SOUTH BEND, IN - - Malik Jefferson was the last Longhorn to walk off the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night.
Walking toward the only tunnel accessing the field, Jefferson walked calmly with his head up as the Irish’s student section, hovered over the tunnel, sang along to songs from its band.
He never looked down.
To him, he knows there are brighter days ahead however murky the present appears after a 38-3 trouncing at the hands of a very talented and experienced Notre Dame team that could have a say in the CFB Playoff by the time it’s all said and done.
There was no looking back on this day as there will be no looking back in the future, regardless of the outcome. It’s always about onward and upward to him.
“It was a true honor,” he said. “You wish you could have had a better outcome.”
You could probably count the number of burnt orange bright spots from the game on both of Bevo’s horns. And you might have a horn to spare if we’re speaking truthfully.
If there was a positive to take away from Saturday it was that Jefferson, or “The Predator” as he’s been dubbed by his Texas-sized contingent of crazed fans, backed up every ounce of hype that he carried with him in this game. There was a lot of it to.
He finished first on the team with five solo tackles and second on the team with nine total tackles. The former five-star recruit from Mesquite (Texas) Poteet also had a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss.
“I feel alright about it,” he said. “I feel like I could have done a lot better at the end of the day. I could have made an adjustment or two. At the end of the day I thought I played alright but know I can play a lot better.”
Was his outing a surprise to him considering it was his first collegiate game?
“I don’t see myself as a freshman so I wasn’t surprised at all,” he said.
Jefferson told HD after the game that he thought he blitzed between 15 or 20 times. That was expected, he said, and it seemed to be when he was at his best too.
He had two tackles on Notre Dame’s first five plays, and could have been awarded with a half tackle on the game’s first play, which he wasn’t.
Included in those tackles were a few bone-jarring hits on Notre Dame’s running backs.
“I know I couldn’t make every play but I was trying,” he said. “… It was no pressure. Fly to the ball. If I saw an open gap I shot through it.”
At the end of the day, though, Jefferson was only one player. It takes 11 to make up a defense. Texas could have used a couple dozen to slow down Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire.
The Irish lefty completed 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just once.
“He played a great game,” Jefferson said. “We thought we were going to see a lot more running from him but he actually passed the ball very well. It comes down to us getting to our spots.”
That was Texas’ biggest issue, aside from not getting very much pressure on Zaire, who often sat comfortably in the pocket thanks to quite possibly the best offensive line UT will see all season.
The intermediate zone just behind Texas’ LBs and in front of its safeties was there for the taking all night long.
“The pass game really killed us,” he said. “The deep ball in the second half. I think at the end of the day we will get that fixed and be alright.
“A lot of our coverage got broken in to,” he said. “We didn’t get into the right position to make plays and that’s what we plan on fixing. I think we have a lot of work to do, especially behind us. I thought we looked OK up front. We have a lot of work to do just overall, period.”
To put it simply, Jefferson was in a bit of shock after the game. Not at the pace of the game, which could be daunting for true freshmen, but by how easily ND moved the ball on his defense.
“I’m very surprised,” he said. “To be honest I wanted to go out there and dominate. I’m not used to getting scored on, but that’s something I plan on doing. Just playing as a defensive player, you don’t want to give up touchdowns.”
Jefferson said he spoke to his fellow freshmen after the game and reminded them that it was only the beginning of the season. There is a lot of football to be played, and a lot of time to get things moving in the right direction.
“I talk to all the younger guys and told them to keep their head up,” he said. “We have a long way to go. You have to put yourself in the situation, focus and get ready for the next game.”