NEW ORLEANS — After Oklahoma's defense struggled to stop the pass and force turnovers early in the year, one of the defense's larger players has become the team's best ballhawk.
Linebacker Jordan Evans leads the team with four interceptions and has returned two for touchdowns. Big 12 quarterbacks appear to be having trouble seeing the 6-foot-2, 233 pound senior, as he has lived in passing lanes the second half of the season.
"He just has a knack for the ball, honestly," junior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said of Evans. "I watch some of the stuff he does and I just wonder 'how did he do that? How did he trick the quarterback into throwing that?' He's a real savvy player."
The turning point for Evans came after the Texas Tech game when the Sooners allowed 734 passing yards to quarterback Patrick Mahomes. His father, Scott Evans, a former OU defensive tackle, made his son re-watch the game with him.
"When you take a look at that stuff and truly evaluate it like my dad did and I did, you've got to look at yourself in the mirror," Evans said.
Evans, a Norman native, was so focused on improving his performance that he didn't attend class all week. And as he improved his effort, pass coverage — something he learned playing defensive back in high school — came naturally.
"Pass coverage is something I've always liked ... when I first got here my freshman year, I was known for getting picks and deflections," Evans said. "Whenever it came to the second half of the season, I think me just playing harder made me get to my drops quicker and it gave me some success."
The second-half success has shown up in Evans' confidence as well. He's no longer embarrassed — he's cracking jokes.
"He always says he's the best DB on the team," Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. "He always says funny stuff like that."
With the Sugar Bowl against Auburn the only game left in his Oklahoma career, Evans is still hearing from his dad about his game.
"He's texted me some things throughout the week to have me mentally prepared," Evans said. "I just tell him 'yo, you've got to chill out. I'm good. I've got you.'"