Let's get down to the trenches with the Big Uglies on the defensive front. Unlike the offensive front, D-Line stats are a easier to correlate. We have the traditional tackles, tackles for loss and sacks, but now we can also track run responses and passing down vs. running down stats. Once again, these are very technical, which is not to say we've mastered them, only to say we aren't completely confused by them.
A few things...
Defenses are symbiotic organisms. (Yes I did watch Nat Geo tonight.) As one group performs the others groups will succeed or fail. On defense the simplified strategy is to tackle the ball-carrier. All 11 men have that responsibility.
Therefore a defensive line could be made better by linebackers that fill. A secondary is better when there is pressure from the front seven, etc, etc, etc. So, we'll rank with an eye towards the units as a whole.
Let's go 1-12.
There will be a theme on the defensive rankings, TCU is real good. They return three starters and a ton of depth. The Frogs were ranked in the top 10 in Defensive Run Success rate and 16th in Stuff Rate. Stuff Rate means they stopped the opposing offense from gaining positive yardage. The Frogs did that 23% of the time. Devonte Fields has been suspended for the first game but could be the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
If Devonte Fields isn’t your cup of tea then maybe Jackson Jeffcoat is. He suffered some physical issues in 2012 but he’s back along with three of his line mates. Texas led the country in Adjusted Sack Rate and with experience back those numbers should improve. Where Texas needs to improve is against the run. They were 116th on power downs and middle of the pack overall against the run.
Texas Tech has bookend defensive lineman Kenny Hyder and Dartwan Bush. That duo combined for 12 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. The Red Raiders return everyone up front from a unit that did everything ok, if nothing great.
The Aggies held up very well in the SEC. If there was one area where Aggies were expected to struggle it was on the defensive front. The Aggies turned in a top 20 statistical performance across the board on the defensive front. Two starters return and one of them, Kirby Ennis faces suspension to start the year. Sophomore Julien Obioha should improve at one end. If there are problems they will arise at tackle.
Baylor was consistently bad last year, across the defensive board. They ranked in the 60’s and 70’s in almost every defensive category. The Bears return 2 starters from last year and a unit that actually got better towards the end of the season. Baylor hopes that carries through into this year.
From here we’re kind of picking through scraps. None of these units will set the world on favor but among the rest, Rice may be able to at least spark a bit. Rice has three starters back from last years group that wasn’t that great. So there’s that.
The Cougars hit the meaty part of the curve at number 7. In 2012 U of H was better against the pass than the run and their sack and pressure numbers bear that out. Houston returns a single starter from last years group so they’ll be working up hill but their depth actually saw quite a bit of action last year.
North Texas checks in at 8 with two starters back from a group that had a very good stuff rate but little else that moved the needle. Some of this may have been because it was way easier to throw against the Mean Green so why try to run. Aaron Bellazin is the most decorated returning starter with five sacks.
This group wasn’t a strong suit last year but they return almost entirely intact. James Davidson and Horace Miller are passable on the ends and Germard Reed returns inside. UTEP like all our bottom dwellers needs more pressure from their front.
SMU returns absolutely no one from their defensive front. They also lost physical freak Margus Hunt to the NFL. June Jones has been selling most folks on the idea that recruiting in recent history has improved depth and so the backups could be comparable. We’ll need to see that first.
UTSA’s defensive line, like every other position on their roster is stocked with experienced players. The problem is their front seven hasn’t been that good. They’ll need some help from JC players to improve with a C-USA schedule.
Texas State gets three guys back from a group that ranked in the triple digits in almost every statistical category on defense. Their front seven didn’t stop the pass but made up for it by not stopping the run. Surely they can only improve.