But the Longhorns actually started off the year hot in games against Rice and BYU, leading one to wonder whether Texas has actually improved, or simply rebounded from a tough middle stretch that included two of the top offenses in the country in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Below, we've included three numbers for every game: yards per rushing carry, yards per passing attempt and yards per play. While none of those three numbers are perfect — a great defensive effort can be skewed by a couple big plays, for instance — they offer a better view than overall yardage or points scored numbers, which can be affected by the number of plays, the tempo a game is played at or even the performance of the Longhorn offense and special teams.
Yards Per Carry: 4.3
Yards Per Passing Attempt: 3.1
Yards Per Play: 3.7
So what can we take from those stats? One of the first things that surprised me were the Missouri numbers. Watching the game in person, it seemed like the Longhorn defense played exceptionally well. But a few big plays skewed the average a bit, and Tiger quarterback James Franklin had an accurate performance, meaning there weren't a lot of incompletions to knock down the yards-per-attempt numbers.
The second was that UCLA actually had the third-highest yards-per-play numbers. With the way the Longhorns moved the ball, it was easy to forget that the Bruins actually had success moving the ball as well. And Oklahoma State, like Missouri, was a big-play game. The Longhorns seemed to hold well on defense for much of the game, but were undone on a few long runs.
As for the defense's improvement, it does appear that they've come a long way from the middle-of-the-road stretch that saw the team's worst three performances — UCLA, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — sandwiched into a four-game stretch. And Texas has put up its best two performances in the last four games.
The biggest improvement has come in the running game. The three best per-carry averages in the running game have come in the last four games, with only Missouri topping 1.1 yards per carry (remember that sack yardage is factored in). But the Tiger average of 3.4 yards per carry was hardly stellar, and was nearly a full yard-per-carry less than the Longhorns allowed to Rice in the season opener. Take out the Kendial Lawrence 35-yard touchdown run, and the Tigers were held to 2.66 yards per carry.
One of the most common traits of a dominant defense is the ability to stop the run. And that's exactly where the Longhorns appear to be headed, despite a rough start in that very category. That's why Diaz, and the Texas defense, deserve the accolades they receive.