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THE BLITZ: Needing A Strong Finish

Is Manny Diaz losing control?

Manny Diaz's efforts to get the problems on defense fixed have been largely unsuccessful this season.

It's a serious question because whatever Diaz is doing to motivate his players isn't working. The Longhorns rank 94th or worse nationally in scoring, rushing, total and pass efficiency defense.

The 447.3 yards per game the Longhorns are currently surrendering is still well on pace to set the school's record for futility. The 32.8 points per game Texas is allowing would be the second most in school history.

Diaz talks about the defense having great leadership from its two seniors, yet one of them (Kenny Vaccaro) has been saying for weeks the time for talking is over and he's not sure why players wouldn't want to play hard.

Players have talked about the need for this defense to still play for each other. Carrington Byndom said recently the Longhorn defense has lacked mental and physical toughness this season.

Mack Brown, a head coach with an offensive background, said he's spending more time with the defense now more than he has during his tenure on the 40 Acres.

The cherry on top is the normally upbeat Diaz being resigned to the look of disinterest he appeared to have in the post-game press conference after the 21-17 win over Kansas. He looked like a coach who was either anxious for the season to be over, or one who knows what his fate will be once it is.

To say the Texas defense has underperformed would be an understatement. Heading into the season the conversations were about which SEC head coach opening would sway Diaz away from Austin. Now the question is if he'll have a job at Texas or anywhere else in 2013?

While his future is to be determined, the remaining four games of the regular season will be a slate played with a defense Diaz doesn't feel has quit on him.

Offensive-minded Mack Brown has been spending a lot more time in defensive meetings trying to better understand the problems.

“If there were issues, you'd see those things on the field,” Diaz said. “For a team that doesn't do everything right, the one thing you see is a team that's united and fights for 60 minutes.”

They battled against Kansas, but they still couldn't tackle. They still couldn't line up right. And they were still making the same mistakes they've been making in every game this season.

The issues might not be related to effort, but a defense that was hit in the mouth and gashed in the run game against the bottom feeder in the Big 12 suggests there's still a huge disconnect somewhere with the defense. At this point, everyone should just accept that the only way it'll get fixed is for the final horn to sound at the end of the Longhorns' last game.

It's a lot easier to hire a new defensive coordinator than it is to try and release the entire defense from their scholarships and start fresh. With an offseason not too far away in which change is inevitable given the way the Longhorn defense has been as tough as wet toilet paper, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to suggest that Diaz's fate has already been sealed.

For now, Diaz is still the defensive coordinator at Texas. He promises that Mack isn't undermining his authority.

“That's not happening,” Diaz said. “This is more of Mack understanding our issues and the easiest way we can come across to fix them.”

That said, Mack himself has said he's told players on the team that they don't want to see him in their huddle or meeting room, because it probably means things aren't good. That in and of itself might be the biggest indictment against this defense.

Diaz described Mack's role with the defense as one that's more as being a pillar of support rather than being someone who is going to signal in coverages and blitzes from the sideline.

“We're all for the kids, and we're all for Texas, and we're all for getting the job done,” Diaz said. “Mack is a guy who coaches without a lot of ego, I'm a guy who coaches without a lot of ego, and I don't think anybody really cares about anything else other than getting the job done.”

If Longhorn fans were asked to give Diaz a grade based on how he's done his job through the first eight games of 2012, the letter 'F' would be prevalent because Texas fans have probably been using it a lot in some way, shape or form this season when talking about the on-field product.

It's been a tough year for Diaz and while he and everyone associated with the defense deserves a failing grade for the way things have gone, he gets an 'A' for continuing to somehow find positives.

“If we'd started off the first eight games like gangbusters then we fall apart in the last month of the season, nobody is going to feel good about that either,” Diaz said. “There's things we've done this year that we're not proud of, but what we're doing is we're managing this football team and learning how to to find a way.”

While he's taken heat for all of the bad things that have gone wrong with the defense, perhaps no topic has been hotter than the way his linebackers have underperformed. Still, Diaz isn't going to stop pushing Kendall Thompson, Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs to be good football players.

“As a coach, these are the years that it's why you want to coach,” Diaz said. “You're constantly trying to find a way to push them. You probably know their day is coming before they know their day is coming. That's the battle is getting them to find a way to have success on the field.”

One way Diaz did that was by making his maligned scheme so simple in the second half against Kansas. He told Vaccaro to only fill the alley in run support on whatever side of the field the Jayhawks ran the football.

The result? The Longhorns held Kansas to just 57 yards rushing in the second half, largely without the pre-snap movement and stunting that have been staples of Diaz's defense.

Either he's unable to relay the instructions to run his defense to the players properly, or Diaz has a group that's completely incapable of processing the information. Neither is good, but both would be logical explanations why watching the Longhorn defense this season has been about as fun drinking drain cleaner.

As the Longhorns get ready to face Texas Tech, the defense might be facing its toughest challenge to date. Seth Doege leads an offense that ranks in the top 12 nationally in scoring, total and passing offense. The Red Raiders also have three running backs who average at least five yards per carry, led by Kenny Williams' 6.3 yards per tote.

Still, Diaz saw enough positives over the final two quarters in Lawrence that give him hope this weekend.

“The guys still understand the philosophy of victory,” Diaz said. “If you can make yourself hard to run against and if you can avoid long runs and passes for touchdowns, then it becomes how many times they execute down the field on 15 or 16 play drives. Holding the score down still comes down to the same theories.”

I'll give him credit for hanging in there when he speaks to the media, but Diaz is having more moments on Saturdays where he looks detached and desperate for answers. No matter what's going on behind the scenes or what can be read from Diaz's body language, he at least continues to say all of the right things in public.

“I think we're poised to finish the year on a really high note,” Diaz said. “If we do, then we can evaluate where it stands.”

THE BLITZ is a Hookem.com weekly feature looking at the key topics from defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's weekly meeting with team beat reporters.

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