AUSTIN, Texas -- It began behind closed doors, with Manny Diaz opening up.
It starts with trust, the defensive coordinator told his team. You have to trust the person next to you. You have to know that person has your back.
For Diaz, these were more than just words. They were a call to action -- not just for him, but for his players. That is why, behind the conference room doors in the team hotel last Saturday, the players on the defense looked each other in the eye and said those words.
"I trust you Kenny," Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho told Kenny Vaccaro.
"I trust you," Carrington Byndom said to Blake Gideon.
"We do that before the game to make sure that everybody knows that we believe in each other," Vaccaro said.
Now they are starting to believe what they can do because of what they have done.
The Texas defense has allowed one touchdown in two games. Only three FBS teams have not allowed a touchdown -- Florida, UCF and Michigan State. The Longhorns are 15th in total defense, allowing just 229 yards per game. And when the games are tight, the Texas defense has proved to be even tighter.
During the second-half comeback against BYU, Texas allowed 67 yards (62 on one drive) and one third down conversion. In pulling away against Rice, Texas' defense allowed 111 second-half yards, three points and only 27 plays from scrimmage.
"[The coaches] called us out and wanted to know if we were tough enough," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "And we were."
Not just tough, but smart.
"We really pride ourselves on being able to stay strong, not only physically, but mentally throughout the game," Gideon said. "And that is all good teams are looking for -- they are looking for one crack in your armor, one guy to get out of the gap for that one play, and they are going to hit you for a long run or long pass."
UCLA did that to Texas last season. The Bruins found holes as quarterback Kevin Prince broke off a 38-yard touchdown run and Derrick Coleman capped the scoring with a 29-yard touchdown run in Texas' 34-12 loss that Gideon and others labeled as embarrassing.
That game spiraled out of control in the second half because Texas allowed the bad plays to snowball. Nobody took a step back, took a deep breath and figured out what was going wrong and why.
"Now we are talking about: Play smart; know the situation; know the down and distance; know what the offense is trying to do to you. Don't get caught up in the moment," Gideon said. "I think that is what is making these young corners so good now is they are able to relax and make plays and trust whatever everyone is telling them, and trust what they have been practicing, so they are not making it bigger than it is."
"It feels like our defense has come a long way," Hicks said.
It has done that because they all are playing smarter, Hicks said. And because this is a closer group than last year's unit.
"We have such a trust in each other," Gideon said. "I trust that the corners are going to do their job and the linebackers are going to do their job. And if you mess up, I know it is a one-play mistake and it is not going to happen again. Whenever you can trust that someone is going to do their job, it makes your job so much easier."
And to date, that trust has made the Texas defense so much more productive.
Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.
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