The honors kept rolling in for Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson on Monday when he was named Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his six-tackle, two-sack performance against the Oklahoma Sooners.
In the immediate aftermath of the 24-17 victory, Jefferson became the first Texas player to earn Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The two sacks were the first of his Texas career and were the result of more opportunities to work as a blitzer off the edge, a possible future role for Jefferson as the Longhorns gain more depth at linebacker, especially in the middle. On the first sack, Jefferson benefited from a good blitz design -- he lined up on the edge and then cut inside the defensive end, who took the offensive tackle upfield on a speed rush. When the Oklahoma guard double-teamed the Texas nose tackle, Jefferson had a free run at the quarterback and finished the play. Simple, but effective.
The freshman linebacker deserves full credit for the second sack, which came in a critical moment as the Horned tried to hold onto a seven-point lead late in the fourth quarter. After the Sooners picked up a first down, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford sent Jefferson on a blitz and by ripping and then dipping his hips to run the arc, Jefferson was able to bring down Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield for a key sack that put the Sooners well behind the chains:
It's clear that he has some natural pass-rushing ability, so the coaching staff should continue providing opportunities for him to make plays going after the quarterback. If senior Dalton Santos had been able to stay healthy, it's quite possible that Jefferson could be receiving most of his snaps in such a role. Instead, he's experiencing the growing pains of learning how to play middle linebacker in college.
But Jefferson was also able to make an impact on the game without much assistance from his teammates, as five of his six tackles were of the solo variety, including tracking down Mayfield when the former Texas Tech walk on tried to beat Jefferson to the edge. It didn't work.
The star freshman ranks second on the team with 37 tackles this season, 23 of them solo stops. His 5.5 tackles for loss lead the team and his two sacks are tied for the team lead with junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgway.