"I think we're on the right track," Chizik said. "Obviously, there are always some things for improvement. During the first three football games, we tried to establish an attitude. We tried to establish a physical presence. In that regard, I feel like we're on the right track. We've got a long way to go in terms of where we want to be to win a championship, but I think (the defense) has taken everything very well and they're trying to play that way."
For Chizik, the lucky number is 13. Not only is that the number of games Texas must win for an undefeated national championship, it is also the maximum points-per-game that he wants his defense to allow. Last season, Chizik's Auburn defense led the nation with its 11.3 ppg. During non-conference play, Texas is on a similar pace, yielding just 11.7 ppg (NCAA No. 10). While early-season stats are often skewed, the shortened field at Ohio State (the Buckeyes' average starting field position was their own 44) suffices as the great equalizer relative to the other pair of cream puffs Texas has devoured this month.
Chizik told me he wants to keep opponents from rushing for more than 100 ypg and, currently, Texas is giving up just 97.7 ypg on the ground. The Horns are giving up an average of 133.6 ypg (NCAA No. 9) through the air. All told, Texas is ranked No. 10 nationally in total defense with 234 ypg. The Horns' run defense trails only Nebraska (232 ypg) along Big 12 teams but, hey, there's no Ohio State on the Cornhuskers' non-conference slate.
The defense's most pleasant surprise thus far has got to be DE Brian Robison. Even though he logged 12 starts last season, the junior will never have the burst from the edge that Mike Williams (an academic casualty for two consecutive seasons) could have brought to the table. Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson ran circles around Robison for much of the game last season but, so far, Robison is living up to coach Mack Brown's preseason hype that he is faster and doing a better job of fighting off blockers.
Robison totaled six tackles against Rice, but four of these were TFLs totaling 17 yards. He posted one sack, resulting in a loss of 12 yards. Then there were those two huge plays at Ohio State. Robison's fumble recovery right after Texas grabbed the precarious 23-22 lead all but sealed the deal. He had two PBU but the biggest of his career was the ball he swatted into the arms of RB Antonio Pittman, who lost four yards on the reception. In all probability, those four yards made the difference when Josh Huston's 50-yard FG attempt went just wide of the right upright (his only miss of the night after tying a school-record with five field goals). Robison's contributions add to the collective swagger that typifies the 2005 Longhorn defense.
"We walk into every game feeling like nobody can move the ball against us," Robison said.
Even without All-American WLB Derrick Johnson, this defense may even be better than last year's bunch that allowed Oklahoma State to build a 28-point lead and then got skewered by a fourth-team QB at Kansas who had never started a game. The difference is the pressure the Horns are getting from their defensive front (LDT Rod Wright is healthy, NT Frank Okam is growing up into a monster in the trenches right before our very eyes) and speed at linebacker, plus the fact the veteran group has a short memory (i.e., it does not allow a bad play to turn into a bad series and then into a bad game).
"I think we're more experienced and a lot better," Robison said. "We've got a lot more team chemistry and we're definitely working toward our goal of being the number one defense in the country."
The Horns have a bye week before opening Big 12 Conference play at Missouri on Oct. 1.
"I think we're really right on target," Chizik said, "knowing that we've got two weeks to get better."
So, why isn't Chizik smiling? Because it's all about "attitude" for the Co-DC who personifies discipline and intensity. But if Chizik sports an ear-to-ear grin, say, Jan. 4 after the Rose Bowl, it will more than make up for lost time.