AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Every time Holton Hill touches the ball, the field seems to open up for him all the way to the end zone.
Three touches, three touchdowns. Pretty good production for a defensive back.
The Texas junior has emerged as a surprising scoring threat for Texas and should give USC quarterback Sam Darnold plenty to think about when Longhorns (1-1) and No. 4 Trojans (2-0) face off Saturday night in their first meeting since the classic 2006 Rose Bowl.
Hill has scored on interception returns of 31 and 45 yards and returned a blocked field goal 65 yards to lead the team in scoring after the first two games.
A part-time starter under previous coach Charlie Strong, Hill has seized a chance under new coach Tom Herman to re-define his career.
“After the (Maryland) game he hugged me and was kind of choked up and said, ‘Coach, thank you for believing in me.'” Herman said. “We didn’t win, which we all wanted to. But to see him have that kind of renewed sense of self-pride and self-worth was pretty cool.”
Hill was arguably the lone bright spot for the Texas defense in the 51-41 season-opening loss. He reached for tipped-pass on the third play from scrimmage and coasted in for a touchdown. His second score in that game was just as easy. Nose guard Poona Ford blocked a field goal attempt and the ball bounced right to Hill who sped for the end zone. On both touchdowns, no Maryland player was even close to stopping him.
Hill became the first FBS player in 10 years to score on an interception return and blocked field goal in the same game. The first interception return was the first non-offensive touchdown for Texas since 2015 and it was Texas’ first since Hill scored against Oklahoma State that season.
His interception return last week against San Jose State took more skill as Hill had to weave his way from one side of the field to the other before finding the goal line. Hill relied on his old skills as a running back in high school to get him there.
“I guess I’ve still got it,” Hill said. “Got the ball and followed my blocks … I just used my vision. I cut it back and I was like, ‘Yes, thank you.”'”
He may have similar chances against USC. While Darnold was shredding the Stanford secondary for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions, giving him four in two games. But even with those miscues, Darnold’s 81 percent completion rate against Stanford was a career best after throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns in the Trojans’ first game.
Darnold credited a stable of Trojans receivers with making the plays needed to beat Stanford.
“The ability for our receivers to make plays when needed, when the opportunity presents itself make the most of it. I think they did a great job of that,” Darnold said.
It will be Hill’s job to corral that talent. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Hill is a combination of long, lanky and strong. He’s fast enough to stay with receivers, strong enough to jam them at the line of scrimmage and tall enough to win the jump ball.
But he can’t do it alone. Despite Hill’s touchdowns against Maryland, the Longhorns defense got pushed around that day. They recovered against San Jose State and posted the first home shutout since 2012. The Longhorns will be far from home against the Trojans.
“I feel like we’re as ready as we’re going to be,” Hill said. “Mentally, we feel like we’re there. We’re ready.”
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