AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas defense is in crisis.
Players say they have no confidence in stopping the run, they struggle to line up correctly and openly wonder if everyone is playing hard every play. And week after week, the Longhorns (4-2, 0-2 Big 12) can't seem to tackle.
"Tackling is something you should have learned a long time ago," cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "We miss a tackle and it goes for 95 yards."
The list of flaws and dismal performances the last four weeks have many Texas fans calling for second-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to be fired. Others question coach Mack Brown's ability to hang on beyond this season after a 63-21 loss to Oklahoma.
Brown said he has confidence in Diaz, and the coaching staff is working hard to fix the problems.
"We've got a chance to go back and win the next six ball games and win 10 games, and that's what we're planning on doing," Brown said. "You circle the wagons."
But can the defense be fixed?
The Sooners were just the latest team to paste a unit that was supposed to be the best in the Big 12 and rank among the best in the country. After giving up nearly 700 yards last Saturday, Texas is now on pace to have the worst defense in its long history. The loss stung even worse when Texas learned that end Jackson Jeffcoat would be lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro suggested the defense may be fractured in the locker room.
"Three or four guys are really playing hard, and some guys aren't playing hard," Vaccaro said after the team watched the Oklahoma game film and its blooper reel full of missed tackles and blown assignments.
"It's just causing a cancer on the team. If we're ever going to be anything decent, everybody's just got to play hard," Vaccaro said.
Vaccaro is one of the most outspoken players on the team, but he didn't name names and said he won't be giving any fiery speeches.
"Big speeches are not what's going to help," Vaccaro said. "It's got to come from within."
The Longhorns began the season brimming with confidence and posted a 45-0 shutout over New Mexico in the second game. Since then, Texas has surrendered at least 31 points in four straight games with the score going up every week. Texas ranks 99th in total defense (449.7 yards), 94th in scoring defense (allowing 33 points per game) and 103rd in rushing defense (209 yards).
Oklahoma pounded out 343 yards rushing, including Damien Williams' 95-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that seemed to break Texas' spirit. Vaccaro said the Sooners taunted the Longhorns by telling them they were going to run — and Texas still couldn't stop them.
Now Texas has to prepare to play Baylor (3-2, 0-2), which has beaten the Longhorns the last two years and brings one of the top offenses in the country to Austin.
"We have no confidence in our run defense," senior defensive end Alex Okafor said. "If we don't play well, they will put 50 or 60 on us. ... The issue is effort and relentlessness and we don't have it."
Vaccaro said the Longhorns sometimes don't even line up in the right spots for the defense Diaz calls.
"A lot of runs and a lot of plays are made by one guy not being in the right spot," Vaccaro said. "If we can't get lined up ..."
Fan criticism is focused on Diaz, who spent one season as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State before taking the Texas job before the 2011 season. He makes more than $600,000 a year.
In 2011, Diaz's defense got better toward the end of the season and finished ranked No. 11 overall. And it was just three years ago under former coordinator Will Muschamp that Texas ranked No. 3 in total defense and the Longhorns played in the BCS national championship game.
Brown told Diaz that criticism comes with the job at Texas.
"You take it and man up to it and move on," Brown said. 'It's part of the reason you get paid a lot. That's part of the deal here. You guys want to be head coaches, learn now because you are going to get some questions later. I don't want you pouting."
Diaz is searching for answers.
"Our guys want to tackle. There's not an issue of shying away from contact," Diaz said.
The Longhorns have been weak up the middle with inexperienced tackles and linebackers, but no position has struggled more than strong safety, where Adrian Phillips and Mykkele Thompson can be seen bouncing off ball carriers every week. On one play against Oklahoma, 260-pound Sooners fullback Trey Millard hurdled Thompson and bowled over Phillips on a 73-yard catch and run.
On Monday, Diggs noted that Thompson was primarily a quarterback in high school and lashed out at reporters who had predicted great things for the defense before the season.
"You guys weren't having this conversation. You thought we were good at the beginning of the year," Diggs said. "I guess you guys think anybody is going to come out and be an all-American."
Diggs vowed the defense would get better, and chastised fans who worry that two consecutive losses is the start of worse to come.
"If you give up after two losses, you weren't a real fan anyway," Diggs said.