Texas coach Charlie Strong celebrates with defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway after he sacked Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the fourth quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

After breakout game, does Hassan Ridgeway have more?

Quiet defensive tackle finally shows explosiveness against Oklahoma State, helping Texas' run defense

Posted September 30th, 2015

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Story highlights
  • Ridgeway had a slow start to the season ( 10 tackles, 2 for loss in three games), but broke out against OSU (six tackles, a sack and a defensive TD).
  • Texas is one of five schools that lead the nation with three defensive scores so far this season.
  • Last year, current New England Patriot Malcom Brown led Texas with 6.5 sacks. Right behind him? Ridgeway, with six.

There was a time when Hassan Ridgeway would barely utter a peep. And when Charlie Strong arrived at Texas, Ridgeway could barely make it through a half-dozen consecutive plays at practice.

Some face time with strength coach Pat Moorer improved Ridgeway’s conditioning. “Now he can go for days,” Strong said last season. “My man, the Green Mile.”

The passage of time appears to have drawn the 314-pound junior defensive tackle from Mansfield out of his shell.

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“He’s been more vocal, gets more juiced up,” linebacker Peter Jinkens said. “I don’t like being around him when he’s too excited, because he’s strong and I ain’t trying to get hit.”

Playing alongside Malcom Brown last season, Hassan Ridgeway had 43 tackles and six sacks in 2014 (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN)
Playing alongside Malcom Brown last season, Hassan Ridgeway had 43 tackles and six sacks in 2014 (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN- STATESMAN)

The 6-foot, 3-inch defensive anchor hit plenty of Oklahoma State Cowboys last weekend. Ridgeway finished with six tackles, a vicious sack and 34-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Granted, he got off to a slow start this season due to nagging injuries, most notably in his lower back. But the player tasked with replacing first-round draft pick Malcom Brown finally looked like what many expected.

Ridgeway showed no excitement from his standout performance, though.

“That’s how I am right now,” he said after Texas’ 30-27 loss. “It doesn’t feel good coming out like that. It would’ve felt good winning. That’s the only thing that would’ve felt good.”

Sophomore Poona Ford started the first three games  alongside senior Tank Jackson. Ridgeway was, well, out there somewhere. He had 10 tackles, two for losses, in the first three games but was generally a non-factor.

Without a dominant force in the middle, the defensive line got shredded. Texas allowed 240.7 rushing yards in the first three games.

Ridgeway looked like the player coaches expected against the Cowboys. Rennie Childs had a team-high 54 yards as Oklahoma State’s running game managed just 103 total, about 77 yards below the team’s average.

Quarterback Mason Rudolph let the ball slip out of his hands for an easy turnover. Ridgeway scooped it up and dashed in for the touchdown. Texas is one of five schools that lead the nation with three defensive scores so far this season.

“I wasn’t about to go down, not at all,” Ridgeway said.

Then, Ridgeway had one of the biggest hits of the day. He raced past the offensive guard and buried Rudolph for a 7-yard loss in the fourth quarter. That play alone showed why Ridgeway was named to the preseason Outland Trophy watch list.

It was similar to the breakout game Brown had against BYU last season, when he had eight tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Even in a blowout loss, Brown’s performance turned heads.

The momentum created in one game sparked a terrific individual season, and Brown became a first-round pick for the New England Patriots. He had a team-high 6.5 sacks last season. Next on the list? Ridgeway, with six.

Should Ridgeway be held to the same expectation as Brown? “Why not?,” defensive line coach Brick Haley said in August. “This is Texas. We have high expectations here.”

If quarterback Jerrod Heard is bringing offensive “juice,” as players say, then Ridgeway needs to keep bringing it defensively.

“I guess it was something he ate that morning,” Jinkens said. “When someone plays like that, with his size and weight, it’s impressive. If we can get him to play like that every week, we’ll be all right.”

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