AUSTIN, Texas -- From the first snap of Thursday's game, Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield had to know trouble was coming. The last thing a freshman quarterback wants to see is a defense he wasn't prepared for, and that’s exactly what Texas unveiled.
Mayfield had seen enough film to know who Jackson Jeffcoat was. He didn’t see any film of Jeffcoat darting around the field as a linebacker. There was no film of Jeffcoat attacking up the middle as a stand-up pass rusher.
“They just didn’t know what to do,” Jeffcoat said.
Before their 41-16 victory over Texas Tech, the Longhorns had never run what defensive coordinator Greg Robinson calls his “Spinner" package. The key chess piece in that scheme was Jeffcoat, who played a hybrid end/linebacker role and did a little bit of everything.
“It just gives you some different options, you know,” Robinson said. “It creates a different style of defense to the offense, how they block and those kinds of things. We were fortunate most times that it helped us.”
It’s the kind of role that the son of a defensive line coach can get behind. Teammates say Jeffcoat called his new hybrid job the “Viper” position, and by all accounts, Robinson installed the scheme during Texas’ recent bye week.
In his first game at “Spinner,” Jeffcoat made a career-high three sacks and seven tackles. Not bad for a guy who was battling flu-like symptoms last week and even missed practice Tuesday.
Needless to say, Kliff Kingsbury and his staff didn’t see Jeffcoat’s new role coming. Neither did the Red Raiders’ offensive linemen.
“No, that's something they had for tonight, which is smart,” Kingsbury said. “It's just smart.”
Jeffcoat's new role is not new in a Robinson defense. He used “Spinner” as the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. He used “Spinner” at Michigan and Syracuse. Robinson even broke out the scheme in 2004, while co-running Texas’ defense, including against Texas Tech.
Said Robinson in 2005, his first year as head coach at Syracuse: “At Texas last year, I really didn’t have a guy who [could be effective in it] … we used it a little bit because it was good against certain teams."
This time around at Texas, Robinson has a guy in Jeffcoat who, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, looks the part. He played more than 60 snaps against Tech, and on no more than 16 plays did he line up as a defensive end. He rushed from his “Spinner” role on 23 plays, imitated a linebacker nearly a dozen times and dropped back into coverage a dozen more times.
“I think that’s something he thrived off of,” Texas tackle Donald Hawkins said. “Use your best player the best way you can.”
His new role was just what Texas needed. With Jeffcoat at “Spinner,” Robinson could highlight the Longhorns’ surplus of six defensive ends and compensate for having just two experienced defensive tackles. The three-man front that Jeffcoat lined up behind typically comprised of ends Cedric Reed and Reggie Wilson, with Malcom Brown at nose guard.
Texas’ defensive line produced eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.
“I think they came out and really confused us,” Texas Tech lineman Jared Kaster said.
Reed, who recorded two sacks, added this: “Our defensive slogan is ‘QB breakers.’ We knew that if we put pressure on the freshman quarterback, he would lose his flow sometimes.”
Mayfield was benched after throwing for 237 yards and no scores on 44 attempts. He was sacked seven times and had to tuck and run nine times, usually because of pressure.
Texas’ linebackers needed the help, too. Steve Edmond was lost for the season with a lacerated liver in the second quarter. Kendall Thompson exited with a head injury. That left Robinson with Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens, who also tried playing “Spinner” in the fourth quarter.
Will those depth issues necessitate more “Spinner” packages for Texas going forward?
“That’s just a thing we put in for this game. Who knows if we run it next week?” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “But it is really useful.”
Byndom believes the scheme works best when going against passing offenses, and Texas expected the Red Raiders to pass 90 percent of the time. That won’t be the case against Baylor on Saturday.
Jeffcoat was the centerpiece of Robinson’s grand plan for stopping Texas Tech. Next up is the Longhorns defense’s biggest test yet. There's no better time than now for everything Robinson has in his playbook.
“Any kind of advantage we can get, we’re trying to take it,” Byndom said.