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Maturity, poise, and composure are key as Texas enters defining stretch

Texas is in control of its own conference destiny, but how they handle the final stretch will determine how close they get to their goals.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Iowa State at Texas Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the second time in as many Saturdays, the Texas Longhorns have taken a step forward from the subpar 2021 version of themselves. First, Texas steamrolled the Oklahoma Sooners 49-0 on the big stage that is the Red River Showdown, applying all gas after failing to live up to their motto in Steve Sarkisian’s first season. Then, the Longhorns went out and won the game when it mattered, driving 75-yards to take a late lead, forcing a defining turnover minutes later, and then moving the chains on third down to ice the game in a 24-21 win over Iowa State.

“A year ago, I don’t know if we win that game,” Sark said. “I don’t know if we were mature enough as a team, if we had the culture to persevere, to have the poise and composure in the face of adversity like we had it.”

Albeit in a relatively sloppy performance in which the Longhorns left more than a few points and opportunities on the field, the poise and composure Sark noted, especially in the fourth quarter allowed the Horns to win ugly — something they simply couldn’t do last season.

It’s another box checked for his program, which now has the first three-game conference winning streak of the Sarkisian era. But this is no time to hear about how improved they are this season because, well, they’ll need to be better to keep winning.

“There was no rat poison in our meeting this morning — we had a real come to Jesus this morning,” Sark said on Monday. “We gotta play better.”

Beginning on Saturday as they head to Stillwater to meet the No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys, the Longhorns are about to enter a defining four-game stretch during which three games will be away from Austin. What’s at stake? Simply put, how Texas performs during this stretch will ultimately decide whether they’ll host Baylor in their regular season finale with a trip to the Big 12 Championship on the line.

The key to bringing that to fruition as the competition level significantly increases and they don’t have the burnt orange nation on their side?

“It starts with maturity. When you can mature — I’m not talking age, just maturing in our program and our process of the things that we place importance on — then you can have poise and composure,” Sark said. “I think poise and composure is really important on the road.”

There’s a lot that goes into that. Specifically, Sarkisian called out not letting adversity drag on and one bad play turn into another, and on into a series or quarter, and the need for Texas to play complementary football “as one.”

But as Texas gets into the most grueling stretch of its schedule, Sark feels good about his team — he has since the beginning, but even more so now after winning ugly last week.

“I feel very confident in them,” Sark said. “This team has felt different to me from the very beginning and continues to show to me, even when we’re not at our best, we have the maturity to kind of settle ourselves down and play good enough to win.”

But now, staring at a stretch that features No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Kansas State on the road, No. 8 TCU in Austin, and a much-improved Kansas squad on the road before closing out at home against the reigning Big 12 champs in Baylor, Texas will need all of the above — maturity, poise, composure, and be able to play good enough to win every single week. But before thinking of a Big 12 title appearance, or closing at home on a high note to get there, Texas must simply focus on Oklahoma.

Coach speak can be cliche, at times, but for Sark and his Longhorns, it’s truly one game at a time.

“There is a lot of football left to be played in our conference,” Sark said. “I think the key to the drill is one game at a time — I know that’s an old coaching adage. How we look at it, this Saturday’s another championship game. You have to look at it almost like you’re in the playoffs because they don’t get easier.”