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'Each week you've got to get better': Texas line looks to improve with Arkansas awaiting

Last year, Texas offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter graduated with a degree in corporate communications.

Starting guard Denzel Okafor also already has his degree. Backup lineman Tope Imade owns two. Hayden Conner, a freshman, is at Texas to play football and study aerospace engineering.

Yet Kerstetter, a two-time All-Big 12 academic honoree, didn't want to speak publicly about the Longhorns linemen and their grades Tuesday.

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Texas offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter, left, helps clear a path for quarterback Hudson Card during the 38-18 win over Louisiana.

He wasn't talking about the classroom, though. When asked about the grades that offensive line coach Kyle Flood gave the linemen for their season-opening performance against Louisiana, Kerstetter demurred.

"We don't really talk about that. We keep that in-room," he said.

"Each week you've got to get better. That's how it's got to be in college," the fifth-year senior assessed. In the 38-18 win over Louisiana, Kerstetter said he liked the line's cohesiveness. He opined that the Longhorns need to continue to focus on "pounding the rock."

Texas averaged 4 yards per rush, and star running back Bijan Robinson crossed the 100-yard threshold for the third straight game. But the Longhorns started slowly; that average was only 2.8 yards at halftime.

Additionally, two holding penalties were called on UT linemen. Texas also allowed three sacks. On Monday, head coach Steve Sarkisian said that two of those sacks were on his tight ends. He credited Louisiana with a good defensive call on the other takedown of quarterback Hudson Card.

"All in all, I thought we played pretty good up front," Sarkisian said. "We definitely can play better in the run game and in the pass game. First game, new system, some of the mechanics and communication I think will drastically improve as we work our way through the season." 

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Katy Taylor offensive lineman Hayden Conner, left, was an early enrollee for Texas this year. In the season-opening win over Louisiana, starting right guard Junior Angilau was injured in the fourth quarter, and Conner finished the game in his spot.

As expected, Texas started the veteran combination of Kerstetter, Okafor, Junior Angilau, Christian Jones and Jake Majors up front. After Angilau injured his knee in the fourth quarter, Texas inserted Conner into the game.

A true freshman receiving meaningful minutes on the offensive line was not commonplace over the past four years. In fact, Kerstetter (10 starts), Majors (two) and Andrej Karic (one) were the only first-year linemen to start during Tom Herman's tenure.

"It was good to see Hayden come in and really just hold his own, especially at such a young age," Kerstetter said. "It's hard to play offensive line when you're a freshman. He came in and played really, really well."

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Off the field, Conner is an aspiring astronaut and self-described food connoisseur who has his picture hanging over the cash register at the popular Pinkerton's Barbecue in Houston. On the field, he was a 6-foot-5, 332-pound three-star recruit who enrolled early.

On the Texas depth chart, Conner is listed as Kerstetter's backup at right tackle. However, he replaced Angilau at right guard. Last month, Flood said Conner was among the players who were training at multiple positions.

"Mentally, he's handling it really well," Flood said then. "I've been very pleased with that."

Sarkisian said Angilau practiced on Monday, though he wouldn't commit to Angilau's availability for this weekend's trip to Arkansas.

In last week's 38-17 win over Rice, Arkansas recorded two sacks. The Owls gained just 2.1 yards per rush and did not have a run longer than 7 yards.

"This is an SEC defense," Kerstetter said. "It's going to be a good time going against them and just seeing how we stack up against them. It will be a fun game."

Saturday's game

No. 15 Texas at Arkansas, 6 p.m., ESPN, 104.9