Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks was a wide-eyed freshman when Texas lost to UCLA last year and played only on special teams against the Bruins. This time around, he’ll have a much bigger role.
“We all have that in the back of our mind,” Hicks said. “It was tough, but it’s a new year, and we’ve worked since January to become a better team and a better defense. I think we are.”
The Longhorns were ravaged for 264 rushing yards in the 34-12 defeat at the hands of the Bruins a season ago. This weekend, Texas travels to Pasadena hoping to return the favor.
Hicks’ name was not in the box score for that 22-point demolition, but the six-foot-two, 228-pounder from West Chester, Ohio is the Longhorns’ second-leading tackler. Hicks did not start at all in 2010 but has been relied on much more this season, starting at outside linebacker from day one.
Despite the drubbing Texas took last year, Hicks is confident in his team’s chances Saturday.
“If we focus on what we’re doing and execute, no team, we think, can beat us,” Hicks said.
The Longhorns can certainly feel good about themselves with Hicks on defense.
Hicks racked up 11 tackles against BYU, eight of them before halftime. It’s only been two games, but Hicks has already notched 16 stops and has a chance to put a triple-digit number in the tackle column this season. Not bad for someone who had just 23 as a freshman last year.
But if Hicks’ performance against BYU was any indication as to how the linebacker will play this season, 100 tackles is a legitimate possibility.
“[Jordan’s] really played well the first two weeks,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “He’s a very physical tackler. We think very highly of Jordan. He takes his craft very seriously. You’re happy for all your guys, but Jordan’s a guy that when you see him playing well, it gives you a lot of pride.”
Emmanuel Acho is the only player who made more tackles than Hicks for Texas in its contest against BYU, and his 23 tackles lead the team. Acho and fellow senior linebacker Keenan Robinson have done well leading a group of linebackers that, with the exception of Acho and Robinson, is made up of entirely underclassmen, including Hicks.
“I thought the linebackers played well,” Diaz said. “They understood the challenge, first of all, in terms of attacking the line of scrimmage in order to contain the run game. It turned into a passing game and we were able to do some things from there to shut them down.”
Diaz has been demanding of his defense, and it’s paid off so far. Texas has allowed only one touchdown and has buckled down when needed to, as it gave up only three points and held the Cougars to less than three yards per play in the second half this past weekend.
“We have to do everything exactly right,” Diaz said. “Not almost right. Not a little bit right. When we fly to LA, we want the pilot to land the plane exactly the way it’s supposed to land. There’s a lot of airports in LA. It can land in Burbank. It can land in Orange County. No, we want it to go to LAX. We want it to be exact.”
Wherever the plane lands, the Longhorns will be glad that Hicks is on it.