AUSTIN — When does a botched assignment become an argument for a new wrinkle in the playbook? How about when speed demon Daje Johnson mistakably gets his hands on the ball for a 7-yard gain?
The direct snap to Johnson on Texas’ second series of the fourth quarter against California should never have happened. From now on, maybe it should.
“It was by accident,” Johnson said. “I didn’t mean to catch that. I was supposed to go in motion and it ended up coming to me.”
Instinctively, Johnson darted around right end to set up 2nd-and-3 from the Cal 43. Officially, it was listed as a jet sweep. Unofficially, it was a big surprise.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Jerrod Heard said, “but Daje’s a crazy athlete.”
Johnson was excepting Taylor Doyle to have already completed the shotgun snap.
“It was supposed to have been snapped,” Johnson said, “but I was already in front of it and I didn’t want to make it a fumble. I was right behind the center. When he snapped it, I just caught it.”
Now that Johnson has finally out of Charlie Strong’s doghouse, the issue, now, is how to get the ball in Johnson’s hands. The senior never touched the ball on any play from scrimmage against Rice, but his 85-yard punt return for TD against the Owls ranked fourth in school history (tying his own record set against Oklahoma in 2013).
His 24.4 average in punt returns is why Cal never lined up in punt formation Saturday, choosing to quick-kick four times. The decision is the only thing keeping Johnson from leading the Big 12 in punt returns (Players have to average at least two returns per game to be eligible for the list). The Golden Bears also resorted to directional-kicking to keep the ball out of Johnson’s hands on kickoffs.
Johnson had just one other carry against Cal, and he lost a yard. But he had a career-best 145 yards on four grabs. (Can you live with 29 yards-per-catch?)
“He’s one of those guys that you’ve got to have him with the ball in his hands,” Heard said.
Even if it’s quite by accident.