AUSTIN — After having a year to reflect on a five touchdown loss to Notre Dame, two leaders on the Texas Longhorns defense are ready for the long-awaited rematch against the Irish. With so many younger players likely to play, both senior safety Dylan Haines and sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson know they have to provide leadership in order to bring their team down to earth. Both players are confident in their ability to do just that and in their team’s ability to play.
“I don’t want to go out there and provide a sense of nervousness or anything that the young guys might pick up on,” Haines said. “I want them to feel confident because a lot of young guys are going to play, so I want them to see myself as confident and being well-prepared for the game. In turn, that will make them well-prepared and confident, and that’s when everyone plays best.”
Jefferson, while also confident, stressed that the younger guys are playing the same game they played at the previous level.
“They’ve got to go out there and play just like any other game,” Jefferson said. “You transition from high school to college and you’ve just got to know it’s just a game.”
One of the things Haines mentioned that will be helpful for his team come Sunday is where the game is taking place.
“We get them at home now,” Haines said. “It definitely was a crazy environment going up there last year. Even for myself as a guy who played two years, going up there and playing in a stadium like that, it opened your eyes and you were kind of shocked. For the young guys, I can only imagine what it was like. The fact we’re going to be playing here in a stadium we’ve been practicing the last week, and we’ve spent a lot of days practicing out there, so it’s going to be nothing new for a lot of people. I think that’s going to bring some level of comfort, but like I said we have to take our preparation the same because we know that they’re going to come ready to play.”
Both players became very familiar with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s new offense this past spring and fall. Even though their goal during that time was to stop the offense from scoring, Jefferson remained confident in his offense’s ability to move the ball on other defenses.
“They’re going to be fast and they’re going to be consistent,” Jefferson said about the offense. “Look at last year, we really established our run game in the OU game, then Chris [Warren] came in the Texas Tech game and showed who he really was. That puts a bigger focus on other defenses because they have to worry about our run and pass game now.”
Although head coach Charlie Strong is yet to name a starting quarterback, Jefferson has faith in whoever takes the first snap.
“I do have equal confidence in both of them,” Jefferson said regarding senior Tyrone Swoopes and freshman Shane Buechele. “I’m very impressed by how they’ve both played and they’ve both been battling this whole fall camp. Even throughout the spring they battled. It was really big for Jerrod [Heard] to move to receiver. That just shows you what type of team we’ve been. Those guys are going to buy in. I believe in those two guys.”
After allowing five touchdowns in last season’s game, both Jefferson and Haines mentioned major differences between this year’s team and last year’s squad.
“Guys are running to the ball,” Jefferson said when asked what he thought was the biggest difference on defense this season. “When you have all 11 guys running to the ball, somebody may miss a tackle but somebody else is going to be there. We’ve been focusing on tackling a lot, especially every day we do some type of circuit drills to make sure we got our techniques down. It’s been helping us.”
Haines said the team’s buy-in is what has caught his eye.
“I think it’s a lot improved from last year,” Haines said. “We’re going to have another player-held film session today. It’s going to be voluntary. That’s going to be who shows up and I think we’re going to be expecting the whole defense to show up.”
Haines does not need any more highlights of 2015’s game playing in the halls of Moncrief. He wants the game to get here so his team can prove they are different.
“Everyone knows what happened last year,” Haines said. “We’re not trying to have that happen again.”