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TCU transfer edge Ochaun Mathis could be the pass rusher Texas needs

The Manor product could rejoin his former head coach in Austin.

NCAA Football: Texas at Texas Christian Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, TCU Horned Frogs edge Ochaun Mathis entered the NCAA transfer portal after four seasons in Fort Worth, immediately becoming one of the best pass rushers available across college football.

With the interest between Texas and former TCU head coach Gary Patterson already public at the time that Mathis announced his decision, the Longhorns quickly became a potential landing spot for the 6’5, 257-pounder. Five 247Sports Crystal Ball transfer predictions were put in for exactly that to happen as soon as Mathis entered the portal.

Patterson officially joined the Texas staff as a special assistant to head coach Steve Sarkisian last week, further cementing the belief that Mathis could reunite with Patterson on the Forty Acres and provide an instant impact in one of the program’s greatest areas of need — creating an organic pass rush to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

The Horns tied for 101st nationally in 2021 with 20 sacks. Alabama transfer Ben Davis led the team with a mere 2.5 sacks as the group overall rated as the worst in the lost decade-plus of Texas football.

Asked about program deficiencies late in the season, Sarkisian pointed to the pass rush first.

“We’ve got to find a way, whether it’s through scheme or personnel, to generate a better pass rush,” Sarkisian said. “Where we’re at in this day and age of college football with people throwing the ball around, we’ve got to find a way to do that.”

So far, Texas hasn’t had any luck addressing those needs through the transfer portal, missing on Alabama transfer edge Drew Sanders to Arkansas and Albany transfer edge Jared Verse to Florida State after offering late.

But Mathis is a more proven player than Sanders or Verse.

A consensus three-star prospect out of Manor in the 2018 recruiting class ranked as the No. 746 player nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Mathis was identified by Patterson early in the cycle, committing at a Junior Day in January 2017. The belief that Mathis had in Patterson, who made his career with the Horned Frogs identifying and developing players like Mathis, kept the Austin-area product in the class even after he received an offer from the Sooners.

Mathis played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in four games for TCU to maintain his redshirt status, then began to make an impact in 2019, starting all 12 games and tying for fifth on the team with 40 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2020, Mathis had his breakout season, recording 46 tackles, finishing third in the Big 12 with 14 tackles for loss, and leading the conference with 11 sacks, the most for a TCU player since Mat Boesen in 2017, and earning second-team All-Big 12 recognition.

In 2021, Mathis wasn’t quite as productive with 46 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and four sacks, but he still would have led Texas in tackles for loss and sacks.

Mathis reported a 4.7 40-yard dash in high school, but based on his 2020 highlights, his best attribute as a pass rusher is his motor, which allows him to close on plays even if he doesn’t immediately beat an opposing offensive lineman. When unblocked on running plays, he’s particularly dangerous scraping down the line of scrimmage to make stops in the backfield.

Still, even if the highlights don’t show a ton of pure pass-rush ability, it is an area of his game considered a strength:

Mathis boasts impressive straight-line speed, lateral movement skills and change of direction ability. He also flashes a quick first step when untouched. The TCU star wins with pass-rush technique. He freezes opponents with jab steps before attempting to capitalize. He generally engages with early and accurate hands, using his length to manage distance. More importantly, Mathis is smart with his hand placement, regularly attacking soft inside shoulders when he sees them. Additionally, the pass rusher consistently gets low into engagement before using length and leg drive to threaten the opposition’s anchor. When necessary, Mathis uses hand counters late in the play to free himself from contact.

The Longhorns did add some promising edge recruits in the 2022 class, including Justice Finley and J’Mond Tapp, but landing Mathis would reduce the pressure on those prospects to contribute early or for older but unproven players like Prince Dorbah and Derrick Harris Jr. to break through.

Since Mathis will be a summer enrollee, he has plenty of time to consider his options, which are surely numerous as given his production, but the expectation remains that Texas will win out for the former TCU standout.