Senior defensive end

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Entering the weekend, the Texas football season had been mostly noted for its missed opportunities. The Longhorns entered their matchup against No. 23 West Virginia 0-4 against top-25 teams, riding a seven-game losing streak against ranked teams.

All of that changed Saturday when the Longhorns played their best half of the season in the game’s first 30 minutes, and the defense held strong in the second half to beat the Mountaineers, 33-16.

The win marks the first time Texas has notched consecutive victories under first-year head coach Charlie Strong.

“It’s a really good win for our program,” Strong said. “We just, week by week, we continue to get better.”

The Longhorns managed to strike first on a 2-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to senior tight end Geoff Swaim. The Mountaineers responded with a 48-yard kick return and managed to drive the ball inside the Texas 2-yard line.

However, the Longhorns held tough against the wall near the end zone, stuffing the Mountaineers on third-and-goal at the Texas 1-yard line. The Mountaineers came away from the drive with a field goal, but the goal-line stand made a statement.

“I think that kind of set the momentum,” senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “The crowd was into it; the defense was able to stop them. We got a few tackles for losses and held them there on the goal line. That’s gigantic.”

The Longhorns gashed the Mountaineers on the ground to the tune of 227 yards, including 101 yards by junior running back Johnathan Gray. Senior running back Malcolm Brown added 90 yards on the ground on 20 carries.

The duo was especially effective during the second quarter, in which the Longhorns scored 17 unanswered points, highlighted by two long runs from Gray.

The first went for 39 yards and a score, while the second run followed a 25-yard run by Brown, in which Gray hit the hole for a 40-yard gain. Gray capped the drive from two yards out to give the Longhorns a 21-3 lead.

“[The] offensive line did a great job opening holes,” Gray said. “They knew what we had to do to get the job done tonight, and they did it.”

On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end Cedric Reed dominated the Mountaineers’ offensive line with three sacks. Reed’s penchant for finding the quarterback was akin to his play last season, marking a bounce-back performance after recording only 1.5 sacks through the first nine games this year.

“Tonight, after I got that first sack, I went up to Coach [Chris] Rumph and told him, ‘Sacks come in bunches, so you better watch out,’” Reed said.

The Mountaineers ended up outgaining the Longhorns by nearly 100 yards but were held to a season-low 16 points and did not get into the end zone until early in the fourth quarter.

Texas won the battles on third and fourth downs, allowing West Virginia to convert only 3-of-17 third-down attempts and 3-of-5 fourth-down attempts.

“We had to win on third down, and we were able to win on third and fourth down,” Strong said.

The win was a step toward bowl eligibility for the Longhorns, who are now 5-5 on the season and need to win at least one of their final two contests. Despite defeating a top-25 opponent at home for the first time since 2008, some players were hesitant to call Saturday a signature win.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Reed said. “It’s just another win — another Big 12 win."

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Heading into the 2014 season, plenty of eyes were on senior defensive end Cedric Reed and his ability to anchor the Texas defense. Last season was thought to be Reed’s coming out party, as the junior collected all-conference honors in his first year starting for the Longhorns, and things were only supposed to go up from there. 

Reed was one of two FBS players — the other being Khalil Mack, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft — last season with at least five sacks, four pass breakups and five forced fumbles.

But, after recording 10.0 sacks a season ago, Reed has only recorded a meager 1.5 this season with two-thirds of the year in the books.

“I beat myself over it every night,” Reed said. “My numbers aren’t the same as they were last year, and they’re definitely not the numbers I expected.”

With his collegiate career nearly over, Reed acknowledged that his performance this season will likely have a negative effect on his draft position.

“It’s football; you know stats got a lot to do with it, and my stats aren’t there,” Reed said.

Before the season, Reed was named to several watch lists for national awards, such as the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski award. But with his performance thus far, Reed is unlikely to be a semi-finalist for either.

“I take full responsibility for my play this year,” Reed said. “I’ve been hearing a lot about it. But I’m trying every day. I’m giving it all I got on the field.”

However, in certain aspects, Reed believes he has proven to be a much better player than in the past.

“I’d say I’m a better run stopper,” Reed said. “Last year, I was a great pass rusher, and I’ve probably been doing a lot of run stopping better this year.”

Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford can attest to Reed’s high level of play against the run.

“We play some odd defense. We’ve put him in four-technique with his head up to help us stop the run, and, when you look at that, he’s done a great job,” Bedford said. “A guy is 6-foot-6, and he plays long; it’s hard for guys to get into his legs, so he’s able to handle two gaps.”

Bedford said Reed’s presence demands attention from opposing offensive linemen, which helps his teammates put up better numbers.

“We told him, ‘Hey, you go fall on a grenade for us right now. Keep these guys off our backers,’ and all of a sudden, that linebacker has 17 tackles,” Bedford said.

Still, though, the senior would like to boost his numbers in the closing games of his Texas career.

“I’m going to be playing a lot more on the left, like I used to,” Reed said. ‘”I’m going to try to get back to what I used to do well when I had good stats.”

Despite being disappointed by his play and the team’s struggles, Reed doesn’t second-guess his decision to return to school.

“I’m happy,” Reed said. “No regrets, man. I live life to the fullest, man. I’m definitely happy where I’m at right now.”

Senior defensive end Cedric Reed had an impressive 2013 campaign but was overshadowed by All-American Jackson Jeffcoat. This year, Reed looks to take advantage of his situation and turn into “the guy” for the Texas defense.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Last August, senior defensive end Cedric Reed was nothing more than “the other guy.” 

Star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat was returning for his senior season as the leader of the Texas defense, and hardly anybody even knew who the other defensive end was.

Now, just a year later, Reed is one of the most recognizable names on the Texas roster and has taken over as the leader of the Longhorn defense.

It may have been overshadowed by Jeffcoat’s incredible campaign last year, but Reed’s 2013 season was impressive in it’s own right, and the numbers back it up. Reed, a native of Cleveland, Texas, finished the season with 79 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. If he weren’t playing alongside a consensus All-American, he might as well have been the best defensive player on the team.

Since then, Reed has been working with the new Texas coaching staff to improve his game, as he looks to replicate Jeffcoat’s accomplishments from last year.

“Just being with [strength] Coach [Pat] Moorer in one offseason, it is amazing to see what happened,” Reed said. “I put on about 10-15 pounds, and I can definitely feel it out on the field. It hasn’t slowed me down a bit.” 

The physical improvements may be more obvious to the average eye, but it is Reed’s improvements on the mental side of the game that have impressed his coaches most.

“I can see plays more now,” Reed said. “With [defensive line] coach [Chris] Rumph I see a lot more things. My awareness is high. I think I am a better player than I was last year.”

It is to nobody’s amazement that the 6-foot-5-inch senior’s game has improved drastically compared to where he was last summer. But even Reed, who has always been quiet, has been surprised by how much he’s developed as a leader in his final season.

“When we were at workouts, I said something, and I turned around and these little freshmen had these little puppy faces, and they were just looking at me like, ‘What do we do next?’” Reed said. “It just surprises you how much your leadership grows when you become a senior. Rumph got after me a little bit when he first got here because I was all quiet, and it just wasn’t me. But I think I really surprised myself with some of the leadership roles I’ve put on for him.”

Just as Reed was an unknown commodity a year ago, junior defensive end Shiro Davis is the unproven guy this year. If Davis can benefit from Reed’s improved leadership skills, don’t be surprised to see this article again next year, with Davis replacing Reed. The only question is, who will be “the other guy?”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

Jackson Jeffcoat hasn’t had the chance to reflect on his stellar four-year career yet. He said he’ll probably do that once the season is over.

The senior defensive end is far too focused on finishing this year with wins in his final two games to consider the past right now. But when he does finally get the chance to reminisce, he knows there will be a lot to look back on.

“I’ve learned a lot being here,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I’ve learned more than I would’ve anywhere else. I’ve just learned that the fun is in winning. You really start to realize how much fun it is to win.”

Billed as the second best high school prospect by ESPN in 2010, Jeffcoat more than lived up to his lofty expectations during his historic tenure with Texas. His 57 career tackles for a loss rank third on the Longhorns’ all-time list, while his 24.5 career sacks rank eighth in school history.

Head coach Mack Brown recruited Jeffcoat out of Plano West High School in 2010, and after four years, he believes the senior has been everything the Longhorns hoped for.

“He’s been what the advertisement was when we got him,” Brown said. “He’s tough, he’s smart and he’s started all of four years. He’s never been a problem of any kind. We’ve had a number of great defensive ends at Texas, and he should definitely be in that group.”

Things haven’t always gone exactly as the senior defensive end hoped they would. Jeffcoat endured a 5-7 record as a freshman in 2010, and he failed to attend a BCS bowl game in his first three seasons. In addition, he suffered torn pectoral muscles in 2011 and 2012, with the latter ending his junior season after just six games.

Despite this adversity, Jeffcoat carries no regrets from his career at Texas. He believes these struggles continue to shape him as a player as well as a person.

“I don’t regret anything because I think it’s helped me to grow,” Jeffcoat said. “I’ve grown a lot through the years. The injuries really helped me not take anything for granted. They really showed me that I love this game of football. … A while ago, I wasn’t able to hit anybody, and I just love it. All these things that have happened to me allowed me to enjoy this game and cherish it.”

Jeffcoat believes his ability to overcome his pectoral surgery has made his impressive senior season all the more rewarding. The defensive end has enjoyed a breakout year, setting a career-high with 10 sacks while leading the team with 18 quarterback hits and 19 tackles for a loss.

None of this will matter to Jeffcoat if he remains unable to lead Texas to a conference championship. He finally accomplished one major goal earlier this season with his first victory over rival Oklahoma, but Jeffcoat admits that failing to win a Big 12 title with Texas would be hard to stomach.

“Looking back, it would be hard,” Jeffcoat said. “I came to Texas to win the Big 12, and I came to Texas to do great things here. It would be tough to see if we didn’t win the Big 12. We’re all playing hard for that, and it’s a goal that everyone wants, especially the seniors.”

A win over Baylor on Saturday would allow Texas to earn at least a share of the Big 12 title that Jeffcoat craves. The senior defensive end expects his team to be ready for a dogfight with the Bears, and another standout performance would give him one more thing to reflect on when his career finally comes to an end.

The Longhorns don’t play with passion. Senior defensive end Eddie Jones can hook his horns and sing “Texas Fight” after losing to Iowa State and his fellow end Sam Acho can pump his fist after making a tackle, but as a whole, the team does not play with a passion or a purpose.

And head coach Mack Brown knows it. He could feel it in August.

“I worry about this team,” Brown said. “On the first Wednesday scrimmage we had this year, I said that we didn’t see the emotion from players.”

Because the Longhorns have had nine consecutive 10-win seasons, they assumed this year wouldn’t be any different. But things aren’t looking so rosy right now and the players are learning that just because they wear a longhorn on their helmets doesn’t mean wins are guaranteed. This season, entitlement won’t get them anywhere. It’s going to take more dedication and energy than ever before.

As the old saying goes, “You play how you practice,” and junior receiver Malcolm Williams admitted that the energy levels have been lower than usual at practice all year.

“It’s been there at times, but it’s been more sketchy,” Williams said. “Some days it’s there, others it’s not and in the past, it’s always been there. We always found a way to bring it. Even at 6 a.m. practices we found a way.”

The enthusiasm was there in the past because of leadership. Players like Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo and Colt McCoy never would have stood for indifference. In fact, those players were ready to call out their teammates if need be.

Brown recalled the 2008 Fiesta Bowl when Texas was about to play Ohio State. He was worried his team didn’t have an edge in pre-game, but then he heard a lot of commotion coming from the locker room.

“I heard all this ruckus and I turned to [strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden] and I say, ‘Jeff, something’s happening in there, go see what’s going on. It sounds like a fight,’” Brown said. “So he goes in and walks back out with a smile on his face and he says, ‘Uh, no coach, it’s Roy [Miller]. He’s just getting everyone ready to play.’ He was throwing trash cans and screaming.”

This team may not be the type to throw trash cans, but a few players discussed what they are going to do this week to change the overall attitude.

“Now is the time where it’s not a time to be comfortable,” he said. “Everybody has to get out of their comfort zone whether that’s in their leadership styles or in their style of play. You have to be uncomfortable in order to grow.”

Williams said that he is going to lead by example.

“It’s not just about being vocal anymore, it’s my actions, too,” Williams said. “Every time I step out on the field, I try to go to work and work my hardest.”

Senior receiver John Chiles is going let the rest of the team know they still have a lot to play for.

“We have to keep playing each and every game like we are going to win the national championship,” he said. “We have to keep on playing, keep on going, keep on working hard and gel as a team.”

LINCOLN, Neb. — Senior defensive end Sam Acho pounded his chest and pumped his fist as he bounced up and down the rows of his stretching teammates, revving them up with encouraging words before kickoff on Saturday. As the team’s inspirational leader on and off the field, Acho takes it upon himself every week to get his teammates ready to play. This week’s pep talk was especially important, as the Longhorns were a rare underdog facing fifth-ranked Nebraska.

“My brother is a great player and a great leader and the whole team feeds off of his emotions,” junior linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. “He’s very emotional in every game, but in this game, he got rollin’ and he got rollin’ early.”

Sam Acho was indeed “rollin’” early. On Nebraska’s first offensive series, he crunched tailback Roy Helu, Jr. and Nebraska ended up going three-and-out. On their second series, the Huskers fumbled at their own 21-yard-line, setting the Longhorns’ offense in prime field position to score a touchdown. The third time was not a charm for Nebraska’s offense, as they went a second three-and-out on the following series.

Heading into Lincoln, Texas knew that if it were going to win, the key to the game was simple: Neutralize quarterback Taylor Martinez, and you stop the entire Nebraska offense. The Longhorns’ defense achieved that goal, holding Martinez, who had been averaging 147.4 rush yards per game, to 21 yards on 13 carries. His passing stats weren’t impressive either, as he went a measly 4-of-12 for 63 yards.

Once the Longhorns took the magic out of T-Magic (Husker fans’ nickname for Martinez), he was eventually replaced by backup senior Zac Lee in the third quarter.

“We had an answer for everything they came out in,” junior safety Blake Gideon said. “Our scheme was to take the legs of Martinez out of the game. Everybody saw what he was able to do to previous teams and we wanted to get into a situation where he was giving it up, putting it in the air. And that’s what we did.”

Nebraska had the nation’s second-best rushing attack before playing Texas, as it averaged 337.6 yards per game. On Saturday, the Longhorns held them to a total of 125, a complete 180-degree turn after allowing UCLA and Oklahoma to combine for 388 yards on the ground.

“We definitely wanted [Martinez] to know that we were going to be here and we were going to be here for four quarters,” Acho said.

After a sluggish start to the season, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was not going to let his defense lie down and take a beating for the rest of the year. He explained that last week’s bye was a perfect way for the team to regroup and get their act on a more consistent basis.

“Our performance had been up and down and we were able to put four good quarters against a really good running football team,” Muschamp said. “We told the players before the game: we execute, we tackle, we win.”

And that’s what Texas did. Through assignment football, minimal mistakes and gameplan execution, the Longhorns were able to take down Nebraska against all odds.

“It just goes to show how good we can be when we play to the Texas standard,” Acho said. “It’s time to get things rolling now and it’s time to play Texas football.”