Working with a team that went 5-7 last season, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian often uses a tweak on his “All Gas, No Brakes” philosophy, asking his players to focus on what’s through the windshield instead of what’s in the rearview mirror.
So perhaps it’s fitting that during Sarkisian’s game week press conference on Monday, he cited the team’s explosiveness.
“I think this team has a unique ability to create explosive plays on both sides of the ball and on special teams,” Sarkisian said.
The explosiveness starts in the backfield with the nation’s best running back room, led by Lamborghini-driving junior Bijan Robinson, a Heisman Trophy contender looking to build on his 1,000-yard season as an early entrance into the 2022 NFL Draft looms as a distinct possibility.
Backing Robinson up is senior Roschon Johnson, who ran for 179 yards on 31 carries in the 2021 season finale against Kansas State when Robinson was out with a dislocated elbow. Three years ago, Johnson was clocked at 21 miles per hour in practice — he might even be faster than Robinson and has plenty of power in his 222-pound frame.
There’s explosive depth, too, with junior Keilan Robinson providing a change of pace at 5’9, 185-pounder following a season during which he had a touchdown run of 65 yards against Rice and a 49-yard touchdown run against West Virginia.
At wide receiver, the Longhorns lost deep threat Isaiah Neyor to a season-ending ACL injury, but Xavier Worthy returns just as hungry as a sophomore and now has a quarterback in redshirt Quinn Ewers more capable of consistently hitting shot plays down the field, a distinct weakness for Texas throughout much of the 2021 season.
“I’ve seen more than enough playmakers offensively to create those explosive-type plays, runners and receivers,” Sarkisian said. “I think the quarterback naturally has the ability to do it.”
In fact, one of the reasons why Sarkisian named Ewers the starting quarterback is because of his “ability to make all the throws in our system.”
Defensively, the claim is more surprising after the struggles last year, particularly in creating turnovers.
“What I’ve seen from our defense this camp is their ability to create explosive plays, the turnovers, the big hits, knocking the ball out,” Sarkisian said.
The Texas head coach did mention a “dramatically improved” pass rush on Monday in addition to better overall cohesion.
“I feel like we’re playing as one — we’re not playing as 11 individuals, but we’re actually playing as one. thing there’s been really good communication,” Sarkisian said.
Poor communication was a factor in the defensive issues last season, along with poor technique and fundamentals as the defensive line didn’t make enough plays, the linebackers had issues with bad run fits, the entire defense failed to set the edge consistently, and the safeties were often incapable of cleaning up plays on the back end.
The narrative coming out of preseason camp is that Texas has gotten better in those areas of deficiencies, a narrative that the season opener will test on Saturday.
“At the end of the day, I definitely feel them playing as a unit. I think that’s why we’re flying the ball better, creating more turnovers, things that were important to me, I think they’ve taken that to heart.”
Sarkisian believes the changes apply to special teams as well.
“I think as a team we feel like we’re just playing faster even on special teams,” Sarkisian said.
Senior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison leads the return teams just one touchdown away from tying Jordan Shipley’s school record of four career punt and kickoff return scores, but some of the incoming players, like speedster wide receiver Brenen Thompson, could also factor into the return game.
In the coverage units, junior cornerback Kitan Crawford should remain a factor and sophomore safety Morice Blackwell has the striking ability to become a physical force. Look for some freshmen to make an impact as well — cornerbacks Terrance Brooks and Jaylon Guilbeau are both candidates to play key roles.
Texas may be able to block some kicks once again, too, using Keilan Robinson as a punt block specialist and perhaps allowing senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown some opportunities on that unit, too.
All gas, no brakes.