I’ll be blunt: The Texas defense in 2021 was probably the biggest disappointment I have seen from one side of the ball in quite some time. In terms of their preseason hype and expectations, the product we saw on the field each Saturday in the fall was night and day.
So, why on earth should we expect any different in 2022? After all, the only noticeable changes Texas made personnel wise was adding Ryan Watts at cornerback, moving Anthony Cook back to safety and adding Jaylan Ford to the rotation. For the most part, everyone who contributed from 2021 is back in 2022.
Well let me do my very best to convince you the 2021 defense really actually had more bright spots than it seemed. Here is my best attempt at stirring up a fine batch of Kool-Aid ahead of the 2022 season on the defensive side of the ball.
Let me preface this article with one little note: I value points per drive to be the most telling statistic when judging defenses over the duration of an entire season. Total points allowed and total yards allowed only give you a portion of the big picture of what happens throughout the whole year on defense.
Of course, there are the anomaly possessions each game where a team can start inside the 30 on their opponent’s side of the field and things get skewed. That’s all fair. But over the course of the season, those irregularities are evened out and at the end of the day, the amount of points allowed per possession weighs highest in my eyes.
Here are some notable ranks of points per drive from around the country last year to give base line of where I am heading with my points (all numbers are in FBS vs FBS games):
- 1st – Georgia (0.69)
- 10th – Minnesota (1.48)
- 25th – UCF (1.83)
- 50th – Southern Miss (2.04)
- 75th – Miami (2.34)
- 100th – Arizona (2.68)
- 130th – Kansas (4.32)
I am of the belief Texas will be playing in Dallas for a Big 12 Championship if the defense is in the top 50 range of points allowed per possession.
Now specifically in 2021, Texas did not fair all too well in 2021 points per possession rankings. In fact, the Longhorns ranked 95th in country and 7th in the Big 12 at 2.58 points allowed per possession. (Source)
That right there, pretty gross. It’s undeniable. But again, let’s peel back some of the curtains into why the 2022 defense will be much improved.
*** There are two main points I want to focus on here. It is the 2nd half failure to make adjustments on the defensive side of the ball and the offense’s failure to move the ball leaving Pete Kwiatkowski’s crew in a very tough bind of always being on the field. ***
First thing’s first. I went through every Big 12 conference game last night to gather my information for this piece. We will start with the first half vs. second half differential in points per drive.
1st Half Points per Drive Allowed (2021)
- 1st – Oklahoma State (1.24)
- 2nd – Baylor (1.85)
- 3rd – Iowa State (2.0)
- 4th – Texas (2.26)
- 5th – WVU (2.28)
- 6th – Oklahoma (2.40)
- 7th – Kansas State (2.40)
- 8th – Texas Tech (3.15)
- 9th – TCU (3.29)
- 10th – Kansas (3.54)
Now 2.26 is not incredible, but it certainly is an improvement and shows that the Longhorns played their best football in the first half on the defensive side of the ball. The 2.26 PPD rate would place the Longhorns 70th in the country, though let’s keep in mind 14 points that came in the late first half against Kansas were because of fumbles inside the Longhorns own 30-yard line.
Now Texas had some very impressive first half performances defensively if you recall. Three points allowed vs. Iowa State, six points allowed to Oklahoma State and 10 to Baylor all in the first half come to mind. Texas lost all three games as a result of offensive failure to move the ball and failure to win in the adjustment on defense.
2nd Half Points per Drive Allowed (2021)
- 1st – Oklahoma State (1.37)
- 2nd – Iowa State (1.52)
- 3rd – Baylor (1.62)
- 4th – Kansas State (1.68)
- 5th – WVU (1.84)
- 6th – OU (2.18)
- 7th – Texas (2.67)
- 8th – Texas Tech (3.0)
- 9th – TCU (3.29)
- 10th – Kansas (4.17)
The second half slides down to 2.67 which would have ranked 100th in the country for a full game.
One reason for this, is a lack of adjustments made by Pete Kwiatkowski and a failure to move the ball or take time off the clock when the offense was going three and out every possession for multiple games at a time. In fact, let’s take a look at both of those factors for the 2nd half failures on the defensive side of the ball.
Texas ranked 110th in the country in time of possession in 2021 with an average of 28:05 of ball control.
Which leads to the exhaustion factor I hinted at earlier. For this one, I took a look at every three and out the Texas offense endured in both the first and second halves and the points allowed by the defense 0n the ensuing drive:
- First half three-and-outs: 18
- Points allowed: 22
Texas in the first half allowed just 1.22 PPD on first half drives that followed a three-and-out. That would have ranked 2nd in the country.
- Second half three-and-outs: 14
- Points allowed: 47
As the game progresses and fatigue sets in, you can see the short drives come offensively come back to haunt the defense in a major way. The PPD allowed by Texas off second half three-and-outs was set at 3.36 which would have ranked 127th in the country for an entire game.
You can see the early-game preparation is there. It’s not perfect, but again, it has proven to be enough for Texas to have held a lead at halftime in the first six conference games of the year. If Texas can replicate that level of first half defense for all four quarters in each game, they will be in contention to play in Dallas for a Big 12 title game.
Should Texas squander again and the offensive line be a reason for massive offensive stall outs, you can expect to be in a position similar to what we experienced in 2021. For those wondering, in 2021, Texas averaged 2.77 points per possession on offense which ranked 25th in the country.
I say all this to prove a few things. First, the product we saw on the defensive side of the ball truly was not that bad… until the complimentary football Steve Sarkisian harps on disappears.
Texas allowed 18 or fewer first half points in six of its nine conference games. Though in the second half, that 18 or fewer mark was met just three times.
One reason for optimism the second half collapses will not return in 2022? Gary Patterson’s addition to the coach’s room and what should be a much-improved offensive line. There is no reason to suspect, at least not right now, that the Longhorns should have such dry spurts offensively in the 2nd half nor the time of possession to work against them so abruptly.
TLDR: The Texas defense was not as bad as it appeared in 2021. The first half preparation was more times than not, right on point. When the offense stalls out in the 2nd half and the defense is on the field for the majority of the game, that is when you see exhaustion set in and points being added to the opponents scoreboard.
Think the 2021 Iowa State game as a perfect encapsulation of the 2021 defense. With better complimentary play for all four quarters, there is no reason to think the defense will be as bad as it was last fall.