Let’s rewind to the very last play of Virginia’s game Thursday night at Miami. The Hurricanes trailed by seven with four seconds remaining when they lined up at the Virginia 32-yard line. Their starting quarterback, Jacory Harris, had been knocked out of the game two plays earlier after a crushing hit from defensive tackle Matt Conrath. Sophomore Stephen Morris lined up under center. The Cavaliers had to make a stop to secure victory.
Now, let’s pretend you’re in charge of Virginia’s defensive personnel on that particular play. Who would you choose to line up at defensive end opposite senior Cam Johnson? Your options include redshirt sophomore Jake Snyder, who already had tallied a sack, a fumble recovery and five tackles that night, and redshirt junior Bill Schautz, who is a member of the team’s regular defensive end rotation.
Oh, and true freshman Thompson Brown. You could pick him, but just so you know, he’s only recorded four tackles the entire season and is relatively inexperienced to say the least.
So, who would you go with?
Well, the Virginia coaching staff went with Brown, which seemed like an odd choice at the time. But it sure paid off.
“Thompson Brown did exactly what he was supposed to do,” senior defensive tackle Nick Jenkins said. “He got on the edge and rushed up field and flushed the quarterback.”
Indeed, Brown almost immediately made his way into the Miami backfield and chased Morris out of the pocket to Morris’s left. Morris suddenly had to worry about locating an appealing target a long ways downfield while evading a charging Brown. And even though Brown ended up getting blocked out of the play, he certainly made executing the play more difficult for the Hurricanes.
Morris eventually completed a pass to tailback Eduardo Clements, who gained 23 yards before being tackled at the 9-yard line. Game over.
Brown, who is listed at 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, is one of 12 true freshmen that have played for Virginia this season. Of that dozen, he might have been the most surprising inclusion. The common line of thinking is that the closer your position is to the trenches, the longer it takes before you’re physically prepared to play at the FBS level. Obviously, there are exceptions. Virginia tackle Morgan Moses last year, for example.
It would seem Brown has shown enough to be an exception this season. He mostly plays on special teams — all four units, in fact — but he is proving capable of making a mark on defense, as well.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Jenkins said of Brown. “He’s very athletic, very strong. And right now, he’s got the potential to be a very good player here.”