Jevon Holland had an electrifying performance at AT&T Stadium.
The stirring sophomore free safety finished with four tackles and an interception on defense. Holland also had the crowd of 60,662 buzzing while returning three punts for 131 yards (43.7 yards per return) during Oregon’s 27-21 loss to Auburn in the opener.
Andy Avalos, the Ducks’ first-year defensive coordinator, was equally impressed with Holland’s efforts during Wednesday’s practice.
“You should have seen what he did out here today. If you saw what he did out here today, wow, he had about two or three interceptions,” Avalos said. “And I’m not just talking the ball was thrown right to his face mask or his chest.”
Coach Mario Cristobal has closed Oregon’s practices this season, but Avalos’ account sounds like an accurate description of the level Holland has performed at since stepping on campus.
As a true freshman in 2018, Holland finished second in the Pac-12 and tied for 10th nationally with a team-high five interceptions.
With Ugo Amadi moving on to the NFL after a stellar senior season, Holland has added punt returner to his responsibilities.
“It gave me a good general idea of what I need to be doing,” Holland said of playing one season alongside Amadi, who is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks. “I need to be producing for the team. I’ve been doing punt return since high school, I kind of always loved punt return. I watched Ugo and got some tips from him last year about punt return.”
Last year, Amadi beat out Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Clemson’s Christian Wilkins for the Lombardi Award, which honors the player who most embodies the trophy’s namesake based on “performance and leadership honed by character and resiliency.”
Holland, despite his youth, has picked up where Amadi left off as a team leader.
“He’s special,” Cristobal said. “He certainty proved that he was, if not the best, one of the best players on the field (against Auburn).
“If he plays like that he will very quickly make himself one of the more prominent players in college football. He’s very dangerous.”
Holland had a key interception in the Redbox Bowl win over Michigan State to cap an impressive freshman campaign. He credits strength and conditioning coach Aaron Feld, safeties coach Keith Heyward and Avalos for putting him in position to elevate his play this fall.
“I feel like the offseason prepared me greatly for this,” Holland said. “Those guys really helped me progress with my game. And physically, mentally, emotionally being able to take that load as a leader on the team.
“I just feel like I’m in more control of myself and the team.”
Due to a rash of injuries at wide receiver, backup cornerback Daewood Davis is returning to receiver and tight end Spencer Webb is playing in the slot to help fill the void.
Having Holland, a standout receiver in high school, play both ways is tempting for the coaching staff.
“I won’t kid you that he’s actually a better wide receiver than he is a DB, but we’re not going to make that move anytime soon,” Cristobal said. “We’re going to keep him right there (on defense). Really dangerous as a punt returner. Certainly, a good decision-maker first and foremost, because that’s the key to that position. A good decision and then secure the football.
“What makes him dangerous is the obvious, once he does have the football he knows what to do with it, and he set up the returns extremely well.”
Holland leads the FBS in total punt return yardage and his 81-yard punt return in the second quarter was the longest in a college game at AT&T Stadium.
“The long return was on what you call a punt safe, where the defense is out there making sure there are no fakes, playing the ball safely against any fakes,” Cristobal said. “Those guys set up a nice wall for him, did a great job. Very fired up about his play and what he brings to the table.”
Marcus Arroyo agrees that Holland would be a “phenomenal” Pac-12 receiver, but the offensive coordinator isn’t at the point where he feels it’s necessary to have the emerging defensive and special teams star add another prominent role to his plate.
Avalos is happy to have Holland setting the tone on his side of the ball.
“The best thing that Jevon does is he competes with himself. He’s got his own standard and he works every single day to his standard that is at a very elite level,” Avalos said. “It’s obvious that he’s pretty talented, but there’s a lot of areas, too, where he wants to grown and we want to help him continue to grow.
“We’ve got to keep attacking.”
No. 8 will try to provide a jolt of energy at Autzen Stadium when No. 16 hosts Nevada in the home opener Saturday (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
It all starts behind the scenes for Holland and the Ducks as they try to bounce back from their bitter loss to Auburn.
“Just the way he practices,” boundary safety Brady Breeze said when asked what he’s noticed about Holland this season. “Last year he was just a freshman and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Now he knows what teams are trying to do and how to guard receivers and attack their weak points, how to bait quarterbacks. He has just taken his game to another level.
“When we’re going against the scout team, he’s one of those guys that just doesn’t stop. It could be the end of practice and people are kind of taking it easy, and you see Jevon going full speed trying to blow people up.”