Nearly one month ago on Oct. 8, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said something to reporters that drew much-deserved ire.
“When you come home and watch the game afterwards, there are too many good things.”
The context? He’d just reviewed film of a Texas defense giving up 48 West Virginia points and letting the little-known Andrew Buie gash its defense for 207 rushing yards.
If Diaz drops that line again, he can do so with far more sincerity.
A review of Texas’ 31-22 victory at Texas Tech shows a Longhorns team that was, first and foremost, led by an offense with a clear and potent identity. But there’s no mistaking the fact that this game was decided by Texas’ defense.
In games the Red Raiders have won this year, they’ve averaged 46.6 points per game. This should’ve had the makings of another one of those days, but a Texas defense that still isn’t very good made serious strides Saturday. Here’s five “good things” Diaz will see when he fires up his projector.
No one-on-one matchup in this game was more enthralling than Byndom vs. Eric Ward.
Ward won many of those battles. He led Tech with eight catches for 126 yards, many of them with Byndom assigned to him.
But Byndom had the kind of personal victories against Tech that he’s been struggling to find all season long. Besides his blocked field goal, three other plays stood out.
The first came in the third quarter, when he broke up a third-down pass to Ward after Tech had driven to the Texas 16-yard line.
Then there was Tech’s two-point attempt. Doege floated a jump ball to 6-foot-3 wideout Marcus Kennard. Byndom didn’t see the ball until it was in Kennard’s hands, but he fought and broke it up.
And Byndom did the exact same thing late in the fourth quarter. On that jump ball, Ward made the catch but Byndom knocked the ball loose as he was coming down.
Opposing offenses will continue to go at Byndom as hard as ever, but on this week he came through.
2. Field goals win Big 12 games
Holding teams to field goals has been the key to victories in shootouts this season for Texas. They’re a silver medal that this Longhorns defense will gladly settle for, because they sure beat the alternative.
On several occasions Saturday, Texas reverted to a bend-don’t-break defense that gave up big gains between the 20s but toughened up once they reached their red zone.
Bustin’s four kicks came when Tech’s offense had gotten as far as the 16, 23, 16 and 6 yard lines. The Red Raiders came away with only nine points from those drives.
That’s about as good as it gets for Texas in a game that was supposed to feature much more scoring.
3. More third-down stops
For all the things Texas has done wrong defensively in 2012, third-down defense has remained a surprising strength.
Texas prevented first downs on 10 of Texas Tech’s 14 third-down plays on Saturday. That dropped its season total for third-down conversions permitted to 45 out of 122, or 37 percent. The Longhorns rank No. 4 in the Big 12 in that stat.
You can’t talk about that number without acknowledging a more glaring one: Tech went 2 for 3 on fourth downs and Texas has permitted those conversions at a 75 percent clip (15 of 20). Only four defenses in FBS have been worse percentage-wise on fourth downs, and none of them have given up more than 10 conversions.
But back to the positive: Texas Tech converted only one third-down attempt after the first quarter. In a game decided by punts and field goals, that’s significant.
Doege threw incompletions on four of his six second-half attempts and Tech produced a combined 15 yards on his third-down completions in that half. For Texas, there were no big busts late.
4. Steve Edmond
Texas coaches said Steve Edmond had played two straight good games going into his test in Lubbock. Make that three.
Edmond made a difference in run support and didn’t miss tackles. But it was his biggest play of the day in pass coverage that stood out.
The Red Raiders faced a third-and-2 at their 35 in the fourth quarter. Back in the second quarter, they’d faced another third-and-2 and ran for a 4-yard loss, preventing a chance to score to end the first half.
So this time Tech went to the air. Doege had Ward cutting right across the middle, well past the first-down marker. Ward had been killing on these routes all day long, so Doege fired a pass his way.
He didn’t see Edmond, who snuck back -- just as he did on his pick-six against Ole Miss -- and jumped to deflect the ball with his right hand.
That was easily the biggest three-and-out of the ballgame. Tech punted and gave Texas a chance to take the 31-22 lead.
Diaz has always said he’d evaluate his defense by his own measuring stick, and this game was no different.
There were lots of things Texas’ defense did not do. They forced no turnovers. There were still missed tackles. Tech receivers ran open over the middle time and time again.
But when the Longhorns needed to dig deep and make a stop, they did so more often than not.
Texas Tech is one of the Big 12’s three best offenses in passing and total yardage. Holding that offense to 22 points is an undeniable victory for a defense that desperately needed something good to build on.
The defense is far from fixed, but its showing in Lubbock with the season hanging in the balance should inspire some valuable confidence.