The low-water mark for Texas' pass defense (since the program starting keeping reliable stats in 1953) was the 227.7 yards the 1988 team surrendered en route to a 4-7 season.
"It's like coming into your first year of college and you mess up," SS Michael Griffin said. "It's kind of hard to get your GPA back up."
The list of walking wounded in the Longhorn secondary is well-documented. Suffice it to say, only LCB Aaron Ross has remained (relatively) injury-free this season.
Said Co-Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina: "I haven't been prouder of a secondary since I've been here because of so many of those issues. We're knicked up but we're standing up there, playing and finding ways."
The linebackers have been especially decimated with Drew Kelson, Robert Killebrew, Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy have missed 12 ballgames between them. Injuries aside, it can be argued that Texas is missing Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin more than it has missed Vince Young this season. Granted, those were a pair of four-year starters who were selected in the NFL's first two rounds. But the issue is that the depth in the secondary was the thinnest on the entire team. It was evidenced by the fact that backups didn't even know where to lineup against Ohio State. Since then, coaches have drilled backups with virtually every formation they are likely to face the remainder of the season. The fact that backup LCB Ryan Palmer contributed two key fourth-quarter plays at Texas Tech -- an INT and a critical 4th-and-15 stop against WR Joel Filani -- indicates that the Horns may at last be two-deep at both CB spots.
Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik's M.O. is to emphasize the things his unit is doing well: namely, stopping the run, forcing turnovers and keeping opponents out of the end zone.
"The telltale stat is always scoring defense," Chizik said, "and we'd like to be better at that."
The Horns are giving up 16.3 ppg (NCAA No. 23). In Chizik's perfect world, the defense yields no more than 11 ppg.
"I tell our guys to keep fighting, scratching and clawing and to win those other (defensive) areas," Chizik added. "When someone throws 50 to 60 times a game, they're going to get a lot of passing yards."
The flipside is that no one is running on Texas. We said during the preseason that this could be Texas' best rush defense in a quarter-century. We were wrong. This may be Texas' best run defense ever. The 41.2 ypg (NCAA No. 2) is on target to surpass the school record for run defense set in 1963 when the National Champion Longhorns gave up just 80.2 rushing ypg.
The gaudy numbers the defense surrenders through the air is a byproduct of the fact that teams can't run on Texas, DE Brian Orakpo believes.
"If we stop the run, and teams have to resort to passing, and the running game is out of the question for them, if we continue to stop the run every week, then passing teams are going to make plays," Orakpo said. "They're going to make first downs for 15- or 20-yards. Really, you can't do anything about it because every team has athletes who can make plays. If you keep them one-dimensional, and passing is the only thing they can do, they're going to get their plays. We have to do the best we can and, obviously, keep them out of the end zone. They're going to get 300 yards if that's all they can do. But if we keep them out of the end zone, we'll be fine."