Josh Turner has earned spot in Longhorns starting lineup

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Sophomore safety Josh Turner made the most of his first start, making his first career interception, a play that set up a go-ahead Texas touchdown and proved to be a turning point in the Longhorns’ 56-50 victory over Baylor this past Saturday.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Ever since Jordan Hicks went down in the first half of the Longhorns’ win over Ole Miss more than a month ago, the Longhorn defense has been searching for a spark. The search ended with Josh Turner.

Texas had surrendered 28 points to Baylor in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Bears were threatening to take the lead when Turner, a sophomore defensive back, chased down a scrambling Nick Florence, laying out to catch him from behind.

Turner made his first career interception on the next play. Florence overthrew his intended target and Turner, with his airborne body parallel to the ground, picked him off. Johnathan Gray’s 25-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive gave the Longhorns a 35-28 lead they would not give up.

“We were in thirds,” Turner recalled. “I was in the right third, and I was just reading the quarterback. I saw that he kind of overthrew the receiver, and I was just trying to make a play on the ball.”

Adrian Phillips was supposed to be the solid safety opposite senior Kenny Vaccaro that solidified Texas’ secondary. His struggles led to sophomore Mykkele Thompson cracking the starting lineup, but Thompson has missed numerous tackles since. It’s time for Turner, who made his first career start during Saturday’s 56-50 win over Baylor, to become a mainstay in the first-team defense.

“He did an excellent job of making plays in the time that he was in, especially geting the turnover that was very crucial to the game and I think it did spark a lot of momentum,” junior cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “That’s what we expect and what he expects of himself. They know when their opportunity comes, they have to take advantage of it and I think he did an excellent job of it this weekend.”

On Baylor’s last possession of the first half, with Texas holding a 42-28 lead, Florence lofted a pass to his favorite receiver, Terrance Williams. The senior wideout leads the country with 1,013 yards ­— more yards than seven FBS teams have passed for this season.

Williams caught the pass in the corner of the end zone but Byndom kept him from catching it in bounds while Turner ranged over to jar the ball loose and ensure he wouldn’t make the catch. Baylor settled for a field goal on the next play as the Longhorns trotted into the locker room with an 11-point lead at halftime.

“The play he makes down there in the end zone is a great play,” head coach Mack Brown said. “That’s a perfect throw and catch. Carrington Byndom’s got him covered up but Josh knocks him out of bounds.”

Phillips and Vaccaro are listed as Texas’ starting safeties for its game against Kansas this weekend. Thompson and Turner are listed as backups. But if the way he played against Baylor last Saturday was any indication of what we can expect from him, Turner needs to be on the field more than Phillips and Thompson.

“We’re excited about the plays that he made,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “That’s how we know our persistence is working, but there’s some things that we have to continue to correct. We’re all in it together. We can’t be too excited about anything.”

Diaz is right. He shouldn’t dwell on the efforts of individuals too long — as good as they may be — as long as his unit is on pace to go down as, statistically, the worst defense in school history. But starting Turner would go a long way toward turning things around.

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: Turner the spark Texas' secondary needs