As the No. 7 Texas Longhorns attempt to win their fourth Big 12 Championship against the No. 20 Oklahoma State Cowboys, head coach Steve Sarkisian said it will be “business as usual” on Saturday.
“One thing with this group that I’m coming to find out is its kind of business as usual,” Sarkisian said on Monday’s press conference. “As you walk in, you don’t feel something different in the air. The guys are focused and they want to be dialed into the plan, but it’s kind of business as usual.”
To get into this position, the Longhorns had to take care of business last Friday against Texas Tech and did so in a 57-7 blowout win to clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship game.
“I thought our defense and special teams were terrific. We really controlled the field position in the game and anytime you can create three turnovers, have a turnover on downs, block a punt, return a kick-off for a touchdown, and create explosive returns in the punt return game as well when you punt the ball to pin them down deep in their own end twice, that’s controlling the field position.”
Sarkisian was also excited Texas added another 100-yard rusher, with Jaydon Blue becoming the third Longhorn to eclipse the century mark.
Texas didn’t need to play their starters all four quarters in the blowout win, with most notably Arch Manning seeing his first playing time in a Longhorn jersey along with Tre Wisner. The two spearheaded a 13-play, 91-yard drive with help from other young players.
But Sark stressed that Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State will take all 60 minutes.
“After getting out to a 2-2 start and making a philosophical change offensively to go 7-1 in their last eight games...a very good team. A great second-half team, most notably the last couple of weeks, so we know it’s going to be a four-quarter game.”
No one knew who the Longhorn's opponent was going to be until late Saturday night when Oklahoma State was able to come back from a double-digit deficit and hold off BYU in overtime, but it wasn’t going to matter too much to Texas.
“Our focus all year was to be the champions...and we’ve got ourselves in a position to do that.”
Here are the rest of Sark’s comments from his Monday press conference:
Worthy will play, but Watts and Jordan are questionable: It felt like another grueling and physical game on Friday night with multiple players on both sides leaving for the locker room. Sarkisian said Worthy will be good to go and added that Murphy practiced today but Ryan Watts and Austin Jordan will be questionable.
A fitting end to the Big 12? Sark was asked if he cared who the Longhorns opponent was going to be on Saturday and unsurprisingly, the Texas head coach said “no”.
However, he did add that playing Oklahoma State was “kind of fitting...knowing we didn’t get an opportunity to play each other in the regular season with us leaving the Big 12.”
Ollie Gordon: “[He]’s a heck of a player and they have done a great job offensively of leaning into him. He signifies who their team is. I feel like he gets stronger as the game goes on. A lot of his best runs come in the second half when teams were down. He has the hard yards, the tough yards in between the tackles, but yet, he has the big play explosive ability.”
The weirdness of Oklahoma State: A home loss to South Alabama but wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State. What do you make of this Cowboys team and those weird results?
“I don’t know the exact answer why, but I know what they’re capable of, and they’re capable of being a very dangerous team and one that can play at a very high level and match the opponent and the quality of the opponent.”
Quinn’s performance against Texas Tech: Ewers certainly didn’t light up the Red Raiders but Sark believes it was a combination of things that held the passing game back.
“We had a couple opportunities for some big plays and we didn’t pass protect very well for him. We didn’t catch the ball very well. And then all of a sudden he misses a couple of throws and those types of things can snowball on you.”
Sark was positive about the demeanor Quinn showed after his endzone interception. “A year ago, it might have been more of a challenge to rebound from that type of a play but I think he’s learning how to respond to those things to learn from them and then put them to the side and focus on the next task and next play.”
The rise of Manny Muhammad: “I think the one thing Manny has is a really high football IQ. So his recognition of things and formations and motions and whatnot is pretty high. I think he’s a really competitive guy and I think he provides a lot of competitive spirit. He plays the game with some emotion and I think when he can at the line of scrimmage and play a physical brand of football, that’s best suited for him.”
“He dresses like a wide receiver”: I bet you can’t guess who Sark was talking about here. DJ Campbell.
“He’s got this kid-like humor about him off the field. In and around the building, even on the field, he’s the one lineman and we joke with him all the time, he dresses like a wide receiver. When he comes to practice he’s got tights and wristbands and all the stuff on and when the music is playing, he’s the one dancing of the lineman.”
“But to his credit, he’s improved a ton. A lot like these guys come in that are the five stars and they’re not starting as true freshmen, and the first question is ‘what’s wrong with him?’ There’s nothing wrong with him, everybody’s at a different stage of their development. To his credit of really buying into coach Flood in the work that he’s put in. He’s earned himself an opportunity to be a starter for us this year. He’s played some really good football for us. He’s had some learning moments to learn from to get better, but the one thing that he possesses is a physical mentality and a physical nature in which he plays the position, which I think plays into the hand in our style of play. I think he fits beautifully in that. But I’m really proud of him and the work that he’s put in, not only to become the player that he’s become, but I’ve really seen the maturity and still keeping that playful side that he has off the field as well.”
Is Texas still a College Football contender? “Why wouldn’t I?” Sark later added that Texas needs to finish business on Saturday before any playoff talk.
“There is no college football playoff talk if we don’t play really good Saturday and find a way to win that game. And if that happens, then there’s another discussion to be had.”
Bijan, Roschon laid the foundation for Brooks, Baxter, and Blue: “I think there’s a culture in the [RB] room that Coach Choice and Bijan and Roschon have started that all those other guys have bought into.”
“I think our future is very bright moving forward in that room...and that room is important to me because we’re at our best when we can run the ball.”
“The best tandem in the country”: Okay, this one you can probably guess is about T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy. When asked how he wants to see the awards divided, Sark said he hopes one is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the other is the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.
“I think they’re more than deserving of that. They have impacted our team in a way that you know, when you think about we lead the nation on third down defense, we lead the nation in red zone defense. And those are those are two really cool numbers to have when you talk about defensive football that nobody’s better than us on third down nobody’s better than us at stopping people in the red area. And sometimes total defense can get a little skewed because of yards, but are you stopping people on third down and getting them off the field are you stopping people from scoring touchdowns when they’re in the red area. Those are big numbers. So I’m fired up for our defense. But I think a lot of that starts and ends with what we do up front on the interior defensive line and that’s that sweat and Murphy.”
How has Sark grown as a coach this season? Sark said he usually reflects and audits the entire organization at the end of the season, but has personally felt more connected to this team.
“I feel like there’s a real connection with the players. We put a lot of time and effort into our culture and when you dig into your culture and when dig into being vulnerable and transparent and having a connection with your players, there’s probably a little more self-reflection along the way. From a connection standpoint, I feel very good about where I’m at with our team. Every day, as a coach, when you get up and talk to your team. I never want it to feel mundane or routine. I never want to get up there and sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I always want to make sure that I’m trying to provide a message to them that is tangible for us as a team playing on Saturday, but also somewhere in there that there’s a lesson learned and a life lesson for growth. Every time I get up and talk in front of our team, I still get these natural little butterflies like that. What an unbelievable opportunity. I have to stand up in front of a group of men that I’m trying to help influence them in their lives. And so I don’t take that stuff lightly. And I’ve probably appreciated that more this year than ever, consistently throughout the year. You know, it’s easy the first speech of the season, but I’m talking about this morning right at you know at eight o’clock in the morning. How am I talking to those guys? What’s the message in my capturing those guys in the room to where we’re connected and we’re cohesive and what we need to do.”
Culture Wednesdays: “I’ve always tried to do culture activities after year one because then you start to really get to know people and personalities and things and you start to get an idea of who’s really invested in what you’re trying to accomplish and maybe who’s not totally on board.”
“So we started that a year ago, and I thought that the guys really responded well to it. And they enjoyed it and then we started doing those culture activities on Fridays before games. But coming out of the season last year, and in my exit meetings with the players, they all referenced those culture Wednesdays they all referenced those activities that we did about you know, what was something that you really enjoyed this year and what would you like to see more of? They all wanted more of that. “And so we really tried to take it to another level this summer, and we’ve taken it to another level this fall. There’s never a game when I don’t do a culture activity on Friday night.”
No pads a key to playing fast and quick? Sark was asked about how physical and fast the team looked on Friday night and he mentioned it may have had to do with trusting his gut and not practicing with pads.
“We literally just wore helmets for our walk through and we probably played as fast and as physical of a game as we’ve had all year from a defensive perspective and at the line of scrimmage on offense, but that’s because the players earned my trust. They knew how to practice without pads on, they knew how to walk through and still be mentally focused, and then that would allow them to play as fast as they could come Friday night on a short week.”
Transfer portal: With the transfer portal opening next Monday, Sark said the staff's focus is on Saturday but have a “ pretty good idea of understanding where we are going to potentially have some depth concerns.”