Turner, McFarland stand out in bigger roles

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Longhorns relied on plenty of their usual suspects to overcome Baylor 56-50 on Saturday. But there were some lesser-known players who contributed greatly to Texas ending the Bears’ two-game winning streak in the series.

Safety Josh Turner and tight end M.J. McFarland played arguably their best games as Longhorns and could see expanded roles because of their efforts.

Turner is listed as the backup to Kenny Vaccaro at strong safety but really played a starting role because Texas had to stay in its dime package to match Baylor’s five-wide sets.

He really made his presence known over a two-play period in the middle of the second quarter with the game tied at 28-28. The smaller Turner, who is listed at 6-foot and 177 pounds, stuffed Baylor quarterback Nick Florence for no gain and followed that up by intercepting him on the following snap.

“It was a great read,” Turner said. “It mainly came from our defensive line. They had a great push, and I was in the right place at the right time.”

After an official review upheld the pick, Texas took the ball and capped a five-play drive with a Johnathan Gray 25-yard touchdown, his first score as a Longhorn. The Longhorns never trailed again.

“Josh [Turner] was really exciting,” Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “He made plays. He was lined up right. He was where he was supposed to be. He was disciplined in our coverage. I thought Josh, and really [safety] Mykkele [Thompson], too, really both stepped up.”

Turner finished with six tackles, a half-tackle for loss, an interception and a pass breakup. He actually has a quiet 27 tackles on the season, which is one more than Quandre Diggs, and three pass deflections, which is one more than Carrington Byndom.

“With the help of Coach [Duane] Akina, Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor, they are showing me the way and teaching me the ropes,” he said, “I’m just going with them and feeding off their momentum.”

McFarland will only get credit for a 29-yard catch in the box score but his contributions were far greater than that. None more so than Texas’ first play from scrimmage when it handed the ball of to Daje Johnson around the right side.

McFarland motioned over from the left and sealed off the edge with a block on former Longhorns safety commitment Ahmad Dixon.

“You know I say Daje but everybody -- really M.J. McFarland is the one that got that play started,” said Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “He is the guy that is going to have the biggest block on that play and everything revolved around him doing his job and then once he did, we had a chance to get to the secondary, and the wide receivers are down there blocking their [guy].”

It was a welcomed sign for a Longhorns coaching staff with such high hopes for the redshirt freshman, who has always had the hands to catch the ball but had not been asked to block much before enrolling at Texas.

“He's getting a lot better,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “When you take a wide receiver, and he goes from 230 pounds to 256 and he's never blocked at the line of scrimmage in his life, it's going to take a while. But I think he'll be what we thought he would be in time. He also made a big catch down the middle. So he's starting to play more, and he's started to play better.”

Blocking was the primary concern for McFarland coming out of fall camp and the reason he was listed as an "or" along with Barrett Matthews as the third-string tight end heading into the game.

If he can get that shored up, as it appears he is doing, then he’ll have no problem climbing that chart this season and beyond because it’s clear he can make plays happen as a receiver.

His six catches for 105 yards (15.0 average) trails only one other tight end, senior D.J. Grant, who has 12 catches for 119 yards.