’ve had five defensive backs on the field for 75 percent of its snaps last season.

So it only makes sense to put one of your secondary’s best assets in a role that’s more critical than ever. Diaz lauded Diggs’ ability to diagnose plays and make quick decisions, his experience playing man and zone, his confidence in covering the slot and how he’s a physical tackler.

“One of the rules is, the more instinctive of a player you are, the closer you want to line that guy up to the football,” Diaz said. “Certainly one thing Quandre has shown over the last two years is he has great instincts for playing the game. If you’re just playing pickup football, Quandre is a guy you want on your team.”

The former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year has picked off eight passes and recorded 22 pass breakups in two seasons. Though he’ll still play corner in base defense, Diggs is excited by the possibility of making plays all over the field this fall.

“It plays a lot of different factors in the game,” Diggs said. “You get to blitz, you get to cover, you get to do all different type of stuff and disguises. It puts me closer to the line of scrimmage to go make more plays. That’s something I’m very, very excited about.”

To make this move, though, Diaz and secondary coach Duane Akina had to have faith in the cornerbacks who will step into Diggs’ role on the outside.

Duke Thomas has earned a major vote of confidence from players and coaches after an impressive three weeks of fall camp. Diggs wouldn’t be moving out of his usual gig if Thomas wasn’t ready.

“You have to believe what the film tells you,” Diaz said. “What the film says is that Duke is one of our best players. We’re not into playing favorites. We’ve got to play the guys that we think are the best, and Duke has earned that right.”

The sophomore was supposed to split time at receiver in camp but he was too talented to move away from corner. The rise of Thomas and Sheroid Evans in recent weeks created opportunities for creativity.

Diggs has been working in the nickel since bowl practices last December. He’s glad the challenges of the role will make him a more well-rounded defensive back.

As the brother of 12-year NFL cornerback Quentin Jammer, getting to the pros is of course in the back of Diggs’ mind. He knows a year of playing nickel will help get him where he wants to be.

But that NFL future isn’t something he pays much attention to these days. He’s got a new position to master first.

“It’s not my time to think about that,” Diggs said. “I’m a junior. I’ve just got to continue to go out and play and let my play do the talking.”
AUSTIN, Texas -- The talent on Texas’ roster is supposed to be on par with Alabama.

Seriously.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesTexas coach Mack Brown and his staff have some things to prove this fall.
Both schools have a total of 57 players on their 2013 rosters who earned four-star ratings from ESPN as recruits.

Thanks in large part to its recent No. 1-ranked class, Alabama has 40 players who received ESPN 150 honors in high school. Texas has 35.

Perhaps that gives some perspective on just what the Longhorns' coaching staff is working with entering this season. The cupboard is indeed stocked full.

The depth chart Texas is expected to release on Monday morning will be stuffed with experienced talent, most of whom were big-name recruits.

The coaching staff Mack Brown revamped after 2010 is entering its third season together. This group is responsible for recruiting more than 70 percent of the current 85-man roster, if we include the 2011 class those new coaches kept intact after arriving in Austin.

Make no mistake: These are the kids Brown and his staff wanted, the kids who were brought in to turn this program around.

They’ve brought together all the ingredients, but the recipe keeps changing. What exactly are Brown and his coaches cooking up for 2013?

We’ll find out soon, but having that talent base in place has Texas fans dreaming of a Big 12 championship and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl -- or better. Brown has said all summer that this program is about to be real good again and go on a championship run. Now, it’s on his staff to deliver.

Their coaching could mean the difference between that conference title and another 9-win season. They’re working with essentially the same talent they had last season, losing only four major contributors from 2012. How much more can they get out of this group?

After two seasons of ups and downs, each of Brown’s assistants has something to prove. Major Applewhite is entering his first season as play-caller. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz wouldn’t be back if many UT fans had their druthers. Even the revered Duane Akina has problems to solve with his safeties.

But this is the staff Brown hand-picked, and he’s praised the fact that, with the exception of Bryan Harsin’s departure, there is strong continuity in having nine of the same coaches working together for a third year.

“I think the coaches that came in two years ago understand Texas better now than they did two years ago,” Brown said at the start of fall camp. “It's a different place. It's a unique place.”

The expectations they must navigate through are high, sometimes unfairly so. If Texas, with its 19 returning starters and its best depth in years, isn’t great, the finger-pointing will start with the coaches. Especially if, for the third year in a row, they’re badly outcoached by Bob Stoops and Oklahoma.

That’s the burden of the job, especially in a season when Texas’ roster looks so good on paper and the rest of the Big 12 isn’t looking all that scary.

That Texas was voted the preseason No. 4 team by conference media says plenty about what the rest of the league thinks of the Longhorns. Yeah, sure, UT a loaded roster. So what? They always have that. What are they going to do with it?

That ranking doesn’t mean a thing one week from now, but still, the implicit message was clear. Texas isn’t the preseason league favorite because too many folks don’t believe it will be better coached than Oklahoma State, Oklahoma or TCU -- no matter how many games those teams combined to lose (14) in 2012 or how much talent Brown has on campus.

Five days from now, Brown, his coaches and all his once-touted players begin a season that could drastically change those perceptions.

“As I've said before,” Brown said, “we have to shut up and play, shut up and coach.”

Season Deciders: DE Jackson Jeffcoat

August, 22, 2013
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Jackson JeffcoatKirby Lee/US PresswireThe Longhorns will be counting on a healthy Jackson Jeffcoat to lead their defense.
This is the fourth of a five-part series on Texas players with the potential to change the course of the Longhorns' 2013 season. The No. 2 player on this year's list: Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Jackson Jeffcoat’s senior season began on Oct. 14, 2012.

A torn pectoral, Jeffcoat’s second, suffered against Oklahoma the day before, abruptly ended Jeffcoat’s promising junior year. The clock has been ticking ever since.

“My senior season did start back then,” Jeffcoat said last month. “I knew I had to prepare myself for this season.”

What’s driving Jeffcoat these days isn’t the thought that his NFL draft stock is on the line. He doesn’t look at 2013 like a contract year or a chance to pry his way into the first round.

If he does what he plans to do (and plays all 13 games), the rest will take care of itself.

“This is my senior year. It’s my last year,” Jeffcoat said. “I haven’t had the season that I’ve hoped to have, just because of the injuries. I want to come out and make this my best year. It’s more about leaving my mark on the University of Texas than leaving my mark on the NFL.”

The final chapter in his legacy as a Longhorn has yet to be written, but Jeffcoat is plenty aware that his injuries have been costly. He wants to be remembered for his accomplishments, not his rare potential.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jeffcoat has all the tools and traits of a guy you don’t want coming your way if you play quarterback. He’s played in 27 games and started 20, but his best days are still ahead of him. Especially if he stays on the field.

In the five games he’d played entering the showdown with Oklahoma, Jeffcoat was ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. He’d had one of the best nights of his career a few weeks earlier at Oklahoma State, with seven tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

He even fared well against the Sooners, pushing his season tackles for loss total up to 11. Jeffcoat now has 38 in three years and made stops in the backfield on nearly a third of his career tackles. He has the opportunity to be truly prolific in his final year.

Jeffcoat was slowed in spring practices as a precaution, though he says now he’s been ready to get back to hitting for months. Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz recognizes the need for some restraint and rotations to keep Jeffcoat fresh, but so far he hasn’t shown any rust in fall camp.

“Every time there's been a physical question asked of him, he's come up with the right answer,” Diaz said. “We're happy with where he's at.”

He’s busting counter moves on tackles, pressuring quarterback and batting down balls again. Just like old times, and just what Longhorns teammates like to see.

“Same old Jackson,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Just a monster out there. Just Jackson Jeffcoat.”

This season, his impact goes beyond the tackles and sacks. Even with Alex Okafor on one side and Jeffcoat or Cedric Reed on the other, Texas was still inconsistent in its ability to pressure passers a year ago. That will always be critical in the Big 12.

So will Jeffcoat’s leadership. He’s seen and endured plenty and been humbled enough in three years. The sense of urgency is a tangible one for Jeffcoat. It’s now or never.

The healthy Jeffcoat can be as good as any defender in the conference. He speaks these days with the kind of confidence that suggests he knows that. But just what will he make of his final year? He can’t wait to find out.

“We’ll see after the season,” he said. “That is my goal, to be the best defensive end in the Big 12.”

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