It is perhaps the biggest win for the Texas Longhorns on the gridiron since Vince Young or Colt McCoy roamed the sidelines. It is without a doubt the signature win for Steve Sarkisian in his short time as the head coach of the Longhorns.
In a highly anticipated rematch against his former boss and in his old stadium, Sark and the Longhorns did what no other opponent had done to Nick Saban in 17 years.
Win by double-digits in Tuscaloosa.
Sarkisian credited trust between the players and coaches, versatility on the team, and a mental toughness and confidence that pushed the Longhorns to a 34-24 victory over the Crimson Tide.
Here is a recap from Sark’s weekly press conference:
Opening statement: Sark called it a “team win” and lauded the versatility the team needed on Saturday. He focused on a few “effort plays” that were key, including the fumble recoveries by Ja’Tavion Sanders and Jonathan Brooks and the effort from Kitan Crawford and Keilan Robinson to keep Ryan Sanborn’s punt from touching the endzone for a touchback. Byron Murphy also received a shoutout from Sark for a key tackle where the defensive lineman shrugged a double-team.
Room for improvement: “We’ve got to take care better of the ball than we did. That thing cannot be as loose as it was. We still had a couple of opportunities in the red area where we had chances to score...I thought defensively we got a little sloppy in our coverage and allowed them to make some explosive plays in the fourth quarter.”
What Sark learned from Saban and Pete Carroll after big wins: “The consistency in which their teams played and it wasn’t about the opponent. It was about the way they prepared and the way they practiced and then ultimately the way they played and so that’s that’s the challenge for us right that we come right back to work today. Prepare really well and practice really well so that we can perform really well Saturday night.”
Finding the balance of being confident: “One of the mistakes I can make is trying to beat them down and then knock the confidence out of them. I’ve spent two and a half years trying to instill confidence into them. I want to be mindful of that but I have to point out areas for us to improve and where we can get better as a team and I think ultimately me being transparent with them all of the time - good, bad, ugly, whatever that is.
Quinn Ewers: I think you could make a solid case that Ewers played his best game last Saturday. Sark thought the sophomore quarterback was “clear-minded going into the game” and had a “really good understanding of what we were going to do and why we were trying to do it.” Sark credited Ewers for his poise and composure and in turn, his teammates saw that and felt the same way. He also pointed out how technically sound Ewers was and thought his pocket presence was good outside of a few errant throws late in the second quarter. Once again, Sark talked about how Ewers was able to start the second half strong.
Deep ball success: Sark said the offense got the coverages they were looking for, the receivers ran the right routes, and Quinn put nice air on the ball.
Defense: Sark credited Savion Red for playing Jalen Milroe as the scout team QB in practice the week before Alabama. “Both interceptions were things that they carried over from practice to the game.”
Running game: “We knew going in it was going to be hard yards...but I did want to make sure we could run it when we had to run it. I was encouraged with our ability to run the ball late in the fourth quarter. Quite frankly, I felt like we probably could have ran the ball better if I was maybe a little bit more committed to the game. But the plan was the plan.
How Texas avoided the lull on the road: “We really have been working on the fourth quarter aspect.” Sark said he played more aggressively after the Longhorns fell behind for the first time against Alabama and that was something a year ago he may not have done.
Where the team grew from week one to week two: More rhythm in the pass game and a faster pace. Sark believes the speed of the team is an advantage and saw that in week two. The defensive line was very disruptive despite early on struggling against the run but eventually settled down. Sark mentioned that Ethan Burke and Byron Murphy had tremendous games along with T’Vonde Sweat, Anthony Hill, and David Gbenda. Sark however still wants to see growth from the special teams unit.
Wyoming: “We got a really tough opponent. They challenge you in a lot of ways. Coach Bohls is a tremendous coach. He’s got a really veteran football team. A lot of fourth, fifth, and sixth-year seniors on their team as we’ve touched on really well-coached, hard-nosed teams that make things challenging on you because they execute really well on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. So great challenge, a 2-0 team coming in here confidently. But for us, like we talked about to the team, you know that that one game isn’t going to define our season last week or what we do moving forward. I think championship teams continue to improve as the season goes on. And we’ve got goals and aspirations of being champions this year. We’ve got to continue to improve this week. And that was the starting point here this morning.”
Injury updates: Freshman running back Cedric Baxter Jr. is day-to-day after being carted off the field in the 4th quarter of the Alabama game. “Knock on wood, not quite as serious as we might have thought,” said Sarkisian. “He’s day-to-day and we’re going to monitor him, but he was at practice today and was limited a bit.”
Junior linebacker and special teams ace Morice Blackwell Jr. is also day-to-day and is still in the rehab process but Sark said “he was running almost full speed today.” It would not surprise me if Baxter and Blackwell are held out of Saturday’s game against Wyoming.
How special the win was for Sark: “The last time I was on that field, I was acting head coach. Coach Saban was out with COVID. It was the Iron Bowl against against Auburn. So to go all the way around full circle to some really great moments there and some really special people there at that university. And then I you know, I turned around and there was my son right there on the field and our fans were there and my wife was there and trainers from Alabama and doctors from Alabama were there and obviously it just had a moment with Coach Saban. You know, so in sports, you know, a lot of times we get, we don’t take it all in and then you look back and you’re like man, I wish I would have and so you just tried to take a moment to take it all in, you know, I tried to, I got to go in the locker room and put a cigar in my mouth and take a picture with my son. I mean, who would ever thought that would happen 10, 15 years ago. So there’s all these little things that along the way that I just didn’t want to make sure that I didn’t miss and want to make sure that I got a chance to get to a lot of people at Alabama, the people that work at the stadium to tell them thank you because when you leave after a bowl game, a lot of times you don’t have to come back and so I just tried to take those few moments with a lot of people as many people as I could to do that.”