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Notes from Steve Sarkisian’s Thursday press conference

The latest on CJ Baxter, DJ Campbell, and more.

NCAA Football: Rice at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of Saturday’s road tilt against the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, head coach Steve Sarkisian addressed the state of his No. 11 Texas Longhorns during a Thursday media availability.

Here are the highlights:

Sarkisian was happy with how Texas practiced on Thursday — During game weeks, the Longhorns hold physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before backing off on Thursday, a practice that can set the tone for Saturday’s game.

“Today what I liked is thinking back to last Thursday was we were really dialed in today on the details and I think that’s what it’s going to take,” Sarkisian said. “In thinking back to last Thursday, we were a little spotty and then inevitably in the ballgame, we were a little spotty with some of our details that hurt us at times. So I’m really encouraged today knowing that we had some hard physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and we were really dialed in from an execution standpoint today.”

Freshman running back CJ Baxter is on track to contribute — Baxter left the Rice game in the second quarter after a hard fall at the end of a 32-yard run. The rib issue Baxter sustained on the play kept him from returning, but he was back in practice this week.

“CJ looked great, fired up for him to go cut it loose here Saturday,” Sarkisian said. “Everything’s first time for him, obviously, but I don’t have any reason to not think he’s gonna go out and just perform and go play. He’s a very even-keeled guy, he’s diligent in his approach to wanting to do things the right way, he’s a physical player. So in the end, my anticipation is he’s going to play. I’m sure there’ll be a little bit of a transition maybe early in the game from the speed of the game and the physicality of the game and obviously, the environment. But I’m not really concerned about him performing because that’s just who he’s been throughout his time with us.”

The latest on DJ Campbell and Cole Hutson — Sophomore right guard DJ Campbell received his first start against Rice before leaving the game after getting rolled up on in the third quarter. “DJ practiced this week and got better and better as the week went on,” Sarkisian said, adding that fellow sophomore right guard Cole Hutson will also be available after missing the Rice game due to a minor injury the staff treated with an abundance of caution in holding him out.

Four quarterbacks to travel — All four scholarship quarterbacks will be in Tuscaloosa with the team — redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers, redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy, freshman Arch Manning, and redshirt sophomore Charles Wright. Murphy was the second quarterback to enter the Rice game because of improved consistency in practice.

“There’s been a level of consistency in Maalik’s play that has been really encouraging. He’s always had the highlight plays, but then there’s been plays that were not so highlight in taking care of the football and I think he’s done a much better job of doing that. Clearly, I think we saw glimpses of some of the throws that he was able to make in that ball game last week,” Sarkisian said.

Manning was also set to receive playing time against the Owls until a 13-play drive took up 9:24 in the fourth quarter, but Sarkisian decided against it because burning one of the four games Manning can play in while still preserving his redshirt wasn’t worth it for several minutes of game time.

“Hopefully as the season goes on they’ll both get their opportunities to get in there and play,” Sarkisian said.

The need for versatility and balance — In praising Ewers for a strong week of practice and his grasp of the gameplan, Sarkisian noted how important it is for the Longhorns to have balance across the entire team.

“Hopefully we can find a rhythm for him and create some opportunities to take some shots and that rapport with his receivers can can shine through because you’ve got to play a complete game,” Sarkisian said. “You can’t be a one-dimensional team and like I said, I think we’re a really versatile team. I think Alabama is very versatile team. Both teams can win games a variety of ways, but naturally, you need a complete game to go and try to win a game like this.”

Alabama as a benchmark game — Last year’s close loss to the Crimson Tide in Austin proved the Longhorns could play with anyone in the country, instilling confidence in a team that went 5-7 in 2021. Sarkisian sees this year’s matchup as a benchmark game.

“I think both teams are gonna walk out of the stadium with a real firm understanding of, ‘Okay, this is where we’re at. And then this is what we need to do to continue to develop our team for the next 10 regular season games and try to go win a conference championship.’ And, quite frankly, that’s one of the beauties of playing these games like this early in the season,” Sarkisian said.

On the differences from the 2021 Arkansas game — The first road trip of the Sarkisian era, and the last road game against an SEC opponent, went exceedingly poorly for Texas in a 40-21 loss to Arkansas. Sarkisian admitted that the Longhorns weren’t ready for that environment, but he now feels much more comfortable about the state of his program thanks to veteran leadership and hungry young players.

“I think we’ve got to leave the fear here in Austin and we’ve got to go in with a level of respect for the opponent and then play our style of football,” Sarkisian said.