In a close, hard-fought game against the Iowa State Cyclones last Saturday, the Texas Longhorns were able to come away with a culture-defining win in large part because of winning the turnover battle 2-0 thanks to two takeaways secured by junior linebacker Jaylan Ford.
With the Cyclones driving deep into Longhorns territory early in the second quarter threatening to take a 14-0 lead, Iowa State was facing a 3rd and 6 from the seven-yard line when quarterback Hunter Dekkers started down his intended target, tight end DeShawn Hanika. Reading the eyes of Dekkers, Ford dropped underneath the pass and made a leaping interception to keep it a one-score game.
Then, late in the fourth quarter as the Cyclones tried to mount a game-tying or game-winning drive, the visitors were on the edge of field-goal range after Dekkers completed a 20-yard pass to star wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson to convert a 3rd and 10.
On the following play, Iowa State offensive coordinator called a zone read and Dekkers kept the ball, but Ford and senior safety Anthony Cook arrived quickly, with Cook’s controversial hit knocking the football loose and Ford showing high-level awareness to identify the fumble and get over Dekkers before the tight end arc blocking for his quarterback could recover it.
“I was reading the running back,” Ford said Saturday. “He was hitting my gap, and the quarterback pulled it. So my instinct was just get to the ball, run to the QB, and just get him on the ground.”
Following the fumble recovery, the first of Ford’s career, Texas was able to run off the final 2:06 after senior running back Roschon Johnson received an assist from junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington, who helped push Johnson past the marker on 3rd and 1 for the crucial first down to ice the win.
The interception was also the first of Ford’s career on a day that also included eight tackles (two solo), earning the Frisco Lone Star product Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time, as well as a spot on the PFF Team of the Week as the highest-graded defender in the Power Five.
Highest-graded defenders in the Power 5 in Week 7:— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) October 16, 2022
1. Jaylan Ford (UT), 91.3
2. Rylie Mills (ND), 91.2
3. Jacoby Windmon (MSU), 91.1
4. Maema Njongmeta (WIS), 90.4
5. Collin Gamble (CAL), 88.5 pic.twitter.com/0uroqdQbUQ
Late in the 2021 season, Ford was able to step into the starting lineup after an injury to Luke Brockermeyer and the former Utah commit was solid with 11 tackles and three tackles for loss over the final two games, setting up an important offseason for Ford.
There was steady buzz around Ford in those months as a more confident, more consistent player. And despite a slow start against Louisiana-Monroe that didn’t feature a single tackle, Ford has been one of the most steady, most productive players on Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense — Ford leads the Big 12 Conference in total tackles (66), solo tackles (37), and tackles per game (9.4).
“He’s versatile, he plays well against the run, he’s athletic, he can defend the pass, he’s smart,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “What he does best is he’s a versatile player at the Mike position for us.”
Ford also leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss and has a sack to go along with two forced fumbles — the 6’3, 224-pounder is emerging as the primary playmaking force at the second level for the Longhorns.
“We’re very fortunate to have him,” Sarkisian said last month. “You never know when a player’s gonna take that next step in your program, but Jaylan has. He’s a guy who I felt like came on late last year, thought he had a good spring. I’ve been mentioning him throughout spring, throughout fall camp; he’s kind of proved me right.”