Goal-line stands have become a notable part of Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s group after 16 games, with the latest iteration coming at a key moment of the game against the USC Trojans on Saturday.
Once again, Orlando’s defense came up big, with junior safety Brandon Jones continuing a trend of showcasing his speed and ability to take the proper angle to keep an opponent out of the end zone.
Here’s what went down in the middle of the second quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium when the Horns kept the Trojans from extending a 14-13 lead.
A sustained drive by the Trojans was already on its seventh play when freshman quarterback JT Daniels hit classmate and former high school teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 47-yard gain that threatened to negate Longhorns momentum.
USC isolated Jones in one-on-one coverage on a post route with a play-action pass. Jones actually did a good job of getting depth as St. Brown attacked him with a deep vertical stem, then ran with the rising freshman out of his break.
Jones played the ball and undercut the route in his quest for an interception, but mistimed his jump. When St. Brown attacked the football at the highest point possible, Jones let what would have been his first career interception go through his hands. The play was just another example of Jones showing disappointing ball skills — at this point, it’s fair to expect that the junior isn’t particularly likely to come up with his first interception unless he starts putting himself in position to make easy catches or gets a tipped pass.
If there were any positives on the play beyond the solid coverage of Jones up until he failed to at least break up the pass, it was the fact that St. Brown went down just inside the Texas 10-yard line. As a result, the Trojans were forced to attack a defense that only needed to cover less than 20 yards of depth and the width of the field.
Jones and senior cornerback Davante Davis helped make up for that big play by breaking up a pass in the end zone on first down. USC called a wide receiver screen on the following play, which required the pursuit of Jones and freshman cornerback Anthony Cook to knock Trevon Sidney out of bounds at the 1-yard line. A inside run to the most physical Trojans running back was stymied by freshman safety Caden Sterns and several other defenders.
And that’s when the goal-line stand took a significant turn. USC was called for an illegal formation and Texas was faced with the decision of moving the Trojans back five yards and allowing another third-down attempt or forcing a fourth-down attempt or field goal.
In that moment, Herman deferred to his players and his coach. The players wanted the opportunity to stop USC on fourth down. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando wanted the opportunity to stop USC on fourth down.
“So we went with it, and it did provide us a tremendous amount of energy and for all intents and purposes kept points off the board, not just seven points but in reality had we decided something differently, probably would have been three points given the percentages.”
The energy came from Jones after the Trojans handed the ball to running back Stephen Carr, who tried to bounce the play outside and to the pylon.
Watching Jones hit full speed and take the right angle while anticipating Carr’s speed is a thing of beauty. Finishing the play and standing with his teammates letting Carr know that beyond that point he would not pass? That was the type of attitude and playmaking ability that created DBU.
While Jones often struggled with taking the correct angles last season and missed a tackle on Carr’s touchdown run to start the game, he’s been at his best near the goal line since last November.
In a critical road game against West Virginia last season, Jones kept Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier from scoring a touchdown with his range and effort. On the play, Grier fumbled the ball through the corner of the end zone and dislocated his finger. Texas took control of the football and Grier was done for the season.
Jones also tackled Maryland quarterback Kasim Hill behind the line of scrimmage in a similar situation in the season opener.
Other than consistently going whatever he can to keep the opponent from scoring, Jones isn’t quite sure why he keeps on making those plays.
“I really don’t know, honestly,” Jones told Horns247 after the game. “I mean, obviously, I wouldn’t be able to do what I did unless the guys on the inside shut all of that down and stuff like that, but I just really rely on my speed and I know how fast I am and how fast I can get to the running back or quarterback if I have to.”
At a key point against the Trojans, Jones had to get to the running back and did get to the running back, but that’s getting increasingly less surprising as it keeps on happening.