AUSTIN, Texas — In ABC's most watched college football game so far this season, an unfamiliar Texas Longhorn to its fan base emerged and began a journey to perhaps becoming a household name in Austin someday.
This Longhorn's name: Jake Smith.
With 2:43 left in the third quarter against then No. 6 ranked LSU, Smith caught a 20-yard threaded needle from Sam Ehlinger for his first collegiate touchdown. What better way to make a splash than on national television against a top 10 team? Smith's touchdown catch cut UT's deficit to 23-21.
Texas may have lost to LSU in the end, but Smith was not done making a name for himself in the Longhorns' offense.
With senior wide receiver Collin Johnson out against Rice the following week, Smith had his breakout performance of the season. The freshman sliced and diced the Owls pass defense from the slot, leading the team with six catches, 75 yards and two touchdowns.
His first touchdown against Rice came on a 53-yard pass in the middle of the Owls defense, and his second was 12-yard pitch-and-catch with Ehlinger in the second quarter.
"My confidence is steadily rising," Smith said after the Rice game. "I'm just building on that confidence every week."
Ehlinger complemented the freshman wide receiver after the team's dominating win against the Owls.
"(Jake's) a freak," Ehlinger said. "Freakish speed. Freakish athletic ability. So, for him to come in and learn the way that he has and worked the way that he has, every game he'll continue to get more comfortable. I've loved being around him."
Fast forward one more week against Oklahoma State, Smith scored again – his third straight game with a touchdown and fourth score overall for the season. Smith's four touchdown catches is tied for the team lead through the first four games. Smith's 13 catches on the year ranks second on the team to only senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay's 39, which is the second highest total in the NCAA through the first five weeks. Smith's four touchdown catches are also the most by any freshman so far in 2019.
So, who is this new face making plays in the Longhorns offense? Where did he come from?
Smith came to Austin from Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Arizona as a four-star wide receiver. He was also named the 2018 National Gatorade Player of the Year. Smith was selected to the 2019 Under Armour All-America Game, named to the All-USA second team as an athlete and All-USA Arizona first team all-purpose, and was chosen as one of five finalists for the Ed Doherty Award, which honors the best high school player in Arizona in 2018.
With a bye week now under his belt, Smith and the Longhorns will travel to Morgantown in their "first true hostile environment" of the 2019 season. We'll see if Smith continues his upward trend in his inaugural season at Texas.
And if he does continue to produce in big moments against top tier talent like LSU, don't be surprised if in a couple years, we're talking about him among the great wide receivers in program history.
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