AUSTIN — Duke Thomas feels the pressure.
The former Copperas Cove standout understands Texas’ chance of winning a Big 12 championship hinges on the defense’s upcoming performance against No. 9 Baylor.
Thomas knows he and his teammates must slow down the Bears’ heralded offense next Saturday, and the sophomore cornerback is embracing the opportunity.
“(As a defense,) we don’t mind having pressure,” he said. “One-on-one’s are part of our life and part of our game. If you want to be an excellent cornerback, then you’ve got to be able to take care of that.”
Thomas certainly did his share Thanksgiving night, finishing with a team-high-tying five solo tackles, including two for a loss, and collected his third interception of the season as the Longhorns defeated Texas Tech 41-16.
After entering the game with 24 sacks over its previous seven games, Texas produced a season-high nine sacks against the Red Raiders, while holding Texas Tech’s top-ranked passing offense nearly 100 yards below its average (400.2 yards per game).
Thanks to Thomas, among others, Texas immediately set the tone on defense.
“These guys did a good job on the edges coming through there,” Longhorns defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. “We were bringing a good amount of pressure early in the game, (and) we had success with it.”
Five snaps into the Red Raiders second series, Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson delivered the first of many sacks to come on Texas Tech freshman quarter Baker Mayfield. Facing third-and-8 on the next play, Thomas recorded the first sack of his career for a 9-yard loss.
“Dialed up the perfect blitz,” he said. “I got in there and made a play. (I was) excited for myself.”
But the enthusiasm was short-lived.
Texas Tech’s Ryan Erxleben perfectly executed a fake punt on the next play, leaving the Longhorns scrambling as he ran 51 yards for the evening’s opening score.
But the Longhorns’ pressure was unrelenting, and the Red Raiders were unable to get into any offensive rhythm for the remainder of the game. Texas responded with 20 unanswered points and led 34-10 before Michael Brewer and Jace Amaro connected on an 11-yard touchdown pass to give Texas Tech its lone offensive touchdown with 11 minutes, 4 seconds remaining in the game.
After a disappointing 38-13 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma State two weeks ago, Texas head coach Mack Brown was excited to see his defense rebound.
“I just thought we look like we hit a wall (against Oklahoma State),” he said. “We didn’t respond very well right before the half. This time, we came right out and it didn’t matter in the second half, we took over the second half.”
Texas scored 21 of its 41 points after halftime as quarterback Case McCoy rushed for a 1-yard touchdown before connecting with Mike Davis for the duo’s second touchdown of the game just four seconds into the fourth quarter, giving the Longhorns a 24-point advantage, 34-10, the Cowboys could not erase.
With the victory, Texas (8-3, 7-1) remains in contention for the Big 12 championship, needing to beat Baylor next week and have Oklahoma defeat Oklahoma State in order to secure the title.
Simply completing their half of the equation will not be easy for the Longhorns, though, especially on defense.
The Bears lead the FBS in points (56.8), while ranking fourth in passing yards (381.9) and ninth in rushing yards (279.7).
Thomas, however, is excited about the challenge.
“We embrace (the pressure) and understand it,” he said. “We already know that Baylor has a huge passing attack and makes a lot of big plays. We have to be able to contain their guys and be able to make plays on our end.”