Senior safety Brandon Jones has played on Texas’ biggest stages. He’s seen the colored confetti in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Texas upset Georgia 28-21 in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. He’s seen Oklahoma and Texas trade off the Golden Hat for three seasons.
This week, Jones is back on the big stage, but it’s not a bowl game or the Red River Rivalry. Instead, the stage is Week Two in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium facing the No. 6 LSU Tigers. For many, this is a battle of Defesive Back Universities or an SEC-Big 12 war, but not for the senior captain.
“Most of the guys that were here last year, we’ve been through similar situations where we played top-10 teams before, so it’s really nothing new in that aspect,” Jones said. “We really pride ourselves, like you said, just going 1–0 each week, and I think that mindset has kind of gotten into our system to where we really believe and feel that way.”
On Saturday, LSU will test every facet of Texas’ game, especially its secondary. Anchored by quarterback Joe Burrow, LSU’s offense is littered with skill position talent. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire had nine carries for 45 yards while wide receiver Justin Jefferson had five receptions for 78 yards in the Tigers’ Week One win over Georgia Southern. When these players get out into the open field, responsibility will fall on Jones and sophomore safety Caden Sterns.
“They’re playing with pace,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I mean, they’re going to get lined up and snap the ball faster than LA Tech. And (Burrow) is bright enough to handle that. And obviously there’s going to be … some numbers or leverage issues somewhere, and he’s pretty dang good at finding where those matchups are.”
Jones recognizes LSU’s offensive capabilities and has been in this position several times. But four years of training has Jones prepared, just as he has been in every big game.
“I would say the biggest thing in those games, a lot of people kind of doubt our training and they go back to their old ways and do what they whatever they want to do,” Jones said. “And as a senior now, (you) realize that you have to be able to trust your training and be as comfortable as possible, as well as minimizing mistakes and doing your job. I think a lot of people just try to do too much in those situations and that can cause big plays. So, just being able to trust your training and do your job.”
Against Louisiana Tech, Jones recovered a fumble on the Bulldogs’ 37-yard line, a play that would make way for Texas’ 21-0 lead in the second quarter. He finished the game with seven total tackles and four solo tackles. This performance didn’t come without mistakes, however. In the fourth quarter, Jones was called for roughing the passer that negated an 82-yard interception return by sophomore Joseph Osssai.
However, in big moments like the one coming up on Saturday, Jones continues to fall back on words from defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
“Coach Orlando tells the defense all the time, ‘There’s no such thing as a game where you can’t just turn it on and turn off whenever you want to,” Jones said. “It all starts with the preparation that you have during the week and just (having) fun. If you’re too tight, obviously, you’re thinking too much and mistakes will happen. So just have fun and trust yourself.”
As the captain prepares for one of the biggest games in his senior campaign, he says he is excited to play against the talented team. Against LSU’s fast and capable offense, Jones hopes to come up big when his teammates need him most.
“I would say overall, just (be) able to step up in the moment,” Jones said. “Obviously, you come to Texas to play games like these. So just live in the moment and (be) able to capitalize when your number is called.”