Breakfast with Bevo: Ready for some football? Looks like Texas, Louisiana sure are
Good morning. Breakfast is served.
It's Saturday, Sept. 4 — season-opening Saturday for Texas, coming off a 7-3 season.
The Steve Sarkisian era is starting for the Longhorns.
Or is that the Hudson Card era?
Kickoff at Royal-Memorial Stadium is at 3:30. You can watch it on Fox or catch it on radio at 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 1260 or 1490. It's going to be a hot one, probably around 95 degrees come kickoff with lots of sun and heat for the expected 90,000-plus who'll be there. Bevo Boulevard is back. No masks required. Game on, if you will.
How the American-Statesman staff is picking the game:
Picking Texas: columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden, beat writer Danny Davis, sports editor Jason Jarrett and me.
Picking Louisiana: beat writer Brian Davis.
The Horns are 9-point favorites.
Our advance coverage today included a Brian Davis reader on Card, the former Lake Travis High School wide receiver who's now quarterbacking the country's 19th-ranked team for a coach who has groomed the last two quarterbacks he's worked with into Heisman Trophy finalists. Bohls and Golden addressed 10 college football topics, including today's key to the game (Kirk says turnovers, Ced says how Card plays) and how many series Casey Thompson should get. And Danny Davis wrote about both teams' experienced offensive lines.
This week, Kirk weighed in on Sarkisian's decision to start Card and also offered up 32 quantifiable predictions on Texas' season (and trust us, we'll see how he did come December) with his annual UT predictions column. (Partial spoiler alert: the Horns will go 9-3 and get a really interesting matchup in the Cheez-It-Bowl.) Cedric, meanwhile, was gracious enough on Tuesday to offer Sarkisian his own script for Texas' first 10 offensive plays today. Brian covered Monday's big reveal of the depth chart and his beat column Friday was on new defensive boss Pete Kwiatkowski.
Over in Louisiana, the Lafayette Daily Advertiser began the week covering how Ragin' Cajuns players were dealing with Hurricane Ida but covered the X's and O's, too, including pieces on new running back Chris Smith, who's finally getting his chance after playing behind a pair of now-NFL rookies, and nickel back Ja'Len Johnson. And the USA Today had a nice read on Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis' path he's taken to be The Guy for Louisiana.
Also out there: The Dallas Morning News wrote about Sarkisian's debut and what the former Bama OC brings to the table, and Sports Illustrated did a piece on Longhorns linebacker Luke Brockermeyer. The Longhorn Network had a three-part series this week looking back at Texas' 2005 national championship season. The Houston Chronicle's Matt Young wrote about his takeaways.
What's at stake today
For Texas, it's a chance to start this new era off the right way. Sarkisian gets his third shot at coaching a national name brand (he went 34-29 in five years at Washington and was 12-6 at USC), he brought in his own offensive and defensive coordinators, and is going to run with an unproven redshirt freshman who's completed all of three college passes.
"It's hard to overrate how important Texas' opener is," Bohls wrote in Saturday's Statesman. "... A loss would further deflate the fan base and that feeling that Texas is ready for the SEC and the big time, so Sark needs to deliver with a win, however pretty or ugly."
For Louisiana, the Longhorns are this year's Iowa State Cyclones, a chance to knock off a high-profile team on the road and make a national splash. All the buzz generated from going 10-1 can get snuffed out with a no-show in Austin. There's only a handful of top-25 matchups today. Lots of national eyes will be on the Cajuns.
Three things you should know:
1. Calling Texas' offensive plays will be ... Sarkisian, who called 'em just fine for Alabama the last two years. Offensive line coach Kyle Flood is Texas' offensive coordinator, but it'll be Sark calling the plays.
2. Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis is a lefty. And today will be his 32nd career start for the Ragin' Cajuns.
3. Injuries: For Texas, TE Brayden Liebrock (shoulder), WR Jaden Alexis (knee) and WR Troy Omeire (unspecified) are out — Liebrock and Alexis done for the season, too. For Louisiana, starting LT Carlos Rubio (unspecified) is out, which has forced the Cajuns to shuffle their front linemen a bit.
4. Yes, the Horns return cornerback D'Shawn Jamison, who earned all-conference honors last year for returning kicks and punts. He's already logged a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Kansas State, a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Rice, and a 100-yard kickoff return for a score against Oklahoma State. But Louisiana has running back Chris Smith returning kicks as well; last year he recorded a 95-yard touchdown return at Iowa State and a 100-yard return at UAB. He averaged 26.8 yards per return, which ranked 20th nationally.
“Chris is a dynamic player, man,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. “He is one of the elite return guys in the entire country. When he gets the ball, they’re 25 yards away from him. I like those scenarios.”
Top players to follow
No. 19 Texas: QB Hudson Card (making his first career start); RB Bijan Robinson (718 yards, 4 TDs last year); WR Joshua Moore (30-472-9 TDs led the team); DT Keondre Coburn (hon. mention All-Big 12), LB DeMarvion Overshown (60 tackles, 2 INTs); CB D'Shawn Jamison (hon. mention All-Big 12 as a returner)
No. 23 Louisiana: QB Levi Lewis (2,274 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs); RB Chris Smith (350 yards); WR Kyren Lacy (28-364-4 TDs led the team); DL Zi'Yon Hill (4 sacks); LB Ferrod Gardner (74 tackles, 7 sacks); S Bralen Trahan (4 INTs)
And who we're specifically watching today:
Kirk Bohls: Bijan Robinson. "Can he be a difference-maker, one that elevates this program?"
Brian Davis: Ovie Oghoufo. "The Notre Dame transfer is listed at linebacker and edge rusher. That's a lot of responsibility. The Horns need consistent disruption. Will he provide it?"
Danny Davis: Cameron Dicker. "The Horns have two punters on scholarship, but the Longhorns seem set on letting Dicker handle the kicking and punting duties. A good side bet for fans may be whether Dicker's longest kick against Louisiana is a field goal or punt. Last year, his longest field goal and punt both covered 53 yards."
... and if no one else is taking him, I'll claim Card. I thought Casey Thompson's experience and just having been around the program would tip the scales in his favor. And he looked just fine in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. But I forgot that all that came in someone else's program, not Sarkisian's. Sark certainly seems to know quarterbacks, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Card can do.
There are 25 Texans on the Ragin' Cajuns' roster — including three with direct Longhorns connections.
Freshman linebacker K.C. Ossai is indeed related. He's the younger brother of Joseph Ossai, Texas' former All-American edge rusher who was the Big 12's defensive player of the year in 2020. He's now a Cincinnati Bengal as K.C, who was a three-star prospect in Louisiana's 2021 recruiting class, begins his own college career. At Conroe Oak Ridge, he and UT offensive lineman Tyler Johnson played together, too.
In addition to the Ossai connection, there are two sets of Ragin' Cajuns and Longhorns who were prep teammates. Texas tight end Ja'Tavion Sanders and Louisiana running back Emani Bailey both played at Denton Ryan. And Texas linebacker Jett Bush came out of Houston Strake Jesuit, where he played with Louisiana offensive lineman Luke Junkunc.
One of those Texas on the Cajuns' roster is left tackle Ken Marks out of Beaumont Central; he has 27 career starts.
Stats vs. stats
Into numbers? How Texas (7-3) and Louisiana (10-1) ranked nationally last year in some key stats categories.
Scoring: Texas 7th, Louisiana 29th. Edge: Texas
Points allowed: Texas 61st, Louisiana 31st. Edge: Louisiana
Offense: Texas 19th, Louisiana 43rd. Edge: Texas
Defense: Texas 64th, Louisiana 33rd. Edge: Louisiana
Passing: Texas 27th, Louisiana 83rd. Edge: Texas
Stopping the pass: Texas 108th, Louisiana 6th. Edge: Louisiana
Rushing: Texas 37th, Louisiana 21st. Edge: Louisiana
Stopping the run: Texas 38th, Louisiana 88th. Edge: Texas
Turnover margin: Texas tied for 10th, Louisiana tied for 13th. Edge: Texas
Converting 3rd downs: Texas tied for 89th, Louisiana was 47th. Edge: Louisiana
Red zone offense: Texas tied for 43rd, Louisiana was 77th. Edge: Texas
Red zone defense: Texas 52nd, Louisiana 66th. Edge: Texas
Time of possession: Texas 106th, Louisiana 97th. Edge: Louisiana
Fewest penalties: Texas 114th, Louisiana 100th. Edge: Louisiana
Interceptions: Texas 29th, Louisiana 3rd. Edge: Louisiana
Sacks: Texas 93rd, Louisiana 90th. Edge: Louisiana
For those counting, out of those 16 categories, Louisiana holds a 9-7 edge in, well, edges.
The two schools agreed to play this game back in February 2019; the Ragin' Cajuns were coming off back-to-back 5-7 and 7-7 seasons and Texas, having already lined up Rice and Arkansas, needed one final nonconference game. To make it happen, Louisiana had to get out of a contract it had to play Arizona State this season — Arizona State agreed to pay the $200,000 buyout in return for Louisiana agreeing to play a men's hoops game there in 2019.
(On Dec. 7, 2019, Arizona State beat Louisiana in men's hoops, 77-65.)
Texas is 105-20-3 all-time in openers, though that first game usually isn't against a ranked team like the Horns get today. This is only the third time Texas and Louisiana will play (Texas won 52-10 in 2000 and 60-3 in 2005). That 60-3 win kick-started the Horns' 2005 national championship season. It was Win No. 8 of a 21-game winning streak that spanned all or parts of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons.
Texas is 30-9-2 all-time vs. teams from Louisiana (17-1-1 vs. Tulane, 9-8-1 vs. LSU, 2-0 vs. Louisiana and 1-0 vs. Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech).
The Horns have won their season opener in 18 of the last 21 years. The five openers, however, have been a mixed bag — 3-2:
2016: Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47 (2 OT). On a rare Sunday night game, Tyrone Swoopes rushed for 3 TDs, including the game winner. "Texas is back, folks!" was the instant reaction on TV.
2017: Maryland 51, No. 23 Texas 41. The unheralded Terrapins pooh-poohed on Tom Herman's UT debut. The next week, true freshman QB Sam Ehlinger got his first start.
2018: Maryland 34, No. 23 Texas 29. Surely, the Horns wouldn't let themselves be embarrassed on national TV again, would they? (Answer: Yes, they would.)
2019: No. 10 Texas 45, Louisiana Tech 14. Heading into the fourth quarter, it was a 38-0 game. Ehlinger threw 4 TDs.
2020: No. 14 Texas 59, UTEP 3. Ehlinger to Joshua Moore for a 78-yard catch-and-run TD. On the very first play of the season.
"Sarkisian has done all the right things and said all the right things since Jan. 2. But my memory is just too long," Brian Davis said in Saturday's Statesman. "Herman did all the right things and said all the right things, too. Then Maryland happened. ... Sark will do well long term. But in the here and now, the Horns might have to smooth out the kinks."
Oh, the Horns have won four of their six all-time games that have been played on Sept. 4.
1989: Colorado 27, Texas 6
1993: Colorado 36, Texas 14
1999: Texas 69, Stanford 17
2004: Texas 65, North Texas 0
2010: Texas 34, Rice 17
2016: Texas 50, Notre Dame 47
Football: The Horns picked up two defensive line commitments for the 2022 class, and Danny Davis had short Q&As with J'Mond Tapp out of Louisiana and Jaray Bledsoe from Marlin.
Volleyball: No. 1 Texas (3-0) hosts No. 20 Stanford (3-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Gregory Gym. You can catch it live or on the Longhorn Network. So far, the Horns have swept San Diego and UTSA and won 3-1 at No. 10 Minnesota on Wednesday. Logan Eggleston led the way with 16 kills, 12 digs and five blocks (her second double-double in three matches), Skylar Fields had 14 kills and Molly Phillips hit .458 and had 13 kills, a career high.
Soccer: Texas (1-2-1) plays at No. 19 Rice (5-0) on Sunday at 5. It's on Conference USA TV, for those of you with the right packages. Horns coach Angela Kelly is 3-0 all-time vs. the Owls. Texas got its first win of the season Thursday night in a 4-0 victory over New Mexico State. Julia Grosso and Lexi Missimo each scored twice.
Swimming: Texas will officially dedicate the Eddie Reese Outdoor Pool this morning.
Men's tennis: Eliot Spizzirri's stay at the U.S. Open was a short one. The Texas sophomore and his partner, Oklahoma State's Tyler Zink, lost to the third-seeded men's doubles team of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut of France in the first round, 6-4, 6-4.
Cross country: Texas swept the men's and women's 5K at the Tornado Watch Invitational at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock on Wednesday, claiming the top seven spots in both races — Yaseen Abdalla, Haftu Knight and Rodger Rivera took top three for the men, Eva Jess, Aaliya Fazel and Monica Hebner for the women. Next race is Sept. 18 in Stillwater.
Today's three best matchups:
At 11 a.m. (Fox): No. 20 Penn State at No. 15 Wisconsin
At 2:30 p.m. (ABC): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Miami, in Atlanta (Bama's favored by 19.5)
At 6:30 (ABC): No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia, in Charlotte, N.C.
If you lose your remote and get stuck with one channel, these are your two best options: Starting at 11, on ABC you'll get Oklahoma-Tulane, Bama-Miami and Georgia-Clemson. Fox will give you Penn State-Wisconsin, Texas-Louisiana and LSU-UCLA.
Today's Big 12 docket:
Tulane at No. 2 Oklahoma, 11 a.m., ABC (this game was supposed to be played in New Orleans, but got shifted to Norman because of Hurricane Ida.)
Stanford at Kansas State, 11, Fox Sports 1
West Virginia at Maryland, 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Northern Iowa at No. 7 Iowa State, 3:30 (Big 12 Network/ESPN+)
No. 23 Louisiana at No. 21 Texas, 3:30, Fox
Texas Tech at Houston, 6, ESPN
Missouri State at Oklahoma State, 6 (Big 12 Network/ESPN+)
Baylor at Texas State, 6 (ESPN+)
Duquesne at TCU, 7 (Big 12 Network/ESPN+)
Texas tick tock
7 a.m.: Campus parking lots open. Remember, kickoff is at 3:30.
11: Bevo Boulevard, after taking 2020 off, opens outside Royal-Memorial Stadium.
12:30 p.m.: The Bevo XV parade, plus the Texas Exes tailgate starts at the Etter-Arbin Alumni Center (2110 San Jacinto Blvd.).
1:15: The Texas team arrives at DKR, also known as the Stadium Stampede over on Bevo Boulevard.
2: Longhorn City Limits pregame concert — Shakey Graves. Will he kick it off with "Tomorrow"?
3: Bevo Boulevard closes.
3:25: For those inside DKR, there'll be an on-field ceremony to officially recognize the new name of the field --- Campbell-Williams Field, in honor of former Heisman winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
Halftime: UT will recognize its 2020-21 Directors' Cup win as the nation's top overall athletic department, including a tip of the cap to Texas' three national championship teams (swimming, women's tennis and rowing) and 13 Big 12 championships squads.
Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman are handling the TV booth for Fox today. The Horn's (104.9 FM) pregame show starts at 11:30. The Longhorn Network's gameday broadcast kicks off at 12:30. We've got Bohls, Golden and both Davises covering the game from the DKR press box.
Follow us on Twitter today: @kbohls, @CedGolden, @BDavisAAS and @aasdanny. Tim Buckley, who covers Louisiana for the Lafayette paper, is at @TDARaginCajuns.
And on Instagram: bevobeat.
We're planning a halftime Q&A with Bohls and Golden over on our Facebook Hookem page, a quick analysis after the game and lots of nouns and verbs to read tonight and tomorrow.
OK, Breakfast is over. We'll be back Sunday morning for the Texas-Louisiana postmortem.