With classes starting on Monday, the Texas Longhorns ended preseason camp on Saturday with the month’s second scrimmage that featured more than 150 plays, a critical practice as the staff works to determine the two-deep depth chart for the season opener against the Rice Owls later this week.
In a media availability on Monday, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian noted that the Longhorns emerged from Saturday’s scrimmage without any injuries — after nearly three weeks of practice, sophomore running back Savion Red’s sprained shoulder is the only significant injury sustained by Texas.
“As far as the scrimmage directly goes, I thought defensively they had a good scrimmage and I think it started with their energy that they brought, really good positive energy for one another in it, and it showed — a lot of defense is about effort, it’s about attitude,” Sarkisian said.
The run defense and ability to get stops in the red zone to force field goals when the offense was able to move the ball stood out to Sarkisian, who saw a high level of play from the defensive front, including senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat, senior defensive tackle Alfred Collins, junior defensive tackle Byron Murphy, sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke, freshman linebacker Liona Lefau, and junior cornerback Gavin Holmes.
“That front is is tough, they’re big, they’re physical, they’re athletic, and they’re playing really well together,” Sarkisian said.
After forcing three turnovers in the first scrimmage last week, the defense caused two more turnovers on Saturday — an interception and a fumble forced by Lefau. At times, however, the defense struggled to translate tackling drills from practice into the game-like setting.
“I thought the defense the first portion of the scrimmage kind of got the better of the offense, then the offense had a really nice two-minute drill at the end of the first half and came out in the third quarter and had a really good third-down, fourth-down portion. And then the defense finished really well in our red-zone lockout challenge,” Sarkisian said.
Following a clean preseason camp catching the ball, Sarkisian said there were too many dropped passes by the offense in Saturday’s scrimmage, but a point of emphasis this offseason, converting third downs, was enough of a strength to help the offense remain on the field consistently.
“I thought offensively there’s some good things and there’s some things that we didn’t do well, and I think that all boils back down to consistency,” Sarkisian said. “We weren’t consistent enough offensively Saturday the way that I would have liked it. There wasn’t one guy or one position group, I think everybody kind of took turns.”
After sitting out the first scrimmage last week, junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy helped pace the offense with a number of explosive plays and junior tight end Gunnar Helm continued his steady play. Sarkisian also mentioned the improvement of the three freshmen wide receivers — Johntay Cook, DeAndre Moore Jr., and Ryan Niblett — although there’s still separation between the top three wide receivers and the other five scholarship players at the position.
“From the quarterback standpoint, I really think their command has really improved at the various stages. I think Quinn [Ewers] being a second-year starter, he’s definitely in command of that first unit and you feel good about that,” Sarkisian said. “I think that Arch [Manning] and Maalik [Murphy] both have grown in their roles in what they’re doing in their command of the offense and taking charge. Obviously, we‘ve got to keep pushing consistency at that position, whether it’s fundamentals, whether it’s progression, whether it’s pocket presence, whether it’s tempo, whatever that looks like, but there’s a level of consistency at that position that I think ultimately drives the unit.”
This week, in addition to finalizing the depth chart, the staff will emphasize the importance of creating good habits heading into next Saturday’s mock game featuring 50 or so situations and then game-week preparations for the Owls.