Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson is a one-man nightmare for Big 12 Conference coaches.
When opposing coaches begin to game plan for the No. 6 Longhorns, it begins with how to keep the senior playmaker from disrupting their offense. Although, like Kansas coach Mark Mangino said during the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference Monday, that is “easier said than done.”
On Saturday, Johnson was Oklahoma State coach Les Miles’ problem. Johnson racked up 18 tackles and three for a loss in the Longhorns’ 56-35 comeback win against the No. 25 Cowboys to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Texas coach Mack Brown said Johnson was the reason the Longhorns were able to erase a 35-7 deficit with 4:14 left in the first half. The 28-point comeback was the largest in Texas history, surpassing the 19-point deficit against Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl.
“He dominated the second half with so many tackles for a loss,” Brown said. “I’ve said it and he proved it again, I believe he is the best player in the country.”
Johnson’s dominance within the conference has turned other coaches into believers.
Mangino said if his team wasn’t playing Texas this weekend, he would take pleasure in Johnson’s play.
“Derrick Johnson is just a phenomenal player,” Mangino said. “If you run at him, he’ll stop it. If you run away from him, he’ll run it down. You try to keep the ball away from him as best as possible, he’s the type of player if you’re not playing this week, you would enjoy sitting back and watching him.”
While Mangino said he would enjoy watching Johnson, most of the conference’s coaches don’t look forward to watching tapes of Johnson. After seeing him on tape, they struggle to find ways to slow him down.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said there is no way to stop Johnson and credits him with Texas’ high level of defensive play.
“He is one of the best players I’ve ever seen,” Pinkel said. “He is a great, great player with a great motor. He is an impact player who changes football games.
“It’s hard to find linebackers and run him down, you can’t double team him and do certain things because of where he plays.”
Baylor coach Guy Morriss got a first-hand look at Johnson’s dominance when he made 11 tackles in Texas’s 44-14 win against the Bears on Oct. 2. He said it is easy to see why Johnson is so dominant.
“The kid has a great frame, runs well and plays with great intensity,” Morriss said. “He is the emotional leader down there and he understands how the game of football is supposed to be played.”
No. 2 Oklahoma’s Jason White also understands the game and the senior quarterback can also dominate games.
While the defending Heisman Trophy winner is sharing the spotlight with Adrian Peterson, the Sooners’ standout freshman running back, White showed he can still win games against No. 22 Texas A&M.
White tied the Sooners’ record with five touchdown passes and 292 yards to earn Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Colorado’s Stephone Robinson ran his way to Special Teams Player of the Week with a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown to give the Buffaloes’ a 24-21 third quarter lead.
NEW MEDIA METHOD:
Texas Tech seniors Sonny Cumbie and Mike Smith are the only Red Raiders talking with the media since coach Mike Leach is worried about his team’s ability to stay focused on football.
Cumbie, a quarterback, and Smith, a linebacker, are the only players Leach has allowed to deal with media members since Texas Tech’s 51-21 loss to Texas on Oct. 23. After that game, Leach refused to make players available because of their inability to handle the distraction.
“I just felt like they were the leaders on both sides of the ball and felt they would be less distracted by taking that on,” Leach said. “We need to get better at not letting things distract us.”
Leach said the limited availability is a change for Texas Tech, though. Leach said he thought at times last year his team was not able to fully handle the pressure.
“As a team, we’re more accessible than most,” he said. “In the long run, we’re more open than most teams and maybe too open … I don’t think the current situation is ideal, but I have to keep them concentrated.”
Leach, who complained earlier this year that Texas Tech does not get as much media attention as other teams, also said he understands this new tactic will not help that problem.
“You guys will probably get frustrated, but that is something I will have to deal with,” Leach said. “It’s just part of the deal. We could sit and do interviews all day or we can sit and get focused.”
Baylor has not registered a road win since Morriss became coach last season. The Bears’ most recent win away from Waco, Texas was a 20-7 victory Aug. 31, 2000 against North Texas, a string of 23 consecutive road losses.
Morriss said while the Bears have struggled away from home, it is something they have to deal with.
“We have been terrible on the road and we have to work to get this monkey off our back,” Morriss said. “Every year, 40 to 50 percent of your games are on the road, we better learn how to deal with it.”
He said playing on the road is not easy, but when he played at Texas Christian in college and then with Philadelphia and New England in the NFL, it was something he enjoyed.
“I can relate back to when I played and I liked playing on the road,” Morriss said. “I enjoyed playing where they spit on you, threw bottles at you, cursed at you.
“The toughest place (to play) was in Philly in front of the home crowd. I remember a Monday night, we were playing the Rams … We were backed up in our own end zone and there were C-cell batteries being thrown from the upper deck. And they were being thrown at us, not the Rams.”
Kansas will start its third quarterback of the season when senior John Nielsen goes under center against Texas on Saturday.
Starter Adam Barmann injured his right shoulder against Iowa State on Oct. 30 and backup Jason Swanson went down with a right shoulder injury against Colorado on Saturday.
Mangino said he was pleased with the walk-on’s performance against the Buffaloes and looks for improvement with a full week of practice as the starter.