Football

A Lil’ style: Texas WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey has been a ‘Swiss Army knife’ for the Longhorns

An offensive star at Southlake Carroll, Humphrey has become an indispensable part of the Longhorns' offense

Posted November 9th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Tom Herman on Humphrey: “This is a guy that’s a Swiss Army knife, right?”
  • Humphrey has a team-high 788 receiving yards, five touchdown catches.
  • If Longhorns have hopes of playing for the Big 12 title, they need to escape Lubbock.

This sounds sacrilegious now, but there were college recruiters who wanted to make Lil’Jordan Humphrey a linebacker.

“I knew I wasn’t going to play defense,” Humphrey said, “because I just want the ball in my hands.”

No, thank you. As a do-it-all offensive player at Southlake Carroll, Humphrey was an obvious star. He wanted to play in a passing-based offense and get a lot of touches. Texas Tech sounded like a good, obvious choice.

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“The coaches never got back to me,” he said.

Asked how many passes he could catch in Tech’s offense, Humphrey said, “I couldn’t tell you. I’m at Texas now.”

Lil’Jordan Humphrey #84 of the Texas Longhorns scores a touchdown against Justin Broiles #25 of the Oklahoma Sooners in the second half of the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Former Texas assistants Shawn Watson and Jay Norvell double-teamed Humphrey during the recruiting process and landed the 6-4 athletic freak. The current coaching staff wasn’t sure initially if Humphrey was a good outside receiver, slot receiver or running back, either.

“You know what,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, “we need to get him on the field.”

UT coach Tom Herman knew one thing with absolute certainty. “This is a guy that’s a Swiss Army knife, right?” he said before the season opener.

Humphrey has become an indispensable part of the Texas offense. He’s most assuredly a key part of Texas Tech’s defensive worries heading into Saturday’s game at Jones AT&T Stadium. The 19th-ranked Horns (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) are still pursuing a spot in the league championship game. They’ll need all Humphrey’s got against the Red Raiders (5-4, 3-3).

“He’s a man of few words. Very few words,” fellow receiver Collin Johnson said. “He’s really like that with everyone. He only talks when he’s got something to say. But he’s a dang good football player.”

Johnson was supposed to be Texas’ No. 1 threat out wide this season. He’s got 675 receiving yards, a bunch of those coming after the catch, and five touchdown catches. However, Humphrey is the team’s leading receiver with 788 yards and five touchdowns.

Texas wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (84) pulls down a catch over safety Toyous Avery Jr. (3) in the first half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]
Some of that comes from the position. Johnson is out wide, Humphrey lines up in the slot. It’s easier for Humphrey to find softer spots in zone coverages for quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

Recently, Humphrey and Ehlinger have been teaming up for one eye-popping play after another. Last week, Ehlinger threw a quick release under duress from West Virginia’s max blitz. Humphrey caught the ball at its highest point at the 1-yard line for a 23-yard gain.

“A lot of times when you’re playing quarterback, you throw it, you get hit and you listen to which side of the crowd cheers,” Ehlinger said. “I was on the ground and heard 100,000 cheer, so I thought, ‘Oh, it must’ve worked out.’”

Humphrey finished the game with nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. It’ll take some work, but he and Johnson could become UT’s first twin 1,000-yard receivers since Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley did it in 2008. Both players are Biletnikoff Award semifinalists.

Humphrey has become so critical, it’s alarming when things go wrong. He was late to a team function prior to the Oklahoma State game and was benched for the first series.

When he got into the game, he flat dropped a pass that hit him in the bread basket over the middle. If Humphrey catches that ball, he’d still be running.

“It just wasn’t a good thing for me to be late to anything,” Humphrey said. “That’s not showing any type of responsibility, so I had to take responsibility and apologize for it. It was kind of a distraction to the team at that time.”

Here in November, it’s no surprise that juniors with high ceilings would start thinking about the future. Humphrey said this week he will talk with his parents about going pro. That said, he will play in UT’s bowl game wherever that is.

“I’m playing in a bowl game regardless,” he said. “I don’t have a ring. I want a ring, so I’ll definitely play in the bowl game.”

Humphrey and his teammates could still get a Big 12 championship ring if all things align.

Texas must win its final three regular-season games and get some help. Oklahoma needs to lose somewhere along the way, perhaps against West Virginia the day after Thanksgiving. None of that matters if Texas doesn’t get through Lubbock.

The Red Raiders are likely to play without starting quarterback Alan Bowman. He suffered a recurrence of a partially collapsed lung injury last week against Oklahoma. Bowman spent a few days in the local hospital but was released midweek.

The Longhorns prepared all week to face backup Jett Duffey, a scrambler from Mansfield. He’s thrown four touchdowns this season and four interceptions but averages 5.7 yards per rushing attempt.

The Texas defense has been shredded the last two weeks on the ground. Oklahoma State tallied up 181 rushing yards. West Virginia’s Martell Pettaway broke through multiple tackles en route to a 121-yard day. The Mountaineers finished with 232 rushing yards in a 42-41 win.

“If I’m them, I’m going to use some QB run game. That’s what I would do,” UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “We anticipate seeing that. But I’m telling you, there’s some spots in there he throws some really, really good balls. So that’s what we’re planning for.”

Tech officials plan on honoring the 2008 team that ruined UT’s national championship hopes. The game is forever remembered by Michael Crabtree’s sensational touchdown catch as No. 6 Tech knocked off No. 1 Texas, 39-33.

Humphrey is Texas’ modern-day version of Crabtree. Ten years ago, Tech quarterback Graham Harrell just got the ball to his best playmaker and let Crabtree take it from there. Ehlinger can do the same with Humphrey.

“I definitely try to put it in the most convenient spot for him to catch it, so it’s easier for him,” Ehlinger said. “But jump balls where he’s one-on-one, I know it’s either going to be incomplete or he’s going to catch it.”

And maybe, do it with a Lil’ style.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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