The untold impact of Texas football NT Byron Murphy this season

Byron Murphy, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK
Byron Murphy, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK /

The defense for Texas football is playing much better in Year 2 under co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Pete Kwiatkowski than last season. Texas is allowing roughly 10 fewer points per game this season. And according to Football Outsiders, Texas ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency this season, compared to 52nd in 2021. Texas is making strides in a positive direction so far this season on defense.

Improving run defense is a big contributing factor to Texas’ improved defensive efficiency so far this season. Texas is allowing just over 120 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. That is more than 80 fewer rushing yards per game allowed compared to last season and two fewer yards per carry roughly.

Texas’ improved run defense is led by the play of a resurgent interior defensive line. PK and the Longhorns are seeing a trio of interior defensive linemen rise to the occasion this season. Senior T’Vondre Sweat, senior Keondre Coburn, and sophomore Byron Murphy II are leading the way for the front in 2022.

But I want to focus on the latter of those three standout defensive linemen, in particular. Murphy is the breakout player for the defensive front this season that is doing a lot of the dirty work in the trenches and not always getting the credit he deserves for it.

Murphy has become an integral part of the interior defensive line rotation in this three-man (occasionally four) front for PK and the Longhorns. He often rotates with Coburn at nose tackle and occasionally Sweat. But Sweat takes a lot of snaps flanking either Coburn or Murphy as a three or four tech in the middle of the defensive line.

The 6-foot-1 and 300-pound Murphy is doing a nice job of eating up space in the trenches and he’s really quick off the line of scrimmage, which allows him to get off blocks fast and find the ball carrier. He’s also doing a nice job getting low and driving at the point of attack. The impact he’s having on this defense is showing up on film and on the stat sheet too.

So, let’s talk a little bit about the areas of this defense that Murphy is impacting so far this season.

First off, we’d be doing Murphy a disservice if we didn’t talk about the impact he was having on this defensive front primarily stopping the run. Murphy is a major contributor to the much-improved run defense for Texas so far this season.

Texas ranked in the bottom three in the Big 12 last season, allowing more than 202 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. This season, Texas ranks in the top five in the Big 12 in team run defense both in terms of rushing yards allowed per game (120.2) and yards per carry (3.3).

The Longhorns are doing a much better job stuffing the run at the line of scrimmage as well as preventing explosive plays. Texas was abysmal last season in terms of preventing explosive run plays (considering those of at least 15 yards).

I do believe the most telling team stat that shows the difference in Texas’ success defending the run this season is the running play success rate allowed between this year and last. So far this season, Texas ranks 10th in the FBS in terms of run-play success rate on defense (32.6), per College Football Data.

Last season, Texas ranked 89th in the FBS in run play success rate on defense (45.7). That is a massive difference and serves as a testament to the improvement that the defensive front has made this season.

Texas football NT Byron Murphy having a major impact on an improved defense in 2022

And one of the biggest difference makers contributing to this improvement in run defense for the Longhorns this season is Murphy. We’ve seen Murphy consistently make valuable contributions to the efforts in run defense.

In fact, Murphy leads the Big 12 among interior defensive linemen both in terms of run defense grade and run stop percentage this season. He has nearly a dozen run stops on the season at an average depth of tackle of just two yards, with only one missed tackle.

Murphy was so impressive this season in terms of his efficiency defending the run this season that he is one of two interior defensive linemen that has a double-digit number of run stops with a missed tackle percentage no greater than 5.0.

When Murphy gets the ball carrier in his sights, he’s rarely going to let him get away.

This serves as a testament to Murphy’s ability to shed blocks quickly and find the ball carrier for short gains or losses. Murphy is really good at holding his lane assignment and getting a wrap on the ball carrier, as evidenced by his showing against the West Virginia Mountaineers last weekend where he came up with two run stops and one run stuff.

Murphy’s contributions definitely aren’t limited to run defense, though.

While Murphy still is a work in progress in terms of his ability to rush the passer up the middle, he’s definitely making strides this season. At 300 pounds, Murphy isn’t going to bully opposing interior offensive linemen into collapsing the pocket and creating pressure.

The combination of his quickness and high motor off the line of scrimmage allows him to both create some pressure sacks and cause confusion in traffic on passing plays. Murphy is able to find his way through gaps and use his quick moves to at least create havoc in the opposing team’s backfield.

PK has done a nice job adjusting to create more pressure this season from the interior of the defensive line by rotating two bigger linemen in the game at once on most passing plays. Texas is often pairing guys like Murphy and Sweat/Ojomo or Coburn and Sweat to get more size on the interior while maintaining the speed on the edges from the likes of Sorrell and senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown.

The issue that Texas has faced at times this season is not the interior pass rush, it’s containing mobile quarterbacks when the pocket is collapsing. The loss to Texas Tech a couple of weeks ago was a good example of that where Texas had a tough time containing Donovan Smith once he started to escape.

Edge rushers like Ovie Oghoufo and Barryn Sorrell need to do a better job setting the edge and getting home to take advantage of some of the pressure that guys like Moro Ojomo, Murphy, and Sweat are generating up the middle.

I have to laud Murphy for creating more pressure thanks to his relentless motor and quick moves along the interior. In effect, he’s nearly doubled the number of quarterback pressures per game compared to last season (1.1 last season compared to 1.9 this year).

But he still has some room to grow as an interior pass rusher.

I would like to see Murphy potentially add a little bit more size to be able to move more bodies in the trenches and take up more space. That would allow him to get a straight-line push to the quarterback and potentially overwhelm some interior offensive linemen on passing plays.

All in all, Murphy’s improvement speaks for itself when looking at some of his numbers for the season. He might be the most efficient and consistent interior run defender in the Big 12 so far this season. And while the improvements are marginal, Murphy is still helping to create more pressure on opposing quarterbacks for the Longhorns than he did last season.

Murphy’s contributions are a big reason why Texas has improved so much as a unit on defense this season compared to last year.

Murphy even helped Texas get in the end zone once as a run blocker in the win over West Virginia last weekend.

If Murphy continues to blossom as a pass rusher along with maintaining his status as one of the top interior run stoppers in the Big 12, then he could be in line for All-Big 12 honors at the end of this season. He’s certainly on that pace right now with his early-season returns.

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Texas is currently sporting a record of 3-2 (1-1 Big 12) following the convincing 38-20 win over West Virginia at home on Oct. 1. Next up for Murphy and the Longhorns is the Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Oct. 8 against the Oklahoma Sooners.