One year after Texas Longhorns linebacker Malik Jefferson burst onto the national scene with a big hit and rangy plays that showcased his speed against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the performance of the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year was much more steady in an expanded role and much better outcome for the team overall.
In the highlights above, note the number of different alignments for the 6’3, 238-pounder — he appears in his traditional middle linebacker role, on the edge with responsibility for containing the quarterback, and as a quarterback spy looking to stop any scrambles. He even spent some time lined up on inside wide receivers in certain defensive packages.
"The thing you can do with him, he's such a great edge rusher, and he can put so much pressure coming up the edge and blitzing him," head coach Charlie Strong said after the game. "Like on one touchdown they scored in overtime, we were bringing him off the edge, and he said to one of the DBs, 'Hey, I'm going to come.' He just knew the ball was going to come out and they were going to run a jail break and they ran the jailbreak and scored."
On the early 54-yard run by Notre Dame’s Tarean Folston, Jefferson was able to show his long speed in tracking down the running back. On a delayed blitz, his short-area quickness helped him close on quarterback DeShone Kizer for a sack before the Fighting Irish passer to even make much of an attempt to leave the pocket.
Several other notable moments included a slicing burst through traffic to force the running back into the pursuit of his teammates and a nice job maintaining his responsibility to bring down the quarterback on a zone read keeper in the red zone.
Jefferson still isn’t quite capably of playing the entire game with limited help from his back ups, so the ‘Horns may need to be careful about his snap count getting too high, but other than that, there were some major signs that he’s ready to take a big step forward as a sophomore.
If the growth curve continues to happen and the former consensus five-star prospect can become more consistent with his pass drops, the Longhorns defense will feature one of the most impactful linebackers in the country.