UT safety DeShon Elliott celebrates the win over Notre Dame at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: To be DBU or not to be DBU, that is the question for Texas’ defensive backs

Posted April 7th, 2017

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They’re not using those three letters on the Forty Acres these days.

Texas is still DBU, having produced some of the best defensive backs in all of modern college football, but lately it’s been DB-Pu. Now this current crop of defensive backs have decided they aren’t worthy of the title until they reverse the fortunes of the program.

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“We’re trying to get back to the standards of the previous guys who were here,” safety DeShon Elliott said.

It’s an admirable gesture given how bad things have been over there the last couple of seasons. Texas hasn’t won a bowl game since beating Oregon State in the 2012 Alamo Bowl, and the last two defenses under Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford were statistically among the worst in school history.

UT safety DeShon Elliott(4) and cornerback Kris Boyd(2) break up a pass to Texas Tech wide receiverReginald Davis III(2) in the fourth quarter at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock Saturday November 5, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While all facets of the defense are linked, over the last two seasons, the Horns ranked 87th and 90th nationally in defensive pass efficiency rating in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Surrendering 3.8 passing touchdowns per game will get you beat on every level of football, and a lack of play making on the back end has added to Texas’ miseries.

It’s why players like Elliott and Antwuan Davis have decided to not tout themselves as members of DBU until they have earned the right to do so. The only way to earn membership is to bank some Ws, something that hasn’t been happening much lately.

“I like it,” 2005 Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff said. “It’s the way we came in. We didn’t give ourselves the DBU title. It was given to us by the media and other people. We go back to respecting the Jerry Grays, Vance Bedfords, and all those guys that came before us.”

Davis, a fifth-year senior, has been around so long that some may suspect he played with Gray, but that’s just jokes. The Bastrop product has waited in the wings for quite some time now and is getting a chance to show he can compete for a starting spot under Herman’s clean-slate initiative. He made one of the highlight plays of Tuesday’s practice when he timed an out-route and took it the other way for a touchdown.

Davis, whom they call “Pops” and “Unc,” is hoping to impart some old DBU knowledge to his younger teammates and share lessons he’s learned from players who are now making it happen on the professional level.

“Whenever I was a young guy,” Davis said, “I had Adrian Phillips — he taught me corner. Quandre Diggs— he was the nickel and he taught me corner. They really showed me as an older guy to teach these young guys how it’s supposed to be done the correct way. You don’t let them go out there and do what they want to. There’s a right way of doing things.”

It also helps to have alumni like Michael Griffin, Diggs and Huff hanging around the workout facility on the regular. All are eager to answer questions and do whatever they can to help return Texas to its rightful place among the national elite. The school has consistently produced great defensive backs, notables from Noble Doss to Johnnie Johnson to Jerry Gray to coach Duane Akina’s pupils Rod Babers, Nathan Vasher, Thorpe Award winners Huff and Aaron Ross and current NFL All-Pro Earl Thomas.

Elliott has sought out several Texas exes as he seeks to add more to his game. He boasts that he can play every position in the secondary and insists he’s much more than a big hitter, though we all still remember him most for the end-zone blast that knocked Notre Dame wideout Torii Hunter, Jr. out of the 2016 opener.

“He’s an effort guy,” said coach Tom Herman.

“He has more physical talent than I did coming in,” Huff said. “He’s learning corner, nickel, safety and what the linebackers are doing. So that way he can unwind things and figure out how the offense is going to try and attack.”

Amid Texas’ struggles, other schools have laid claim to the DBU moniker, including LSU, led by Arizona Cardinals stars Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson. In case you’re interested, CBSsports.com writer Jon Solomon tried to settle the debate with his own scoring method. His analysis that took into account draft picks, Pro Bowl selections, and other criteria dating back 10 seasons.

And the winner for the title of DBU?

Texas, which finished ahead of South Carolina, Ohio State and LSU.

When asked about LSU’s claims, Davis said, “We’re going to let the older guys handle that.”

And they can do their part on the field this fall.

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