Way back in the day when The Simpsons was funny, there was an episode in which Bart sold his soul to Millhouse. The episode, "Bart Sells His Soul," is pure gold. Among other moments of comedic glory, there's the "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"-turned-hymn scene at the opening, a Pablo Neruda joke, the foam T-Rex, Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag, "Way to breathe, no-breath," and Alf's return to broadcast television:
[Dude, that episode was freaking amazing. Just watch the damn thing and come back in 25 minutes.]
But there's another scene in that episode that's somehow emerged through the chaos of my slush-puppie-addled, mid-1990s-television-soaked mind. It's the one where Marge, while saying goodnight to soulless Bart, detects a problem. She hugs him and senses a void. Something was missing, but she couldn't tell what.
Well, the other day, after Coach Diaz and I played an imaginary game of Hungry-Hungry-Hippos in our make-believe secret tree fort, I got a similar feeling. Something was missing. Yeah, the defense is still coming together and it's difficult to get a great read on things after only three games. Maybe we're giving up more yards than we'd like and maybe the team is still getting the hang of its new tackling technique, though at the same time, we're sacking and TFL-ing it up pretty well, the scoring defense is solid, and the third down defense is top ten nationally (albeit with two of our three games coming against USM and an FCS school).
But something else is off.
And that something is turnovers.
In the six years before this season, Manny Diaz has had four stints as a DC at four different FBS schools—Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas, and Louisiana Tech. At all four of those schools, his teams were turnover machines.
In 2009, Diaz' last MTSU defense forced 33 turnovers, which was the most in the Sun Belt and eighth most in the nation. In 2010, MSU forced 28 turnovers, third most in the SEC. In 2011, Diaz' first Texas team forced 26 turnovers, fifth most in the Big 12. And in 2014, La. Tech forced an astounding 42 turnovers, the most of any team in the country.
One thing that's really impressive about those teams' ball-hawking is that it started right out of the gate. Here are how many turnovers each of those teams forced in the first three games of their seasons:
Hell, even Manny's lone "bad" season as a DC—Texas 2012, when his unit was in the top 40 of the Defensive S&P+ rankings, only about ten spots below the last unit defensive-wonderboy Will Muschamp put on the field at Texas—his team still forced seven turnovers (one fumble recovery and six interceptions) in its first three games of the season. (And, why not: In Diaz' first three years at MTSU, the team finished 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in the Sun Belt in turnovers gained. Don't have the stats for '06 and '07, but in '08, MTSU forced four fumbles and four interceptions in its first three games.)
Think that this pattern could have been coincidental? Maybe due to who these teams were playing in those first three games? Nope. MTSU's first three in 2009 included games at Clemson and at Maryland, MSU's in 2010 included eventual-national-champ Auburn and at LSU, Texas' opening three games in '11 and '12 included BYU, at Mississippi, and at UCLA, and La. Tech last year opened on the road at Oklahoma and against Hudspeth's 9-win machine in Lafayette, Louisiana.
This year, in Diaz' return? Not so much. Right now, our defense has generated only 2 turnovers, both coming against Southern Miss. Through three games, that puts us at second-to-last in the SEC ahead of only Vanderbilt and at 107th nationally.
Yeah, I understand that stats can be deceiving with such a small sample size. But given Diaz' track record of early-season takeaways at every other DC job he's had, something seems to be badly amiss. His units thrive on negative plays and creating havoc all over the field. A big part of that, at least from where I sit, is his knack for putting players in a position to create turnovers.
What, you ask, is the problem this season? Yeah, I got nothing. With Diaz' success at forcing turnovers at multiple stops (including State), I suppose it's unlikely that he's not coaching ‘em up. I mean, I don't figure the dude's forgotten how to get his players to do what they've always done, regardless of his teams' talent, depth, or conference affiliation.
But if anyone has seen a slip of paper floating around with the words "Manny Diaz' Soul" on it, drop me a line. I want Manny's turnovers back, and I think I can get my hands on some Alf Pogs we can use to set up a trade.