Football

With Texas secondary swarming the field, 18th-ranked Longhorns gaining steam, confidence

Longhorns get back into the AP Top 25 poll before heading off to Manhattan, where UT hasn't won since 2002

Posted September 23rd, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Texas S Brandon Jones: "The difference between now and the past is we’re just really having fun.”
  • Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) coming off a frustrating loss at West Virginia.
  • How is Caden Sterns always around the ball? “I don’t know. Instincts, I guess.”

Texas cornerback Kris Boyd sure seemed rather demure in the aftermath of Saturday’s 31-16 win over TCU.

Never mind the fact he broke up two passes in the end zone for potential TCU touchdowns. He was particularly incensed about Shawn Robinson’s back-shoulder throw to Jalen Reagor that allowed the Horned Frogs to score just before halftime.

“I give myself a C, C-minus,” Boyd said. “You don’t get no good grade if you get scored on at all. I don’t care if you’re beating a team 41-7.”

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There are no make-up exams during the fall semester at DBU. It’s a pass/fail grading system. Given the entire body of work against the Frogs, the Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) should feel ecstatic about the secondary and where this season is headed.

On Sunday, Texas jumped back into the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 18. It’s the program’s highest ranking since September 2016. The next assignment is this weekend’s road trip to Kansas State (2-2, 0-1). Texas hasn’t won in Manhattan since 2002.

Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) signals a turnover during an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This might be the perfect time to catch the Wildcats, too. K-State is coming off a frustrating 35-6 loss at West Virginia. The normally staid Bill Snyder even blasted his own players afterward by telling reporters, “I can’t coach a team that can’t get six inches on a play.”

After four games this season, Kansas State has the second-lowest offensive totals of any school in the Big 12. The passing game is averaging 191 yards per game, which also ranks ninth in the league.

For the up-and-down Longhorns of recent years, it looks like a tailor-made trap game. It’s hard to believe that with this current group, though. Coach Tom Herman has hammered home the point of going 1-0 every week. Maybe it’s finally taken hold.

“I think we all have bought in,” safety Brandon Jones said. “Every position, every player on the team. We’ve bought in and we know what we’re capable of doing. The difference between now and the past is we’re just really having fun.”

No Texas unit is playing with more swagger right now than the secondary. All four starters had shining moments on Saturday.

Boyd was breaking up passes in the end zone. Jones, who made the goal-line stop against USC, pounced on a fumble against TCU and had an interception. Davante Davis delivered solid licks and had two pass break-ups himself against the Frogs.

“It was fearless,” Herman said of UT’s secondary play. “Especially in big moments I saw those guys in the backfield not hesitate, not think, not stutter their feet, but just go make plays, and I was proud of them for that.”

Texas defensive back Caden Sterns (7) celebrates his interception with defensive back Kris Boyd (2) during an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And there’s freshman Caden Sterns, who followed up his USC performance with another star turn against TCU. Sterns had two interceptions and five tackles and will be a strong candidate for Big 12 defensive player of the week honors.

Asked how he’s always around the ball, Sterns said, “I don’t know. Instincts, I guess.”

Last week, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando noted how Sterns is such a serious student of the game. Before facing USC, players were getting themselves pumped up in the locker room. Not Sterns.

“Gary Johnson’s dancing, and (Sterns) is over there looking at his tip sheets and his scouting reports,” Orlando said. “I go up and literally close it on him. Go play ball, kid. But that’s what he is. I’ve never been around a young guy that’s so mature and so professional about what he’s doing.”

Said Sterns: “I just like to sit down, be in my own little zone and calm before the storm, I guess.”

That confidence seen among the secondary is spreading to other Longhorns.

“It’s really exciting to know that you’ve got dogs to your left, your right and up front,” Jones said. “We really trust each other in the long run.”

There’s no reason for any UT player to feel overconfident this week. Remember, there’s not a single player in that locker room who has ever won a championship or finished any better than one game over .500.

“We’re going to have a lot of confidence in the way that we prepare,” Herman said, “but certainly not arrogance.”

Right now, the Horns simply want to keep their head down, keep moving along and keep going 1-0 every week.

“When you have fun,” Jones said, “you’re more confident and you’re playing with swagger and you can trust your abilities to make plays.”

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

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