On Saturday morning, the Steve Sarkisian era in Austin officially gets underway with the No. 21 Texas Longhorns hosting the No. 23 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
The BON staff got together to discuss Louisiana, factors that will determine success in Sark’s first season and more.
Given what we know about Texas entering the season, what are your concerns, and what has you feeling confident?
Cody Daniel — Pretty much the entire offense outside of the running backs is a concern. Can the line protect the backs and Hudson Card? Can Card develop and prove to be a capable QB1? Will any of his receivers separate and become key contributors? Then, a backfield led by Bijan Robinson could be among the best in the country, and I think Pete K’s defense will be top-20 and win Texas a few games. It all comes down to Sark’s offense.
Gerald Goodridge — I think the easy answer is the running back room. Just three years removed from having to convert a quarterback to running back, Texas has four guys that Steve Sarkisian has mentioned by name as a viable option. Obviously, Bijan Robinson leads the group, but it’s not hard to imagine that Roschon Johnson and Keilan Robinson would start at a lot of different places. I’m definitely still concerned about the lack of depth and experience at wide receiver, especially since key players at the position have struggled to stay healthy as well. Texas is one or two injuries away from being a bit of a mess at that spot.
Curry Shoff — Concerns are mainly on offense. Obviously Hudson Card has a high ceiling, but he isn’t getting an easy introduction into college football with his first two games against Louisiana and Arkansas. He also doesn’t have a reliable stable of weapons at WR to bail him out in passing situations. That being said, I think an experienced and serviceable OL will help. I also think Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson will be relied upon heavily. One of my dark horse contributors is Alabama transfer Keilan Robinson — if Texas can get him in space, he can be a reliable target for Card.
Daniel Seahorn — I exited the spring concerned about the lack of unproven talent at wide receiver combined with breaking in a new quarterback this fall, and that is still where my primary concern is today. I think in due time Hudson Card will be a fine player for Texas, but if the wide receiver room doesn’t step up in a big way for him this fall then it is going to be a long year and a lot of growing pains. On the other side of the coin I feel good about the veteran presence across the board on defense combined with a well-respected defensive mind in Pete Kwitkowksi arriving in Austin. I think the defensive unit will play well enough to keep the team in games this year.
Cameron Parker — I feel confident in Sarkisian’s coaching staff and truly believe he made the right hires at OC/DC. I’m concerned with the QBs and WRs. Everyone has heard about the struggles from both units during fall camp but the right coaches can fix that. Just hope it’s before Big 12 play starts.
Sarkisian named redshirt freshman Hudson Card as QB1, but he said junior Casey Thompson will play, as well. How significant, if at all, is it for Texas to settle on a single quarterback to command the offense, and how quickly does that need to happen?
Cody — It’s definitely important. Each quarterback is a bit different, and the offense will likely operate differently depending on who’s at QB, and you just don’t want that inconsistency. Ideally, if Card is the guy, he takes control early and ends this discussion. If not, no later than Week 2.
Gerald — I know it’s cliche, but I always feel like there’s a reason why they say “if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterback.” Especially with guys knowing that you’re going to re-evaluate after the game - as Sark said - you don’t want either of the quarterbacks pressing trying to stake their claim. I think Sark is definitely playing the game to keep Thompson bought in since QB3 is a true freshman, but planting that seed worries me.
Curry — Hopefully Sarkisian is bluffing. Don’t see anything good coming from a two QB situation. When you have two QBs, you have none. Sark has picked Card, he needs to stick with him.
Seahorn — I am not a fan at all of the two quarterback system concept, so I don’t even like the idea of planting the seed of doubt in a young quarterback’s head as he tries to take over for the first time. I understand trying to keep Thompson engaged so that you have a solid backup plan if the need for it arrives, but I will never subscribe to actively rotating quarterbacks during a game since it doesn’t allow guys to get into a groove.
Cameron — Look at how Saban handled the Tua/Hurts battle. He tabbed them as co-starters in the first week. I don’t think it’s critical that Sark name a starter after the Louisiana game but I think for the peace of their own minds, name a season-long starter by the end of non-conference play. Card might struggle against Louisiana but light up Arkansas. The same goes for Thompson. I don’t think Sarkisian is in any rush nor should he be with two freshman QBs.
“Success” is subjective, but most would agree that anything less than 8 wins is a disappointing season. So, what 2-3 factors will determine success in Sark’s first season?
Cody — I think the defense is in great shape, so I think the key questions are all on offense. How well can Sark develop Hudson Card and how quickly? How (and how often) is Bijan Robinson utilized, and will any of the Texas receivers emerge as star-caliber contributors?
Gerald — I think the offensive line play will be pivotal, both for the young quarterback to be successful as well as to put Bijan Robinson in the right spots. I also think if the secondary and defensive line can play up to the ceilings early, it will help as the offense gets up to speed.
Curry — Texas has the talent to beat almost anyone, so I think UT will find success if they are put in schematically advantageous positions by the coaching staff (something we haven’t always done in the past), and if Bijan Robinson takes a step into elite running back status and puts up Najee Harris level numbers. Texas can’t afford injuries - so remaining healthy will be that third factor.
Seahorn — Quarterback play, playmaking at the wide receiver position, pass protection. Basically if the offensive side of the ball can do enough be competitive across the board.
Cameron — Most people will focus on the Oklahoma game, but I want to see how Texas fares against the teams that were Achilles heel to Tom Herman i.e. TCU and Iowa State. Another factor is quarterback development. How will Card and Thompson progress as the season progresses?
Two-part question: 1) What’s your season prediction for the 2021 Longhorns, and 2) win or lose, what game won’t end as expected this season?
Cody — 9-3. I think Texas will drop an early one to TCU, per usual. An inexperienced QB vs. a Gary Patterson defense is a recipe for disaster, and it’s in Fort Worth.
Gerald — I think 9-3 is a realistic expectation for the team. I think TCU is a sneaky candidate to be one of the most high-scoring games of the season.
Curry — Texas will win the Big 12. Texas will beat Oklahoma twice.
Seahorn — 9-3. Most people will write off the Oklahoma game as an easy W for the Sooners and I’ll say right now that I bet that game ends up being closer than most think.
Cameron — 1) Somewhere around 8 or 9 wins in the regular season with another trip to the Texas Longhorn Bowl - sorry - the Alamo Bowl. 2) I’m going to start with the one this Saturday against Louisiana. Billy Napier is a Saban disciple just like Sark and I truly believe it’ll be a lot closer than most Texas fans expect.
Louisiana returns nearly every starter from a 10-win team, and they won’t come to DKR scared of Texas. What must the Horns do to avoid what would technically be an upset to kick off the Sarkisian era?
Cody — Feed Bijan Robinson and Roshon Johnson like it’s Thanksgiving, and just trust that a loaded defense can play sound football.
Gerald — I think Sark living up to his commitment to get Bijan somewhere in the range of 20 touches in the game will bode really well for the result.
Curry — Turnovers or stupid mistakes. Louisiana is scrappy, but they are lacking in terms of size and strength. Texas can’t bail them out with typical UT mistakes. This has to be a sound game start to finish and if it is, Texas wins by two touchdowns.
Seahorn — Get Hudson Card comfortable early and win the turnover battle.
Cameron — a) Establish the run game b) dominate time of possession and c) avoid turnovers
Does the Sark era begin with a ranked win over No. 23 Louisiana?
Cody — It will be a better game than most Texas fans will be comfortable with, but I’ll take Texas, 31-24.
Gerald — At the time I’m typing this, Texas is favored by 8.5 or nine points. I think Texas probably wins by seven.
Curry — Yes. Sark gets the fans excited with a clean win against Louisiana on the backs of Bijan Robinson and the defense.
Seahorn — I’ll say Texas wins, but it will likely be close enough to make people uncomfortable.
Cameron — OOF. Does a moral victory count? I think Texas will sneak by Louisiana but it won’t be as big of a victory as Las Vegas thought it was going to be when they opened the line at 14.5 in favor of the Horns.