Mike Jones thought he had made a clean interception. Then he saw the flags.
The redshirt-senior cornerback stuck with Houston senior wideout Steven Dunbar as he ran a route down the left sideline in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Kyle Postma lofted the ball downfield as Jones and Dunbar ran toward the left corner of the end zone.
After grappling for the ball, Jones appeared to come away with an interception at the goal line, but the officials penalized him for pass interference. Instead of having the ball after a turnover, Temple had to defend from its 13-yard line. The Cougars scored a touchdown on the next play with four minutes, 18 seconds left in the first.
“We were both fighting for the ball,” Jones said. “I didn’t push, I didn’t do any of that. He was trying to swipe my hands, and I was swiping his.”
Houston’s offense targeted Jones in one-on-one situations throughout the Cougars’ 20-13 win on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Cougars induced a second pass interference penalty on Jones during their touchdown drive to open the third quarter.
Late in the first quarter, Houston faced third-and-9 from Temple’s 46-yard line as it tried to build on its 7-0 lead. Postma threw a screen to the left to Dunbar, who gained 18 yards before Jones made the tackle.
The play put Houston in the same situation — first-and-10 from Temple’s 28-yard line — as the play when Jones committed pass interference. With 25 seconds left in the quarter, the Cougars decided to run a similar play, and Jones broke up Postma’s pass for Dunbar in the end zone.
With 8:19 left in the second quarter, Postma threw an 8-yard goal-line fade toward Houston senior wide receiver Ellis Jefferson with Jones in coverage. Jones had good positioning, forcing Jefferson to push off of him to make the catch. The officials flagged Jefferson for pass interference on the play.
In addition to his pass breakup, Jones had two tackles for loss out of his six on Saturday. Only sophomore linebacker William Kwenkeu had more tackles than Jones.
“He held his own,” junior safety Delvon Randall said. “He was impressive, very impressive.”
Jones’ coverage helped Temple’s defense get its only turnover to end a Houston drive late in the second quarter. Jones shaded the receiver to the outside as he ran a fade route. Randall read the play and ran over from his safety position to make a diving interception near the sideline at Temple’s own 13-yard line with 1:57 left. Randall’s play ended Houston’s opportunity to score before receiving the second-half kickoff.
“Playing the leverage helped with getting our interception with Delvon,” Jones said. “So Delvon really knew how to get across and get his hands on the ball.”
Temple had to change its defensive scheme after sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley was ejected in the first quarter for targeting. Redshirt-senior cornerback Artrel Foster often had to play nickel back in formations with five defensive backs. The Owls rotated Jones and two other players at cornerback, coach Geoff Collins said.
Jones is in his first year at Temple after playing the previous four seasons at North Carolina Central University, a Football Championship Subdivision school. He ended his career at North Carolina Central ranked ninth on the school’s passes defended list. ESPN analyst Todd McShay said Jones stood out as the “best” of potential late-round picks entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
After graduating from North Carolina Central in December 2016, Jones transferred for the chance to compete at a Football Bowl Subdivision school and increase his draft stock.
“Mike Jones is a big-time college football player, and he’s going to be big-time moving forward at the next level,” Collins said.