Steve Sarkisian lauds Jaylan Ford, Michael Taaffe for stepping up on defense

Jordan Mitchell, Associate Sports Editor

Last Saturday’s 34-27 victory over No. 13 Kansas State on the road in Manhattan largely came down to Texas’ defense.

Despite the secondary being a bit banged up with senior safety Anthony Cook playing with a cast on his arm and freshman Jaylon Guilbeau out with an ankle injury, the Longhorns largely kept Kansas State’s offense at bay, minimizing All-American running back Deuce Vaughn to 73 rushing yards.

While Texas’ defense gave up 17 points in the second half, head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday that it did a great job playing in a rowdy Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Kansas State turned the ball over twice when the Wildcats only lost five prior to Saturday.

“From the moment we walked into the stadium, they were chanting,” Sarkisian said. “I thought our players showed a lot of composure in that environment to perform and then ultimately come out with a win.”

One of Texas’ most prolific playmakers, junior linebacker Jaylan Ford, had another career game. After adding 10 tackles on the night, Ford recovered a forced fumble by redshirt senior defensive tackle Keondre Coburn during Kansas State’s final possession, solidifying Texas’ first true road win since topping Texas Christian University in Fort Worth last season. 

Ford also added his second interception in three games, handing Wildcat quarterback Adrian Martinez his first interception this season.

“(The) guy is a turnover machine right now,” Sarkisian said. “It’s two endings of games where he’s recovered a fumble.”

Ford is emerging as a player that can do anything on the gridiron. While the Frisco, Texas product currently leads the Big 12 in total tackles and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Week after his performance in Manhattan, he also plays on special teams.

Ford’s vocal leadership is a direct product of his performance on the field. Since emerging as a core defensive component in defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s system, Ford has gone from being reserved to more willing to speak up and rally the team, Sarkisian said.

“I think it’s like anything,” Sarkisian said. “You start making plays, you get confidence, you start getting more belief in what we’re doing and who’s supposed to be doing what. That’s when the voice starts to come out a little more.”

While Ford began making a name for himself early in the season, sophomore defensive back Michael Taaffe first received a significant amount of playtime on the road in Stillwater and Manhattan. With the injuries to the defense, the former two-time Texas 6A state championship defensive most valuable player is one of many second and third-string players to step up.

Sarkisian said that Taaffe is a hard worker who can play multiple positions at a high level, but he’s also a leader that the team gravitates towards. The Westlake product holds a spot on the leadership council, despite being a walk-on sophomore.

“From the moment he stepped onto campus, it was never too big for him,” Sarkisian said. “He knows the defense well, but it’s one thing to know what to do, and it’s another to make your plays. … I’m really proud of him and I think his teammates have a lot of respect for what he does.”