Steven Johnson Leads Defense Against Oklahoma

Oct. 16, 2011

Facing the No. 1 team in the nation and a top-five offense, senior linebacker Steven Johnson came away from Saturday’s game encouraged with the way the team performed against the Oklahoma Sooners. The Kansas defense, which has been much maligned this season, held OU to a field goal on four out of seven red zone trips and also caused OU quarterback Landry Jones to have his worst completion percentage of the season.

“We played to our ability,” said Johnson. “We’ve got some good guys on this team. We need to play how we know how to play. It comes down to practice. The week of practice that we had really showed in this game. We need to continue that, so starting Sunday we’re going to go out there flying around and making plays. I’m looking forward to it.”

Johnson registered a game-high 13 tackles, including one for a loss, to mark his fourth game this season with at least 10 stops Saturday. Johnson also recorded his first career interception as a Jayhawk, making a diving catch in the fourth quarter on a play that Kansas defensive coordinator Vic Shealy said demonstrated Johnson’s hard work and focus in practice throughout the week.

“It was a great play,” said Shealy. “He took a great angle, and then the play he made to dive, make the pick and catch it was a continuation of how he practiced all week long. He made plays in practice, it carried over into the game and I thought the pick was exceptional.”

After leading the team in tackles last season with 95 and also recording the most tackles in five of KU’s six games so far, Shealy noted that Johnson is working hard to become much more than just a statistical leader on the defense.

“Steven is continuing to be a guy who is trying to be more vocal,” said Shealy. “As a junior, he could be characterized as a guy who tried to lead more by his work ethic and his preparation. He’s trying to be more vocal. I think he’s saying the right things, and he’s backing it up by playing well. We’re encouraged to see some of the maturity that has occurred in him.”

Johnson’s developing leadership became apparent in the days leading up to the Oklahoma game when he addressed his defensive teammates to encourage them to focus on what they needed to do to improve after a 70-28 loss to Oklahoma State the week before.

“There was a little bit of anger in me,” said Johnson, who joined the Jayhawks as a walk-on in 2008 from Media, Pa. “Kansas football gave each and every one of us an opportunity. Going out there and getting 70 put on you and 56 in the first half, it’s an embarrassment for your family and the people that came miles and miles to see you play. I got in each and every single person’s face. I said one thing I need to do is communicate better because sometimes when I’m on the field I can be quiet. I just told people what they needed to improve. I love my defense. I look up to a lot of people on the defense because they work so hard.”

Johnson said the amount of progress made in the past week encouraged him as the team gets ready to host its in-state rival next Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to watching the film, going over what we have done and get better from it,” said Johnson. “We’re only going to get better. I’m ready for Kansas State. I’m ready to turn this thing around.”

Kansas will host the Kansas State Wildcats at Memorial Stadium Saturday, Oct. 22, at 11 a.m. The 109th Sunflower Showdown will be televised nationally on FSN.