Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Earl Thomas is quickly developing into Texas’ most productive player in the secondary. The sophomore strong safety leads the Big 12 with four interceptions, including a 92-yard return for a touchdown last week that helped turn around the game against Colorado.
We talked with Thomas earlier this week about the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry, his recent success as a playmaker and what the Longhorns need to do to contain Sam Bradford and the Sooners Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
Do you have any explanation for why you had two interceptions all of last season and already have four this year?
Earl Thomas: I don’t know. It’s just happening for me. I’m just trying to read the offense the best I can and try to make plays for my defense.
You had a memorable game last season against Oklahoma with two interceptions, two passes broken up and a forced fumble that helped lead to Texas’ comeback victory. What was it like to have that success specifically in that game?
ET: On my first interception, I was just playing a high safety and I got a good jump on the ball. And on the last play in the end zone, I just tried to plead my case a little to see if they would give it to me.
You needed those interceptions, didn’t you?
ET: Yeah [chuckling], that’s all I had.
How disappointed were you with how everything happened last year, most notably your victory over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, but still not going to the Big 12 championship game?
ET: It hurt because we were a little short in the computer rankings. Hopefully this year, it will work out for us.
Do you think much on how it all played out last season?
ET: I guess it’s the way it goes in college football. They finished strong and we lost late. You can’t do that.
Is there any explanation why you and your teammates are playing so much better this year than last year on defense?
ET: We are just taking the games one at a time, not looking ahead or past anything. We plan every play and we try to finish every play. We’re playing everything like it’s our last.
Is some of it because you guys are obviously more experienced?
ET: Yeah. Last year, it seemed like we just filled it out by roaming around. This year, we know we are doing a little better as far as our scheme and knowing our defense.
What do you think has been the biggest reason for your individual success this season?
ET: It’s just studying more film, knowing what to do and reading the offenses better.
Did the Texas coaches do anything this week that was meant to make your team more excited to play on Saturday?
ET: Just the motivation by itself is OU, the Red River Rivalry. It will be Texas on one side and Oklahoma on the other. What more do you need?
So the coaches haven’t done anything unusual or funny as far as their motivation?
ET: No, it’s just like another week.
What’s your perception when you go to the Texas-Oklahoma game and see that stadium, split down the middle with Texas fans on one side and Oklahoma fans on the other? What is that like to play in that atmosphere?
ET: It was crazy. You would think it’s like 5 p.m., but the game is played in the morning. Everybody is out there rowdy. It’s a great experience.
Sam Bradford blistered you guys for five touchdown passes last season. How do you plan to confound him this season?
ET: He’s a good quarterback and he’s going to try to do what he is coached to do. We’re going to try to keep him from doing anything out of the ordinary. We’re just going to go out and play ball and see what happens.
What do you remember about last year’s game and why the secondary played well?
ET: Our defensive line played really well for us and they had a lot of heart. They were getting back there and putting pressure on the quarterback. That helped us.
This game could be a really good defensive battle. What would that be like to have a big-time defensive battle in this series with everybody scoring points around the country?
ET: I think it will be a shootout, a really good game. Both defenses are real good and they create a lot of turnovers. Hopefully, we can stand out and do our best.
Oklahoma’s young receivers dropped 11 passes last week. What can you do as a safety to see if you can keep those streaks happening?
ET: I’m expecting the receivers will do a good job catching the ball. We’re just going to defend them.
Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles is questionable in the lineup because of his fractured scapula. How are the Sooners different when Broyles is in the lineup than when he’s not playing?
ET: Broyles is a great receiver and is a speedy guy. He poses the best threat vertically down the field they have. He’s a good receiver and a good kid down the field. He’s also a threat on punt returns. We’re going to try to bracket him and get after him a little bit.