During Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian’s weekly conference, Sarkisian noted the importance of the upcoming bye week to get his team rested after playing six games in six weeks to start the season with another six games in six weeks looming and expectations remaining high despite Saturday’s loss to the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl.
“Obviously, bye week, one thing that’s going to be big for us this week is getting healthy,” Sarkisian said. “We are a little bit banged up as a football team, which is understandable — I think everybody is at this point in the season. So we understand that, but it would be nice to get a little bit more healthy than we are right now.”
A number of players are currently nursing injuries sustained recently or close to returning from injuries sustained earlier in the season.
In the latter category are freshman running back CJ Baxter (foot), sophomore offensive guard Cole Hutson (knee), and redshirt freshman Jack end Kris Ross (elbow).
Baxter suffered his foot injury late in the game against Alabama and Sarkisian noted on Monday that he’d like to see Baxter “get back to 100 percent” during the bye week, the latest indication that Baxter still hasn’t fully recovered. Since the injury, which caused Baxter to miss the Wyoming game, the nation’s consensus No. 1 running back in the 2023 recruiting class has carried the ball 28 times for 106 yards and one touchdown (3.8 ypc) as the injury seemingly impacted Baxter’s ability to make decisive cuts and get north-south quickly.
Against Wyoming, Hutson suffered a knee injury when he hyperextended his knee in the first half and did not return. The initial expectation was that Hutson would return in three to four weeks, so while last year’s starter at right guard did not play against Oklahoma, he is expected to return after the bye week.
With strong recent performances by sophomore right guard DJ Campbell, who beat out Hutson for the starting role at that position this year, Hutson’s injury didn’t particularly hurt the Longhorns until redshirt junior Jake Majors was injured against the Sooners and replaced by redshirt freshman Connor Robertson instead of Hutson.
Ross was carted off the field in the same game against the Cowboys after suffering an elbow injury. In Dallas, Ross dressed for the game with a brace on his right arm, but did not see playing time in the loss.
Among the more recent injuries, Texas junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders played through the lower leg injury he sustained against Kansas, catching one pass for 13 yards in the Cotton Bowl, Majors left the Oklahoma game with an ankle injury and did not return, senior cornerback Ryan Watts was ruled out against the Sooners with an ankle injury sustained the week before, and senior safety Jalen Catalon did not return after suffering a lower leg injury. Sarkisian also mentioned that junior left guard Hayden Conner was not at 100 percent in the Oklahoma game.
Sarkisian said that Majors and Watts will be held out of practice during the bye week to aid their respective recoveries and expects to know more next week about their availability for the Houston game.
As for Sanders, the standout tight end wasn’t on a snap count, according to Sarkisian, but he did suffer from some highs and lows as a result of the injury.
“We were just trying to monitor him on how he was moving. I think early on in the game, it was getting adjusted to not being 100 percent and what did that feel like for him? And then I felt like he kind of got himself warmed up and then he had a stretch in there that wasn’t great again. And so we tried to lean back into Gunnar Helm a little bit more and then try to try to just have him available for us in the fourth quarter,” Sarkisian said.
“So it wasn’t so much just an actual number, but it was just trying to monitor how he was playing within the moment. And so an admirable effort by him, I know it was frustrating because he couldn’t be at his best. There were some plays that I’m glad he was out there and some other plays that I’m sure were frustrating for him that he wasn’t able to execute the way he’s normally able to execute.”
For Watts, the pressures on him to be able to run at close to full speed at cornerback impacted his availability last Saturday.
“Naturally, Ryan was having a good year. Any time you have an injury, we want to make sure we get him back, but I want to make sure I get him back healthy because when you have a leg injury as a guy who has to run all day, that’s not a good thing. And so we’ve got to do everything in our power like we did last week and again this week to see how far we can get him to try to get him available to play against Houston,” Sarkisian said.
Meanwhile, Catalon is day to day after his injury against the Sooners.
“We feel his presence when he’s out there, but we’ve got to make sure he’s healthy enough to go do that,” Sarkisian said.