If there is anything to be learned from cornerback Duke Thomas’ performance in last week’s 23-0 victory over Kansas, it’s that the junior is brimming with confidence.
“The thing about Duke now is that he has a lot of confidence; sometimes he plays with too much of it,” head coach Charlie Strong said after the game.
At times, that confidence can work in his favor, as it did in his two-interception performance against the Jayhawks. Other times, it can lead to a blown assignment that results in a game-losing touchdown, as was the case against UCLA. Regardless of the result, as every defensive back knows, the only thing that matters is the next play.
“You have to have a short memory at cornerback,” Thomas said.
He never watched the blown assignment against the Bruins again. When they got to that play in film study, defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn skipped over it.
“It didn’t really break my confidence,” Thomas said after beating Kansas. “I was upset that I let my team down, but it definitely feels good to come out and have two interceptions this game and have a good win.”
Thomas’ first interception came in the second quarter after he put himself in a great position to make the play.
“He does a great job of covering,” Strong said. “The thing he does is study receivers during the week, so he knows the throws and what is going to happen.”
Two possessions later, Thomas, a native of Killeen, Texas, was at it again. In the waning seconds of the first half, Kansas sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart fired a pass deep downfield and Thomas undercut it, notching what he thought was his second pick of the game. However, a roughing the passer penalty wiped the play out. But, on the very next play, Cozart threw a Hail Mary into the end zone to end the half, and Thomas came up with it again.
“After [the first] play, I was really upset and Quandre [Diggs] is laughing at me talking about, ‘Yeah you get no picks; you not gonna have more than me,’” Thomas said. “But I ended up getting another one [and] over here in the corner, we started laughing at each other.”
Thomas didn’t stop there. In the third quarter, he broke up a Kansas pass on fourth down from the Texas five-yard line to help preserve the shutout.
Thomas’ play may finally be catching up to his confidence level, which would drastically help the Longhorns navigate through their conference schedule.
“He’s just getting better every week,” senior receiver John Harris said. “You know, we go at it all the time in practice, and, I mean, it shows up on the field just like you saw.”
The Longhorns host Baylor this weekend and will likely be more than two-touchdown underdogs come kick off. Fifth-year senior receiver Antwan Goodley is healthy, and freshman phenom KD Cannon is one of the Bears’ other receivers who can make plays.
“Our whole defense really got to take on challenges when they come,“ Thomas said. “And we are going to try to step up to the occasion and make plays happen.”
Only time will tell if Thomas’ performance against Kansas proves to be the turning point of his career. One thing is certain, however; even when he struggles, the junior won’t be one to doubt his own abilities.
“I don’t think you are going to ever shatter his confidence,” Strong said. “Even if he had got beat out everyday, he would bounce back somehow. He’s not going to get broken down.”