The Steve Sarkisian era is officially started on a positive note, as the No. 21 Texas Longhorns had relatively few issues en route to a 38-18 win over the No. 23 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Here’s a few early takeaways from Texas’ first appearance of the season.
Bijan Robinson is, indeed, still really good at football. Robinson entered the year with expectations of breaking out as a true star for the Texas offense, and so far, so good. After often being underutilized in 2020, Robinson turned a career-high 24 total touches — 20 rushing, four receiving — into 176 yards, including 103 on the ground, and two touchdowns. His burst and effortless rushing ability was evident time and time again, and as expected in Sark’s offense, his impact was felt in the passing game, as well, with 73 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown — the Horns’ opener score.
Hudson Card looked composed, impressive in starting debut. After an early 1-4 start for just nine yards, Card settled in as QB1 started to take command of the offense within his role. Save for a 34-yard strike to Xavier Worthy and a 41-yard catch and run from Jordan Whittington, Card didn’t light it up downfield, but that’s actually a key part of what made his debut performance noteworthy. He didn’t force the issue and try to prove he was Texas’ true starting quarterback, but rather, he worked check-downs and crossing routes and delivered crisp, accurate passes to move the chains, and generally just took what the defense gave him. The results, of course, were especially favorable. Following that first three-and-out, Card quarterbacked what should have been five consecutive scoring drives — save to Cameron Dicker’s missed field goal — to provide Texas with a 28-12 cushion before Casey Thompson took his place towards the end of the third quarter. Not to mention, he utilized his legs for a key fourth down conversion to spark Texas’ first touchdown, and later ran one in of his own from three yards out, all while taking care of the ball and committing no turnovers. All told, Card capped an encouraging debut as the starter by completing 14-of-21 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
After replacing Card towards the end of the third quarter, Casey Thompson completed 4-of-5 attempts for 41 yards and a touchdown to Whittington.
A healthy Jordan Whittington is a good Jordan Whittington. After entering the season with just 223 career receiving yards, Whittington got off to a great start, grabbing seven passes for a career-best 113 yards and one touchdown. But beyond the raw numbers, Whittington appeared to become Card’s security blanket early, snagging two first-down catches on a 3rd and 12 and a 3rd and 9 that allowed Texas to take a 14-3 lead, and later exploding for a 41-yard catch and run on 3rd and 11 that set up a Robinson touchdown run two plays later.
A single game is such a small sample size, but the talent has always been there for the former five-star prospect. Now that he’s healthy, it appears he’s going to be a big factor.
Texas needs its other receivers to become factors. Of the 18 passes completed on Saturday, seven went to Whittington and six went to running backs. Worthy did snag a 34-yard toss from Card, but that was his only catch of the afternoon, while veteran Joshua Moore’s three catches netted just 17 yards. Simply put, the Horns’ receiver room will need to be better going forward. It was clear that times that Card just didn’t have any receivers creating separation, and long-term, the inability to do so could limit what Sark can do with his offense, and of course, it doesn’t do any favors for a young quarterback settling into a starting role.
Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense largely did its job. That begins with getting off the field on third down. Louisiana didn’t convert its first third down until halfway through the third quarter when Texas already held a 21-6 lead, and allowed just 4-of-14 conversions on the day. However, the Ragin’ Cajuns converted all three of their fourth down attempts, which will likely be an area of emphasis going forward. Elsewhere, Louisiana was limited to just 359 total yards, including a mere 77 rushing yards, with the help of four sacks and seven tackles for loss. There were a few blown assignments here and there that led to some chunk plays and a 27-yard touchdown run from Chris Smith, and a 19-yard touchdown catch and run that featured multiple missed tackles that will get singled out in film sessions, but all in all, it was a strong first showing for Pete K’s defense. Not to mention, he set a goal of holding opponents to below 20 points and Texas was up to the task to begin the season.
The Longhorns offensive line was shaky, at best. From the onset, Kyle Flood’s group struggled to create running lanes and failed to provide reasonable pass protection on a consistent bases, forcing Card to display his best Sam Ehlinger survival act on a few occasions. The result, beyond three sacks, was a ground game that was a bit limited beyond Bijan Robinson doing Bijan Robinson things, and then there were multiple holding and fasle start penalties that set the Texas offense back. It’s safe to say Flood will have his hands full as Texas turns its attention to Arkansas.
Other general notes:
- The offensive play-calling was an apparent improvement over recent seasons. There was a definitive scheme and purpose that was refreshing to see, and it allowed Texas to move the ball with relative ease, despite the inexperience at quarterback and the offensive line’s woes. Certainly not a bad first showing from Sark and his staff.
- Between Card and Thompson, Texas passed for 265 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
- Headlined by Robinson’s 103 yards, the Texas backfield rushed for 170 yards. Roschon Johnson rushed for 27 yards, while Keilan Robinson added another 41 yards.
- DeMarvion Overshown and Luke Brockermeyer were everywhere for the Longhorns. 23 total tackles between them, and they were often making the tackles together.
This story will be updated.