Longhorns' defense shines under Diaz

US Presswire

Quandre Diggs (left), Jackson Jeffcoat (center) and Emmanuel Acho (right) lead a Texas defense that ranks first in the Big 12 this season.

When the No. 17 Baylor Bears and No. 22 Texas Longhorns take the field in Waco, Texas this afternoon, the Longhorns will be looking to avenge last year's loss to Baylor. It was their first loss to the Bears since 1997. Texas has not lost to Baylor in back-to-back seasons since 1991 and 1992.

Along with the revenge factor, there is a perhaps more intriguing under-the-radar matchup in this game which features the Big 12’s top-ranked offense (Baylor) and top-ranked defense (Texas).

The rise of the Longhorns defense this season has been led by first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, a name that we are likely to see surface in talks for the numerous high-profile coaching vacancies now in college football.

Fewest YPG Allowed
Last 5 Weeks in FBS

Diaz has the Texas defense playing at its highest level in years and the Longhorns have been especially dominant since the end of October.

The Longhorns are allowing only 15.8 points per game over the last five weeks, and opponents are averaging a meager 1.9 yards per rushing attempt. That number is the best in the FBS over that span.

Diaz is spending his first season in Austin after a stint as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State a season ago. The Longhorns boast the only rushing defense in the Big 12 allowing less than 100 yards per game.

Their total of 95.7 yards rushing allowed per game is not only the best in the conference, it is nearly 43 yards better than a season ago. That is the second-best improvement in rushing defense amongst Big 12 teams.

Texas Defense Last 2 Seasons

Rushing defense isn’t the only statistical category in which Texas has improved. The Longhorns are allowing a lower completion percentage, forcing more turnovers and allowing fewer big plays (see chart on right).

Diaz’ absence at Mississippi State has been felt by the Bulldogs this season. Though Mississippi State still ranks among the top-20 nationally in scoring defense, the unit has seen significant decreases in several statistical categories.

Mississippi State has allowed 161 rushing yards per game this year, over 40 more per game than a season ago. Its opponent completion percentage is 65.8 percent this year, last in the SEC. In fact, in each of the categories that Texas improved this year under Diaz, Mississippi State has regressed.

In a remarkable coincidence, Mississippi State’s rush defense has allowed about 42 more yards per game this year than last. Texas' defensive improvement in that category? About 42 yards per game.

Clearly Coach Diaz isn’t the only reason behind these numbers, but it’s difficult to argue his value to each program over the last two seasons.