Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll hunt him because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector...a dark knight.
-Lt. Gordon in "The Dark Knight"
The plan for the Texas season was to rely on their defense to do the heavy lifting and allow the offense to test their strength and make a more gradual rise to excellence. Instead, the Diaz defense showed a second face that required another phenomenal game from David Ash and for the offense to stave off the potential damage.
Last Saturday night against Oklahoma State, Manny Diaz's plans to elevate Texas defense to a dominating unit came down to earth with a sickening thud. His response to the potential threat of OSU using their QB in the zone-read game ended up being an over-reaction that resulted in an aggressive defense which was frequently exploited by Oklahoma State to the tune of 8.6 yards per play, 576 yards of offense, and scores on 7 of their 11 drives.
Diaz attempted to stunt his linebackers into gaps repeatedly in an endless game hoping to create penetration against the OSU rushing plays. Instead, they often found themselves out of position and confused on how to adjust to motions by the offense.
Had the Longhorn offense not run 80 plays that consumed 36 minutes off the clock there can be little doubt that OSU would have scored even more points and buried Texas in a spectacular blowout. Instead, Ash hopped on his batcycle and led the dogs away from Two-face's body and left the hopes of a 10 win season and possible conference championship intact.
His 30-37 passes with 307 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception demonstrated a mastery of the offense. Particularly alarming for opponents has to be the running back's 12 catches for 94 yards. For the season, the Texas backfield is averaging 7 receptions for 76 yards per game.
Of course future opposition might have been more startled by his continued development throwing the deep ball. His throw to Jaxson Shipley to tie the score at 7-7 established both Texas' presence in the football game as well as his place in the 2012 season as a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12.
Between his tradition honoring scoring strikes to Shipley (3 on the game), his crucial 4th down completion to TE DJ Grant to save the game, and all of his brutally effective checkdown throws, Ash has become a distributor that may require some more scouting and attention from opposing defenses. Opposing defensive coordinators hoping to present a sound scheme that accounts for the Texas running game without leaving defensive backs on islands against Shipley or Davis while also accounting for the screen and RB passing game are in for a laborious task.
West Virginia will be the next team to attempt that chore, coming off a classic welcome to the Big 12 with a 70-63 victory over the Baylor Bears. The Mountaineers employ a similar defensive approach as that of Oklahoma State with the major difference being the excellence of Oklahoma State's cornerbacks compared to the putrid performance turned in by the Virginian secondary against Baylor's vertical passing game.
They had several busted assignments that will be magnified by the Texas offense with its heavy emphasis on misdirection, play-action, and gadgetry. Although the Mountaineers possess a sturdy defensive line of the sort that Texas' still young offensive line has struggled to budge in the running game, they are small on the perimeter and cannot hope to bring numbers there against the run too often lest Ash demolish them down the field as Baylor did.
This may also be the first game of the season in which Texas is prepared to risk injury and utilize Ash in the running game to further compound the problem for West Virginia in trying to handle the Texas running game without asking their secondary to handle duties that a superior unit failed to accomplish.
However, Texas does not want this game to become a showdown between Geno Smith and David Ash. This is one of the most potent spread passing games yet devised in college football that would be happy to trade touchdowns and race Texas to 50 points. Texas has to simplify and keep the ball in front of them.
Texas still has future NFL players in the secondary and on the defensive line that should be able to impact Big 12 games with pass-rush and tight coverage. Manny Diaz would do well to abandon the aggressive linebacker stunting and guessing games and combine bend'don't'break 2-deep coverages with his usual array of Fire Zone blitzes and force West Virginia to prove themselves on the road, on the biggest state, against a premier national program with elite talent on defense, with repeated drives the length of the field that finish in the end zone.
Bill Belichick's 2011-12 Patriots defense found themselves playing for a Super Bowl merely by refusing to yield big plays and stiffening in the Red Zone. Even for Heisman candidates, 80 yard touchdown drives are hard to come by.
If Texas sees their defensive coordinator turn and show the face that led to his emergence in the program and the big expectations for this defense, then the offense should be equipped to take on a heavy role in securing victory by establishing a physical, grinding tone with the running game and keeping Geno Smith off the field.
With some solutions that bring the defense closer to the promise of the Holiday Bowl and some silent guardianship of their efforts by David Ash and the running game, Texas can protect home-field and secure a victory that will firmly establish the return of Mack Brown and the R.I.S.E. of the Longhorns to conference championship contender.
Either way, Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners lurk in the season's defining game the following week...