senior linebacker

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Senior linebacker Jordan Hicks has been through it all.

High expectations? Check. He signed with the Longhorns as a five-star recruit and was a member of a highly touted recruiting class signed on the heels of Texas’ loss in the 2010 BCS Championship game.

Losing seasons? Check. He played in all 12 games during Texas’ disastrous 5-7 2010 campaign.

Coaching changes? Check. In his five seasons at Texas, he has played for four different defensive coordinators, including recently fired Florida head coach Will Muschamp his freshman year.

Injuries? Check. He suffered a season-ending hip injury in the third game of 2012 and tore his Achilles in the fourth game of 2013. These difficulties staying on the field in recent seasons have put in perspective the importance of staying healthy.

“It’s something I cherish every time I go out there is my health,” Hicks said. “It’s a blessing to be out there playing, feeling as good as I am.”

All of these experiences have culminated into the Texas defense relying on Hicks’ awareness to put them in position to succeed.

“What’s great for us on defense is you have Hicks, and Hicks is kind of the leader,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “He lines up everyone, gets everybody in position.”

But this season, he has made a more obvious impact on the box score. Through Texas’ 12 games, Hicks recorded a team-high 140 tackles, which is one away from 10th place on Texas’ single-season list.

Of the 136 tackles he has made, 74 of them were non-assisted, which is one more than he recorded in his first four seasons at Texas. His improved abilities to tackle in the open field are partially responsible for the senior’s stats.

“Everybody’s trying to get linebackers in space and create that mismatch, especially with wide outs, but I’m confident in my ability,” Hicks said. “I just play. I try to take good angles, really on my pursuit.”

Hicks ranks fourth on the team in interceptions with two and second in tackles for loss with 13, in addition to 3.5 sacks on the season. His versatile contributions do not go unnoticed by his teammates.

“He’s in every play, and he’s a leader for us, and we’re just proud to have him this year,” senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “He’s been a tremendous boost to the whole team. “

Although Hicks likely would qualify for a sixth year of eligibility, it does not seem like that it is something he will pursue. On Monday, a tweet indicated that he accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, meaning that his Longhorn career will likely conclude in the team’s bowl game.

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."

After two straight seasons being sidelined with injuries, redshirt senior linebacker Jordan Hicks is ready to return to his role as a defensive leader on the team. Hicks is set to lead his squad as one of Texas' most experienced players this season under new head coach Charlie Strong.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

After playing in all 25 games his freshman and sophomore seasons, senior linebacker Jordan Hicks and his role on the team took a sudden plunge. 

He played three games in 2012 and just four in 2013. Hicks — the top linebacker in his recruiting class and fourth-best overall prospect in the class of 2010 — wasn’t slowed down by skill but rather by injuries that kept him sidelined during the past two seasons.

As an honorable mention Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Hicks posted 23 tackles (nine solo), one sack, one tackle for loss and one pressure. He notched six tackles on special teams and even a tackle against No. 8 Oklahoma.

His sophomore year wasn’t much different. Hicks started eight games, and his 65 tackles was good for sixth on the squad — highlighted first by eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack against California and then by five tackles and two passes broken up in his first career start against Rice.

Garnering first-team Academic All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and six appearances on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, the sports management senior seemed set up for another standout season. And yet, as a likely starter for the 2014 season, he hasn’t seen much playing time since 2011. A 2012 hip injury earned him a medical redshirt followed by a 2013 season-ending Achilles injury.

“It’s nice to be back out there practicing and running around,” Hicks said. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to do that … being able to get my feet back under me feels really good.”

This will be Hicks’ fifth-consecutive season with the Longhorns.

“It’s been very, very difficult — very emotional,” Hicks said of his two injury-laden years. “But, you know, I’ve learned a ton about myself and who I am and what I bring to the table. You know, if I go back and think about those times, then it makes this year that much more precious to me.”

Hicks said he stuck with his faith and support system to transform each setback into new strength. 

He’s also working on transforming his figure. Hicks has shed 10 pounds since the spring.

“I wanted to make sure I had my legs on me, and I could run, and I had my speed coming back,” Hicks said. 

While building physical strength and mastering the Longhorns’ new scheme, he hopes he can “teach the young guys” and act as a mentor for fellow players.

However, the adaptations haven’t been easy. In one season, Hicks has to adjust to new coaches, a new program mantra, new teammates and new plays. But he says he’s up to the challenge.

“We are all out there working hard in the heat, in the hottest time of the day, grinding,” Hicks said. “The toughness is going to come.”

UT vs. Kansas (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Texas isn’t playing Kansas anymore.

The Jayhawks ran 36 offensive plays against the Longhorns last week. It took Texas Tech a little more than a quarter to run 40 plays when it upset Oklahoma two weeks ago. Texas held Kansas to 46 total yards this past Saturday. Red Raiders quarterback Seth Doege has completed at least three passes that long this year. Bottom line: The Longhorns’ defense will not have it as easy as it did last week.

“I feel like I’ve played them more than any other team for some reason,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “Every week preparing for them is different since their offense is prolific. It’s always a great challenge just seeing how your defense can match up against a great offense like this.”

Texas Tech may not be recognized as Texas’ rival as much as Oklahoma or Texas A&M, but the Red Raiders have provided some great entertainment for Longhorns fans over the years. Texas Tech knocked Texas out of the national title picture with a thrilling 39-33 win at Lubbock in 2008. From 2002-2007, the Longhorns and Red Raiders nearly averaged a combined 80 points per game, with half of the contests being decided by six points or less. Texas is favored by 12 points this weekend but has not beaten Texas Tech by that much since 2007.

“They’re definitely a formidable rival,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “It’s never the team we see on tape. Whatever mistakes they made, they always bring a little extra for Texas. That’s fine. That’s how we like it.”

Texas made nine tackles for loss last week and recorded three sacks, including one each from starting defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. The Longhorns had the ball for more than 44 minutes but the little time the Jayhawks were on the field they couldn’t move the ball as they got only three first downs.

“We couldn’t have asked for much more of a complete game,” Acho said. “Their offense was very good. They averaged over 400 yards per game. People tried to overlook that. That was a pretty big feat to go out and do what we did.”

Kansas didn’t play much better than Texas Tech did last week. The Red Raiders, after ending Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak, were pounded by Iowa State at home, 41-7, possibly because they were looking ahead to their meeting with the Longhorns.

“We’re definitely expecting the OU-Tech team,” said sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. “I don’t think the Iowa State-Tech team is the one we’re used to seeing. We know that they’re going to be ready to play us.”

Doege went from a 441-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Sooners to a 171-yard, two-interception showing against the Cyclones. But the junior quarterback, who throws for nearly 350 yards per game, leads the Big 12 in completions per game and will present a stiff challenge against a secondary that had a field day against the Jayhawks.

“He should be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Our league has the best quarterbacks in the country by far. I think he’s what sets them apart.”

But, unlike Texas Tech teams of old, Doege hands the ball off every now and then. In 10 seasons under Mike Leach, 81.3 percent of the Red Raiders’ total offense came through its passing game. Under Tommy Tuberville, who’s in his second season as Texas Tech’s head coach, that number has dipped below  70 percent.

“We know they can run the ball,” Jeffcoat said. “I feel like they’ve been running the ball more than lately. They do a decent job with it so you have to be ready.”

It didn’t seem like there was much room for improvement last Saturday, especially on defense. But senior linebacker Keenan Robinson cited missed opportunities to force turnovers, something Texas has emphasized since its most recent bye week. 

If the Longhorns play better defense than it did this past weekend, Texas Tech will have trouble getting its aerial attack moving downfield. But keep in mind the Red Raiders can get away with running for -2 yards if they throw for 450. 

It wasn’t the intent, but Mack Brown’s opening statement with the print media for his Monday press conference sounded more like a death sentence you’d hear before an execution than an actual list of statistics.

“Oklahoma State is No. 1 in scoring offense with 51 points per game, No. 2 in total offense with 577 yards per game, No. 2 in pass offense with 431 yards per game. They had 409 against us last year [in Texas’ 33-16 loss in Austin]. They’re No. 10 in pass efficiency, No. 5 in third-down efficiency. They’re successful on 56 percent of their third downs. They’re 13th in the country in the red zone — 26 touchdowns and eight field goals.”

In fewer words, hold on tight.

The Cowboys will invade Austin this weekend with a quarterback older than last year’s Super Bowl MVP and a receiver who’s better than anybody else in the country.

All that means is that, for the second straight week, this will be a game won or lost in the Texas secondary. No, the Longhorns cannot afford to turn the ball over again five times again and yes, some pass protection would be nice. But this is the defense’s turn to prove it is in fact the strength of the team.

“It’s important to get back to what we’ve been doing,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “As a defense, we want the turnovers to come and have to play better on third down. [Against OU] we did things on defense to win the game and help the offense, but a few plays prevented us from playing at the level they want to.”

The Longhorns abide by a 24-hour rule, meaning that, after Sunday, they were no longer thinking about the 55-17 loss to Oklahoma. And here’s some good news: The players seemed upbeat and confident.

“Last week was a fluke,” Robinson said. “Things happened so quickly and snowballed.”

Heck, maybe even too confident. But there’s nothing wrong with that this weekend. Texas is going to have to believe it actually has a chance in this game. That begins with members of the torn-apart secondary having a short-memory — cliche as it sounds.

“You have to have that,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “You can’t let one game or individual play affect the next.”

That’ll be big. The age and experience gap between OSU’s quarterback Brandon Weeden — a 27-year-old former minor league pitcher for the New York Yankees’ organization — and the Longhorns’ green secondary is wide. Mistakes will be made. Coverages will be busted. Touchdowns will be scored.

“They’re incredibly prolific on offense,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “They do a great job schematically and in execution, they have great talent and they’re going to be hard to stop. We have to get in the film room and be mentally prepared.”

Weeden, who has thrown 15 touchdowns this year and is completing 76 percent of his passes, even has three months on the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.

“That’s pretty good,” Brown said with a laugh.

And his favorite target, wideout Justin Blackmon, puts up 100 more consistently than my dear mother does at Nordstrom: The Biletnikoff Award winner has failed to record 100 or more receiving yards in only three of his last 17 games.

“Blackmon plays hard, blocks hard and will be a real challenge,” Gideon said. “He’s one of the best players in the country so you have to respect him.”

So there’s your first look at the No. 6 Cowboys. Sorry if it was a painful one.

Printed on October 11, 2011 as: Cowboys bring lethal passing attack to Austin this weekend

Keenan Robinson and Kenny Vaccaro bring down a Rice ballcarrier in Texas’ season opener. Robinson and Vaccaro are two of the defense’s most experienced players and will try to help Texas take down an Iowa State team that beat the Longhorns 28-21 last season.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

It’s time for Texas to get back to business.

The Longhorns took advantage of their bye week, getting a few days off to recover and prepare for the start of Big 12 Conference play, which begins on Saturday at Iowa State.

Most players spent time with their families during the bye, with senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho flying to Philadelphia to attend a wedding. Acho, though, watched game film of Iowa State (3-0) during his flights.

He understands what’s at stake for the Longhorns (3-0) this time around after losing to the Cyclones, 28-21, a season ago in Austin. Texas got caught looking past Iowa State then, but the Longhorns say they’ve learned from it.

“Some of the problems we had last year was overlooking opponents and after a year like last you know not to take anybody for granted,” Acho said. “We know we can’t make that mistake again.”

The loss certainly caught the Longhorns off guard. After all, they were coming off an upset over Nebraska on the road. But just when it looked like Texas might turn things around, the Cyclones had other ideas.

And it didn’t help that the Longhorns came out with little energy to start the game.

“It was kind of a daze, you really didn’t know what was going on and then at the end of the game you looked up and it was 28-21,” Acho said.

For fellow senior linebacker Keenan Robinson, the game is a homecoming of sorts. His mother attended Iowa State, and he was born two hours away from the campus.

Robinson, though, expects a different intensity from his team this time, one that was clearly lacking against the Cyclones in 2010, when the Longhorns found themselves in a 28-6 hole early in the fourth quarter.

“Last year it seemed like everyone was playing lackadaisical,” Robinson said. “We weren’t focused. We didn’t compete on every aspect of the game. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders at all. So this Saturday, we need to make sure that every aspect of the game is on point so that we don’t have any regrets when the game is over.”

The Longhorns have come a long way since last season’s loss to Iowa State. The coaching staff has been overhauled, as well as the schemes and the players executing them.

Still, head coach Mack Brown doesn’t hesitate to call that game the worst performance he’s seen during his 13 seasons at Texas.

“I think it was the lowest point,” Brown said. “I couldn’t believe that we would not play with more emotion or passion than we did against Iowa State. I thought the score was not as bad as the game.”

Yes, Texas is off to its fifth consecutive 3-0 start, but senior safety Blake Gideon knows that doesn’t guarantee further success. Texas began the 2010 season with an unblemished record after three games ­­— then lost seven of its final nine.

“Those three games can’t help us any more,” Gideon said. “It’s our job to prepare with everything we have for Iowa State this week, and that’s all that matters until next week.”

While Texas did not play its best ball against the Cyclones last time out, the Longhorns still own a 7-1 record against them. Texas has also fared well following a bye week under Brown, posting a 16-4 record in those games.

The Longhorns avenged their 2010 loss to UCLA with a 49-20 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl in their last game. On Saturday, they will attempt to do the same against Iowa State.

Printed on September 27, 2011 as: Texas getting ready for Iowa State

BYU's rushing attack presents big test for Longhorn Linemen

Forget about the Rice game, the Longhorns will have their first true test of the season on Saturday against BYU.
Texas failed to dominate the point of attack in the season-opener and the team won’t have it any easier this time around against a Cougars squad coming off a hard-earned road win at Ole Miss.

The key to success this week will hinge on the Longhorn’s ability to control the line of scrimmage. Texas must win the battle of the trenches for it to come out on top.

The Longhorns’ run defense was not up to par in Week 1 as the Owls gashed them for 130 rushing yards, with most coming in the middle of the field. Questions about Texas’ toughness remain and head coach Mack Brown is ready for some answers, which he thinks he will get some against BYU.

“We’ve been concerned about our toughness on both lines of scrimmage,” Brown said. “We’ll get some answers Saturday night because this bunch (from BYU) is tough. There’s no question they come in here tough.”

Brown has the Longhorns preparing for an old-fashioned, grind-it-out affair.

“This will be a street fight,” he said. “They’re so physical, they’re big, they’re strong, the strength of their team is both lines of scrimmage. They will fly to the ball and hit you.”
The Longhorns pride themselves on stopping the run, and senior linebacker Keenan Robinson says his team will need to limit the Cougar’s run game early and often. But the key to Texas stopping the BYU tailbacks starts along the defensive line with senior tackle Kheeston Randall.
Randall will certainly have his hands full going against an imposing Cougars front five.

“They’ll probably be one of the biggest offensive lines that we face this year,” he said.

Randall wasn’t pleased with the defense’s performance against Rice, when the Longhorns reverted to their form from year ago — a unit that allowed 138.2 rushing yards
per game.

“We gave up entirely too many yards up the middle,” Randall said. “We didn’t get enough penetration, we went back to the old way that we played and that’s unacceptable.”
No defensive lineman recorded more than one tackle against the Owls. That needs to change. Randall is a proven player, but someone else must emerge and solidify the line. And with Texas’ next two games against quality opponents in BYU and UCLA, the time is now for a second and third tackle to rise to the occasion.

“I don’t think we’re at the point right now where we’ve answered that other tackle spot,” Brown said. “And we need at least three to get where we need to get. We need two more guys to really step up.

“For the next two games, both of these will have physical offensive lineman blocking them, we’ll know more (then). Our guys are going to see really good looking teams for the next two weeks.”

Sophomore tackle Ashton Dorsey will return against BYU after missing the Rice game because of a suspension. Still, the Longhorns are young and inexperienced inside. Randall is the only senior at a position that includes three sophomores and two freshmen.

“We have a lot of maturing to do as a unit,” Randall said.
Texas will also be tested along the offensive line. While the Longhorns plowed their way to 229 rushing yards a week ago, they will need a better effort against the Cougars. BYU limited Ole Miss to 64 yards on 29 carries and knocked out three of the Rebels running backs.

“It’s going to be a big test for us,” said senior left guard David Snow.

The Cougars are coming to Austin with something to prove. They beat an SEC school on the road last week and they’d love to put a Big 12 school on their resume.

The Longhorns, though, welcome the challenge. They have something to prove as well.

“If it is a dog fight we’re going to be ready,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

The Longhorns’ toughness up front will be tried early and often. It’s up to them to fight back. Expect a “street fight.”

Forget about the Rice game, the Longhorns will have their first true test of the season on Saturday against BYU.

Texas failed to dominate the point of attack in the season-opener and the team won’t have it any easier this time around against a Cougars squad coming off a hard-earned road win at Ole Miss.

The key to success this week will hinge on the Longhorn’s ability to control the line of scrimmage. Texas must win the battle of the trenches for it to come out on top.

The Longhorns’ run defense was not up to par in Week 1 as the Owls gashed them for 130 rushing yards, with most coming in the middle of the field. Questions about Texas’ toughness remain and head coach Mack Brown is ready for some answers, which he thinks he will get some against BYU.

“We’ve been concerned about our toughness on both lines of scrimmage,” Brown said. “We’ll get some answers Saturday night because this bunch (from BYU) is tough. There’s no question they come in here tough.”

Brown has the Longhorns preparing for an old-fashioned, grind-it-out affair.

“This will be a street fight,” he said. “They’re so physical, they’re big, they’re strong, the strength of their team is both lines of scrimmage. They will fly to the ball and hit you.”

The Longhorns pride themselves on stopping the run, and senior linebacker Keenan Robinson says his team will need to limit the Cougar’s run game early and often. But the key to Texas stopping the BYU tailbacks starts along the defensive line with senior tackle Kheeston Randall.

Randall will certainly have his hands full going against an imposing Cougars front five.

“They’ll probably be one of the biggest offensive lines that we face this year,” he said.

Randall wasn’t pleased with the defense’s performance against Rice, when the Longhorns reverted to their form from year ago — a unit that allowed 138.2 rushing yards per game.

“We gave up entirely too many yards up the middle,” Randall said. “We didn’t get enough penetration, we went back to the old way that we played and that’s unacceptable.”

No defensive lineman recorded more than one tackle against the Owls. That needs to change. Randall is a proven player, but someone else must emerge and solidify the line. And with Texas’ next two games against quality opponents in BYU and UCLA, the time is now for a second and third tackle to rise to the occasion.

“I don’t think we’re at the point right now where we’ve answered that other tackle spot,” Brown said. “And we need at least three to get where we need to get. We need two more guys to really step up.

“For the next two games, both of these will have physical offensive lineman blocking them, we’ll know more (then). Our guys are going to see really good looking teams for the next two weeks.”

Sophomore tackle Ashton Dorsey will return against BYU after missing the Rice game because of a suspension. Still, the Longhorns are young and inexperienced inside. Randall is the only senior at a position that includes three sophomores and two freshmen.

“We have a lot of maturing to do as a unit,” Randall said.

Texas will also be tested along the offensive line. While the Longhorns plowed their way to 229 rushing yards a week ago, they will need a better effort against the Cougars. BYU limited Ole Miss to 64 yards on 29 carries and knocked out three of the Rebels running backs.

“It’s going to be a big test for us,” said senior left guard David Snow.

The Cougars are coming to Austin with something to prove. They beat an SEC school on the road last week and they’d love to put a Big 12 school on their resume.

The Longhorns, though, welcome the challenge. They have something to prove as well.

“If it is a dog fight we’re going to be ready,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho.

The Longhorns’ toughness up front will be tried early and often. It’s up to them to fight back. Expect a “street fight.”