The Texas Longhorns begin their Big 12 farewell tour in Waco, facing the Baylor Bears to start conference play. Coming off a win against Wyoming to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2011, head coach Steve Sarkisian is aware of what is at stake this week.
“We understand the environment we’re walking into and we can’t be fearful of that. We have to embrace it. We got to walk in there and be ourselves and play our brand of football.”
Here are notes from Sark’s press conference ahead of Baylor:
“Every aspect of the passing game needs to improve”: When asked about Quinn’s performance, Sark didn’t put it all on the sophomore quarterback. “I just felt like we weren’t as sharp. We had a protection breakdown in there, didn’t have the best play calls predicated on what the coverages were, and I think Quinn could have probably made a couple of throws that he normally would make.”
Sark did compliment Ewers’ ability to take care of the ball. Through three games, the Longhorns have only turnover and that came in the way of a Jaydon Blue fumble late in the 4th quarter.
Hutson and Ross are out for 3 to 4 weeks: The Longhorns lost two members of the team against Wyoming and are expected to be without them for the next month. Guard Cole Huston suffered a knee injury and Kristopher Ross sustained an elbow injury. “I’m hopeful they’re not long-term injuries. I’m hopeful it’s three weeks for each guy.” Three weeks would be ideal with the Longhorns set to face Oklahoma in four weeks.
Baxter still day-to-day: “I just didn’t feel comfortable where he was at and how he was feeling before [Wyoming]. He was back today so we’re going to keep monitoring him throughout the week and see how he responds from day to day.
Starter at cornerback opposite of Ryan Watts? “I’m not in a rush to say this guy needs to go out there and play 60 snaps because we have quality depth on our team,” Sark said when asked if anyone is standing out opposite of Ryan Watts at cornerback. “I thought the other night Gavin Holmes covered really well, I thought Terrance Brooks...is playing pretty good football for us, and I think Malik Muhammad is getting better.”
Defensive success is attributed to three things: 1. Communication 2. Understanding 3. Effort. Communication: “Our communication is as good as it’s been since I’ve been here. That starts with your safeties and...your inside linebackers making sure everyone is on the same page. For the most part, we don’t have catastrophic busts whether it’s in coverage or in the run game.” Understanding: “Their understanding of why we’re calling what we’re calling.” Effort: “I like the effort we’re playing with. I think we are getting to the football, we’re populating the ball, we’re tackling really well, and ultimately we’re affecting the quarterback.”
Sark believes the defense is playing a style of smart, fast, aggressive, and physical. “If we can keep going down that path, we’re going to be okay.”
Adapting to different run schemes: It wasn’t the first time Texas played an opponent and saw something different on the field than they did on tape. “One of the challenges...is we try to anticipate the looks that we’re gonna get and then we try to put out players in a position to practice those things. But ultimately, we’re always going to get some things in the game that are different, that are new, and that’s when our players have to trust their training.”
Harrison Waylee’s 62-yard touchdown run was the longest play given up by the Texas defense this season but Sark blamed it on a “variety of things”.
“We have to adapt and we have to adjust as a coaching staff.”
Could Texas play the Baylor’s, the TCU’s, the Tech’s again? Not so fast, my friend. “That’s always a hard one because the moment you play one of them, the other one’s going to be even more upset. All I can do is focus on the teams we play.”
Eight sacks from six different players: ”We knew a year ago that we applied pressure on the quarterback, but we didn’t get the numbers in getting him on the ground.” Sark credits Bo David and PK for getting creative in ways to get pressure on the QB and for trusting the defensive line.
“Now I think we are reaping the benefits of a rotation on the defensive front to apply pressure and ultimately get them on the ground.”
Avoiding 3rd and long: “We get ourselves in trouble when we put ourselves in third and long situations and right now that’s just not quite a strength of ours.” Sark knows the key to an efficient and consistent offense starts with success on first down after not converting a single third down in the first half against Wyoming.
Sark is proud of how the team is finishing but wants to see a complete game from the first whistle to the last. “We got to get back to being a really good team that starts fast and starts well and owns that game play which is something that was kind of a trademark of ours for the first couple of years.”
When asked the reason for the slow starts, Sark pointed to finishing good drives early in the game.
Gunnar and Sanders: Sounds like a new CBS sitcom airing on Sundays after football, right? Well, they might be playing on Sunday soon. Sark spoke highly of the tight ends, saying “Those two work well together.”
“Gunnar provides a lot of versatility to our offense because we can move both of those two guys around.” Helm has been crucial in the run game and Sanders is only behind Xavier Worthy in receiving yards this season.
Jahdae Barron: “Jahdae is the glue for us, right?” Sark said. “One of the higher football IQ’s on our team and his ability to diagnose what’s coming and then trust his instincts and go make plays really shines through. It’s not by chance. It’s not by luck that he makes plays it’s because he does his studying and he’s prepared for the ball game. He makes some really big plays for us.”
Sark said Barron “physically changed his body” a year ago heading into his sophomore campaign but in year three he’s “mentally more mature.” Sark said Saturday was Barron’s “arguably best game” since coming to Austin.
DJ Campbell: With Cole Hutson out for the foreseeable future, Campbell will remain the starter at right guard. “I think there’s been some good moments and there’s been a handful of plays each game that we watch with him and there’s that level of frustration of you’re better than that.”
Sark noted it’s not about talent or physicality, but more so of just minimizing errors on the offensive line and trusting the guys next to him. Hutson’s injury also means we are likely to see more of Neto Umeozulu. “[Neto’s] close and now there’s more of an opportunity for him there.”
Jonathan Brooks: While Saturday might have been Barron’s best game in a Texas uniform, you could make the case it was the same for Brooks. “His development has been that he’s grown as a player but also grown personally and he’s one of the leaders on our team.”
Brooks ran for a career-high 164 yards against Wyoming including a critical 61-yard scamper to set up a Texas touchdown.
“Our best football we have played in the fourth quarter”: “We’ve gone two straight games where we have seen critical plays being made in a positive way for us” in the final frame. Sark lauded the team’s psyche and belief that they can keep course throughout the game, execute their style of football, and good things will happen. “Hopefully we can continue to capitalize and build that belief and that trust that no matter what the score is, just keep playing and good things will happen.”