WVU football: Diaz the key to Texas resurgence
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - When Will Muschamp gave up his job as the Texas defensive coordinator after the 2010 season, the Longhorns went looking for a third defensive coordinator in six years.
They returned with Manny Diaz, a revered young assistant who had worked previously at North Carolina State, Middle Tennessee State and Mississippi State. He was the man Coach Mack Brown expected to lead Texas back to a position of prominence after a 5-7 record.
Diaz did his job in 2011 with all the bravado of his father, the former Miami mayor with the same name, as the Longhorns allowed just a few more yards and one fewer point per game in Diaz's first season - and for perspective, look at what's happening with No. 8 West Virginia's transition during its first season with defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
"When a coach loves the game and inspires you like he does, it's easy to follow that," Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said. "It's easy to listen to a guy who you know loves the game and has a passion for it and wants you to feel the same."
Brown wanted to feel similarly reassured Monday as the 11th-ranked Longhorns (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) began preparations for the eighth-ranked Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) and Saturday's 7 p.m. contest (FOX telecast) at Texas Memorial Stadium.
"I've been down there three times - he's got the door closed and he's under the desk," Brown said. "I always go down and try to talk to them before our press conference and say, 'Hey, let's get on the same page now.' I think they're just trying to figure out how to slow them down. You're not going to stop them. You've got to figure out how to slow them down."
The Mountaineers, who are No. 3 nationally in total offense, are on a roll and would have scored 70 points in three of the past five games if not for a missed extra point against Marshall.
The Texas defense, meanwhile, hasn't quite extended the momentum it assembled at the end of last season. After allowing 338.2 yards and 25.3 points per game in the first six with Diaz, the Longhorns settled in and allowed 278.6 yards and 19.6 points per game in the final seven. That included a 48-24 loss to Baylor in which the Bears had 511 yards of offense.
Texas graduated some key players, but returned a number of young ones who played key roles last season. The preseason talk speculated that Texas might have one of the best defenses in the country and in Brown's 15 seasons.
He tried to temper that, and not because he thought they might rank No. 63 in total defense and No. 40 in scoring defense after four games.
"We want the defense to live up to the expectations, but we said in 2010 that that could possibly be the best defense we had since we'd been at Texas and it didn't turn out that way," Brown said. "We lost four seniors down the middle from last year's group and we've got some new guys there now. Until they prove they're ready to step up and show leadership and an ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, we have to wait until they prove it before anyone anoints them a great defense."
Texas is strong on the outside and that will challenge WVU. Brown said Byndom "will be one of the best defensive backs that we've had," and cornerback Quandre Diggs has already intercepted three passes. WVU leads the nation in passing offense and outside receivers Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods are Nos. 2 and 22 in receptions per game - and teammate Tavon Austin leads the nation at an inside position.
Texas defensive ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat have combined for seven sacks. Okafor was named the Big 12's preseason defensive player of the year. Jeffcoat and safety Kenny Vaccaro were preseason first-team picks.
"We can be as good as we want to be," Byndom said. "As long as we continue to work hard and keep putting in the effort, we can be that good. We want to be great. We want to be No. 1, of course. It that's not your goal, then you shouldn't have any goals."
Those goals may be a little skewed against WVU, though, and Brown said the Mountaineers "have absolutely no weaknesses." He likened the offense to the Texas team that won the 2005 national title with quarterback Vince Young helping his team average 50 points per game, or the Southern Cal team Texas beat for the national title that featured Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.
"They're just unbelievable," Brown said. "Geno's thrown 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. He's probably ahead of the curve that Robert Griffin set last year. He'd got to be the leader for the Heisman. He makes no mistakes. He's very confident and very smart. His receivers are unbelievable. They've got two great running backs. They've got three seniors and a huge offensive line up front.
"I think they may be as good as any offense we've ever seen."
Exaggeration or not, the reality is the Longhorns have seen something similar already. Texas beat Oklahoma State 41-36 on a last-minute touchdown Saturday. The Longhorns allowed 275 yards rushing and 301 yards passing.
WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen spent the 2010 season as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator and his offense isn't much different now than it was then.
"We're essentially running the same plays we ran when he was here," Cowboys Coach Mike Gundy said.
Those plays averaged 8.6 yards per snap against Texas, which will have a second week of preparation to better defend the Mountaineers.
"They're not exactly the same as Oklahoma State, but they're very, very similar," said Brown, whose Texas teams were 7-1 against Texas Tech when Holgorsen was an assistant there in 2000-07. "We'll probably have some advantage in having coached the same thing two weeks in a row, but they'll have some advantages, too, because they're very close to the Oklahoma State staff and Oklahoma State did a good job moving the ball against us."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.