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Lessons learned by Texas after ‘ugly win’ against Houston

Notes from Steve Sarkisian’s Monday press conference.

NCAA Football: Texas at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

After blowing a 21-point lead to the Houston Cougars and needing a 4th-down stop late in Saturday’s game to win, Steve Sarkisian said it’s all a part of the learning curve for the Texas Longhorns.

“When you win ugly, you can coach hard and fix issues and come out and play better the next week,” he said.

In his press conference on Monday, Sark once again spoke about the versatility of Texas and their ability to win different types of games.

After a near-perfect start against Houston, the Longhorns had to hold on as the Cougars came roaring back to tie things up at 21 and at 24 in the second half. But despite the wild finish, Sark thought the team showed signs of improvement coming off the bye week.

“I think the things we emphasized in the bye week showed up,” Sarkisian said. “Red -one offense was critical, our ability to create turnovers, and then our return game.”

Quinn Ewers will be week-to-week: It’s a shoulder sprain in his throwing arm for the Longhorns starting quarterback and Sark said he’ll be evaluated on a weekly basis.

Ewers appeared to suffer the injury in the third quarter after taking a sack and then a hard hit when attempting to scramble for a first down on the same drive. Ewers finished the drive before leaving for the locker room.

“That last drive he was not healthy,” Sark admitted. “He tried to play through it but clearly he was limited.”

While Ewers did miss time last season with a shoulder injury, this one is different (AC joint) and not on the same shoulder. Sark believes dealing with an injury last season will help him return quicker.

“I know he’s going to work tirelessly to get himself back. Some guys are back sooner than others so we’ll see how his body responds. I think it’s helpful he’s in the best shape of his life.”

Defensive end Ethan Burke and safety Jalen Catalon are also week-to-week and will be evaluated before BYU.

Texas appeared to leave Houston banged up, with multiple players having to leave the game and exit to the locker room for treatment. While Ewers and Burke aren’t likely to play Saturday, Sark will continue to monitor everyone else including Alfred Collins, Gavin Holmes, Terrance Brooks, Jett Bush, and Xavier Worthy.

Ryan Watts is expected to play on Saturday after missing the last two games for the Longhorns.

Maalik Murphy QB1... if Texas played today. That’s what Sark said when asked if Murphy will be the starting quarterback on Saturday against BYU. Sark was impressed with Murphy’s composure and poise against Houston and called him a “natural passer.”

“There’s not a throw that he can’t make.” Sark also mentioned Murphy’s leadership and his understanding of the offense.

However, Arch Manning will receive reps with the first team this week in practice with Sark saying he has a “ton of confidence” in the true freshman.

It’s not the first time Sarkisian has had to turn to a backup quarterback during his coaching career, including at Texas where Ewers and Casey Thompson suffered in-season injuries that allowed Hudson Card to step in. Sark mentioned adapting and letting the easy things be easy will be key for Murphy and Manning on Saturday.

“BYU is going to do things that aren’t on tape and you have to adapt. As much as I love practice...adaptability in-game is critical. And then allowing the easy things to be easy are two biggest challenges for us as we go into [BYU].”

To make things easy for his QBs, Sark said they’ll take their time as a staff and devise a game plan around the things Murphy and Manning do well.

“They don’t have the run the whole playbook they need to run what they run really well.” Sark preached that Saturday’s game is going to be tough enough as it is for his younger quarterbacks and wants to get them confidence in the early going.

“It doesn’t need to be a final exam - let’s test them on things they might know or might not know. I want to test them on the stuff that I know they know really well.”

BYU: Talk about the Cougars was light on a week where UT’s starting quarterback was injured but Sark did shed a little insight on what their opponent does really well: creating turnovers and rushing the passer.

BYU is third in the country in turnover margin and forced five Texas Tech turnovers in their 27-14 win last week. Sark also mentioned BYU’s defensive philosophy of getting to the quarterback.

“He believed in you”: Sark says he tries to make his players feel the same way he did when he played at BYU for legendary coach LaVell Edwards.

“He did a great job of making you feel like the coaches believed in you. And that’s something we’ve tried to do here.”

Another trait from Edwards that Sark tries to duplicate is “keeping things light” with his players.

Signal-stealing: Amidst the sign-stealing probe in Ann Arbor that has the Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh under fire, Sarkisian said sign stealing is “real” and most definitely a “factor” in college football.

“I think some teams rely on it much more than others. That’s why we got boards and signalers and different colored shirts on the sidelines...we try to hide [the play] as best as we can.”