University of Louisville third-year safety Gerod Holliman was named one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back, earlier this week. His game-clinching play against Kentucky might have convinced the award committee that he's their guy.
Entering the game as the nation's leader with a school-record 13 interceptions, the Miami, Fla., native was one shy of tying the NCAA single-season record, which has stood for 46 years.
Following a Kentucky timeout with 58 seconds remaining in the game and Louisville holding a slim four-point advantage, the Wildcats lined up for a third and nine at their own 47 yard line when Holliman spotted UK quarterback Patrick Towles preparing to run. The safety quickly filled the gap and recorded his only sack of the game to set up a potential game-ending fourth and ten for the visitors.
As impressive and crucial a stop that play was, it was the next play that will forever be remembered. As Papa John's Cardinal Stadium roared at it's peak, Towles dropped back to pass. Pressure fro the U of L defensive front moved Towles out of the pocket and forced him to throw downfield without checking all defenders. Sensing the mistake, Holliman hoped in the passing lane and grabbed his record-tying 14th interception, returning it 65 yards before being forced out of bounds at the Kentucky two-yard line.
“It feels great,” Holliman said of the moment. “It's a great accomplishment. It's a goal that I set coming into this season and I'm glad that I accomplished it.
“It felt really good, especially against Kentucky in a rivalry game. I'm very excited.”
Holliman has benefited by playing in an aggressive defense that has provided constant pressure and support from all areas on the field.
“He's had a great year for us,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said. “There's always other people that play into it. That record is his, but every one of those defensive linemen, linebackers and other guys with the tight coverage have a little piece of it too.”
He credits his work in the film room and on the pratice fields, giving him ability to anticipate an opposing offense and recognize errors quickly.
”I'd say about half of them were off game film.” he explained. “A lot of them were over-throws or miscommunications between the quarterback and receivers.”
The 14 interceptions match the NCAA single season record set by Al Worley of Washington in 1968. Holliman is just the 11th player in NCAA history to record 12 or more interceptions in a season.