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50 in 50: Is Texas ready to put past defensive failures behind?

Posted March 20th, 2017

In 26 days, Texas football fans will get their first glimpse of Tom Herman’s Longhorn football team on April 15. In honor of spring football, we’re counting down the days till the spring game with 50 facts for 50 days.

Charlie Strong likes to talk about baking cakes. Tom Herman has described Texas as having “way, way more talent” than his Houston squads that won 22 games over two seasons.

No matter how you slice it, this year’s squad has the ingredients to be good. When looking for early clues as to how the Longhorns will finish this fall, look no further than the defensive side of the ball. It will be on defensive coordinator Todd Orlando — and by proxy Herman — to get the most out of a talented group.

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They’re fighting a dangerous trend that directly reflects the program’s decline. It’s difficult to win without defense.

Not landing atop any of these lists would be a great start. (Note: Don’t worry, the happy stats are coming in a future post.)

Most total yards allowed

Texas coach Charlie Strong in the first quarter of the game at Royal Memorial Stadium Saturday September 12, 2015. DEBORAH CANNON/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Things weren’t supposed to be perfect in the second season under Strong, but they were at least supposed to be better. The 2015 Longhorns allowed a total of 5,431 yards — an average of 452.6 per game. Granted, a lackluster offense didn’t help, and that was where Strong made wholesale changes heading into 2016. But, we know it didn’t get a whole lot better in 2016. The Longhorns got off to a putrid start, which led to Strong demoting defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and eventually losing his own job.

Most points per game allowed

In a trend that should shock no one, the two Longhorns teams that allowed the most points per game featured coaches who were fired afterward. John Mackovic’s 1997 squad couldn’t stop anybody on the way to a 4-7 record. Giving up 66 points to UCLA cemented the team’s place in history. Even in the air-it-out Big 12 of 2016, the Longhorns couldn’t touch the 33.3 points per game given up in 1997.

Most pass yards allowed

Contrary to popular opinion, the Texas pass defenses of the past couple years actually haven’t been the worst ever. That distinction belongs to the 2007 and 2008 squads, which allowed 277.8 and 259.4 yards per game through the air respectively. Last year’s team improved significantly throughout the season to land the No. 3 spot at 258.5. Still not a great place to be, especially when there’s no Colt McCoy putting up similar numbers the other way.

Most rush yards allowed

We’ll go in the way-back machine with hopes of taking some of the sting off. Because when it comes to run defense, nothing will ever match 1956. Even in 2015, when the Longhorns gave up 219.2 yards per game on the ground, it paled in comparison to the 302.1 average posted by 1-11 Texas 59 years prior. Even that season had its benefits, as the Longhorns hired a coach named Darrell K. Royal to lead the team afterward.

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