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What’s working, what’s not as Texas opens Big 12 play this week vs. Texas Tech

Sark: ‘We’re going to really challenge the players on, we can’t relax’

Mentally, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian had already moved on before even finishing the Rice post-game press conference late Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

“Next week, I would say the regular season begins with Big 12 play with (Texas) Tech coming to town at 11 a.m.,” Sarkisian said. 

Sark wants his Longhorns (2-1) to accelerate next weekend against the Red Raiders (3-0) in the league opener for both teams.

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“We’re going to really challenge the players on, we can’t relax,” Sarkisian said. “Now’s not the time to just relax and take a step back.”

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian has guided the Longhorns to a 2-1 start to the season. Texas now opens Big 12 play this week against Texas Tech.

After three nonconference games, Texas has cleared up some questions while new issues have cropped up. Stepping back, it’s easy to see a team that has enough firepower to be competitive. But can the Horns be consistent enough to make it to Arlington come December?

Quarterback issue: solved?

Knowing he had to perform well, Casey Thompson led Texas to seven touchdowns on the first eight drives of the 58-0 Rice rout. Sarkisian switched to Thompson from redshirt freshman Hudson Card last Monday, and the junior delivered a blowout win.

Bohls: Thompson, Worthy a Texas passing tandem worthy of high praise and expectations

Sarkisian said afterward that “Casey will kind of lead the charge next week against Tech.” Thompson is likely to be the starter the rest of the season.

In his first career start, Casey Thompson directed Texas to touchdowns on seven of its first eight drives against Rice. It appears that he'll be the Longhorns starter the rest of the season.

“We know we’re not going to be perfect,” Thompson said. “I know I’m not going to be perfect in a practice or a game. Literally, if you try to perfect every single rep, the best is possible and in the game you’ll have good results.”

Texas’ 1-2 rushing punch

Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown admitted that running back Bijan Robinson gets by him in practice. If Agent Zero is struggling to tackle Robinson, Big 12 defenders will, too. That’s just how running back coach Stan Drayton likes it.

“Coach Drayton, he’s got a hell of a running back corps,” Overshown said. “I’m telling you, it’s a battle every day, but iron sharpens iron.”

Texas running back Roschon Johnson celebrates Saturday's 58-0 win over Rice. Both he and starting back Bijan Robinson rushed for more than 100 yards against the Owls.

Robinson is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Roschon Johnson is averaging 11.7 after his wild night against the Owls. He had 112 yards on just three carries. “I think we’re both playmakers, and once we get the ball in our hands, we can make something shake,” Johnson said. “That was displayed tonight.”

Keilan Robinson flashed serious speed on a 65-yard touchdown run. And Jonathan Brooks even got in the end zone with a 17-yard score. The Horns will need all these backs throughout Big 12 play. 

Can the offensive line hold up?

For the second straight week, a Texas quarterback was blasted by a pass rusher. Rice’s Ikenna Enechukwu hit Thompson on UT’s second drive, and the quarterback threw a ball that floated up for grabs that got intercepted. It was the only quarterback hurry Rice was credited with all night.

Arkansas’ defensive pressure was more in line with what Texas will see in league play, not what Rice could — or realistically couldn’t — do. Oklahoma and Kansas State are averaging four sacks per game. Texas is averaging just 2.3, by comparison.

Photos:Texas Longhorns vs. Rice Owls football

Texas had no personnel changes among its starting five linemen. In the second half, backups Andrej Karic, Hayden Conner, Logan Parr, Tope Imade and Isaiah Hookfin all saw action.

It’s imperative that Sarkisian and Thompson help the offensive line with play calls that get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. Receivers need to get separation and get open, too.

“Ideally, I don’t know if we’re going to go out and rush for 430 yards every night, so we’re going to need that passing game to be there, and we’ve just got to keep working on it,” Sarkisian said.

About that defensive pressure …

In three nonconference games, Texas has seven sacks. Louisiana’s passing offense ranks 37th nationally, Arkansas is 85th and Rice is 117th. None of them had intimidating passing attacks.

Texas Tech and TCU, UT’s first two Big 12 opponents, have allowed seven sacks combined all season. The Raiders and Frogs are protecting their quarterbacks well.

Simply put, Texas needs to create more defensive pressure. Much more.

Texas defensive linemen Alfred Collins and Byron Murphy II look to apply pressure on Rice quarterback Jake Constantine during the second half of Saturday's win at Royal-Memorial Stadiutm.

Ovie Oghoufo had Texas’ only sack while the starters were on the field against Rice. And the Horns were credited with just one quarterback hurry, by linebacker Luke Brockermeyer. 

In fact, Texas has been credited with only four hurries in three games. Oghoufo has three tackles for loss and one hurry. Fellow starting edge rusher Jacoby Jones has one pressure and 1.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackles Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo have one tackle for loss combined.

Secondary still untested

Texas has solid pass defense numbers; the Horns are allowing 182.7 passing yards per game. But again, the three teams UT has faced were just so-so passing teams. Arkansas did all its damage on the ground with 333 rushing yards.

Texas Tech will present the toughest challenge this secondary has faced to date. The Red Raiders are averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt. TCU is getting it done through the air, as is Oklahoma.

One of the best plays so far this young season was B.J. Foster’s one-handed interception at Arkansas. Otherwise, the secondary has been merely a supporting cast. 

D’Shawn Jamison got behind an Arkansas receiver and gave up a 41-yard play. Josh Thompson hasn’t really put his stamp on a game yet like he’s proven he can. Jerrin Thompson replaced Brenden Schooler in the starting lineup, but that hasn’t paid major dividends just yet.

The start of Big 12 play shouldn’t change Texas’ weekly preparation. But it will change the stakes. 

“We just have to treat it like another game,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be another game week, but it’s going to be a good week of practice.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

Saturday's game

Texas Tech at Texas, 11 a.m., ABC, 104.9