Steve Sarkisian: Lots to like in Louisiana win, but Texas can definitely play better
Highlights from Texas coach Steve Sarkisian's game-week press conference ahead of Saturday's game at Arkansas:
Last week, when Sarkisian named Hudson Card his starting quarterback, he included the caveat that he'd reevaluate things after seeing what Card would do against Louisiana and then watching the tape after what Card and backup Casey Thompson did.
The quarterbacks decision/reevaluation didn't come up today — Card clearly backed up Sarkisian's starting decision with his play against the Ragin' Cajuns — but he did bring up the game tape, and offered some good things and bad things from what he saw.
Overall, obviously, he was pleased with what he saw in the 38-18 win.
"We definitely can play better — in the run game and the pass game," Sarkisian said to open his presser. "But first game, new system, some of the mechanics, the communication, I think will drastically improve as we work our way through the season."
He called the problems "very fixable," which included some critical penalties at not great times — the block in the back that not only wiped out D'Shawn Jamison's 83-yard punt return touchdown but consequently made the Horns start out at their own 8-yard line (it was a three-and-out series) — and also three holding penalties on the offensive line.
"The beauty of first games is there's always things to work on," he said.
Sark said he was happy with Texas' tackling — one particular nice open-field tackle on third down from Jamison comes to mind.
He was asked how he felt the defensive line played. "I thought our defensive line played good. I think we can play better. I think we can be even more disruptive, especially internally, than we were."
About Saturday's game
Injury updates: RG Junior Angilau (knee) left the Louisiana game and TE Jared Wiley (shoulder) also was hurt. Sarkisian said both "are pretty much status quo," and that they were back out at practice on Monday but would be monitored throughout the week. TE Brayden Liebrock and WR Jaden Alexis are out for the season. WR Troy Omeire missed the opener with an unspecified injury, but Sark didn't mention him today.
Saturday's game kicks off at 6 p.m. at Arkansas' Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. It's an ESPN game and the Horns are 6-point favorites.
Top players for the Horns: QB Hudson Card (14-21-224, 2/0); RB Bijan Robinson (20-103-1); WR Jordan Whittington (7-113-1); LB DeMarvion Overshown (13 tackles); LB Luke Brockermeyer (10 tackles, 1.5 TFL)
Top players for the Razorbacks: QB KJ Jefferson (12-21-128, 1/1); RB Trelon Smith (22-102-1); WR Tyson Morris (3-42-1); LB Bumper Pool (14 tackles, 1.5 TFL); DB Jalen Catalon (11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 interception)
Texas should face a better defense this week than it saw against Louisiana. The Razorbacks are tough on the line, have a couple of strong linebackers and will have to contend with a star safety in Jalen Catalon, who had a pick against Rice.
"The guy who makes it all go is Catalon in the middle," Sarkisian said. "He's back there playing center field. Very aggressive player, excellent tackler, very good instincts. The way those three guys play, it allows the other guys to really penetrate up front with the defensive line and mix up coverages on the back end."
About the quarterbacks
Sarkisian was asked how he felt Card — a redshirt freshman with now just one college start under his belt — would fare in what sounds like will be a hostile environment. Sark thought Card would be just fine.
"I think part of it is Hudson's personality. I think that's kind of who he is," he said. "I think he's a very even-keeled demeanored guy. Again, it's another new for him. He played his first game here at DKR in front of the crowd we had, and now the next new is going on the road and playing a good opponent and dealing with that hostile environment.
"I can't predict the future, but we're going to do everything we can to make sure he's in the right frame of mind to perform at the best of his abilities."
Sarkisian may not know the future, but he does know the past. Casey Thompson relieved Card with two minutes left in the third quarter against Louisiana and played the whole fourth quarter, finishing 4-of-5 for 41 yards and a touchdown pass to Jordan Whittington. Sark said last week that he intended to get Thompson into the game, and today he explained why.
"The key for him is in game reps, in our system," he said. "I've said all along, that's a real luxury. I was thinking back to coach Saban at Alabama, when Jalen (Hurts) was the starter and Tua (Tagovailoa) first got there, he always made it a point to try to get Tua into the game to make sure Tua was ready, and ultimately that paid off for him, right, putting him in the second half of the national championship game. In turn, the next season Tua was the starter, he always made it a point to get Jalen in the game early in the season, and sure enough here comes the SEC championship game and he puts Jalen in and Jalen goes and wins the championship for him. So you try to learn from those that you're around, and that was a great lesson learned. You gotta make sure your backup is prepared to play when his number is called at those critical moments."
Which makes total sense. (See Jan. 10, 2010.)
Saturday's game falls on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. Our own Cedric Golden asked Sarkisian what 9/11 means to him, and Sarkisian shared an anecdote: In 2001 he was the quarterbacks coach at USC, and on that Tuesday morning he was waiting for Trojans OC Norm Chow to pick him up on the way to work and saw the news coverage on TV. And Sarkisian said he lost a cousin in one of the two World Trade Center towers. "It's definitely a big moment in our history and in our time that we need to recognize, and we will obviously before this ball game." ... Saturday's game is a sellout, Sarkisian said, the Razorbacks' first home sellout since 2017. ... Razorbacks LB Bumper Pool was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter of the win over Rice. That means he'll have to sit out Saturday's first half.