In league opener, Texas Tech gets first crack at thumping Texas for summer’s Big 12 chaos
Longhorns host Red Raiders at 11 a.m. Saturday as curtain rises on Big 12 play
To Steve Sarkisian, Texas Tech is just another team. He doesn’t know about Michael Crabtree, the tortillas and noise that rains down in Lubbock.
To the first-year Texas coach, TCU is just the team in purple. He wasn’t around for the Frogs’ soul-crushing beatdown in 2015, the frustrating loss in 2019 and the goal-line fumble last year.
Sark knows Oklahoma. But he doesn’t really know about Bob Stoops’ rivalry with Mack Brown, the anger in those Horns Down hand signs and planting the flag.
He wasn’t at Texas for those shootouts with Oklahoma State, the battles against Baylor and the back-to-back losses to Iowa State. And he certainly has little knowledge of what happened in Lawrence in 2016.
Every Big 12 school has a complicated backstory with Texas. And the rest of the league — OK, at least eight teams — will want to trash the Longhorns for causing conference realignment headaches. Saturday’s league opener against Texas Tech (3-0) is merely the first step in Sark’s Bevo baptism by fire.
“When you’re driving a car, there’s a reason the windshield is so much bigger than the rearview mirror,” Sarkisian said Monday. “You know, we don’t spend much time looking in the rearview mirror, or you’re going to miss what’s right in front of you.”
Texas (2-1) is the school all Big 12 teams love to hate. Arkansas still does, and look how that turned out. New men’s basketball coach Chris Beard, who left Lubbock for Austin lickety-split in April, knows this better than most.
“You’ve got to embrace the hate,” Beard said Thursday. “I imagine it’s not easy to play for the Yankees, the Lakers or the Cowboys. And that’s what this deal is all about. This deal isn't for everybody.”
That probably sounds ludicrous to non-UT fans. This is a program that hasn’t won a league title since 2009. The men’s basketball team hasn’t won a single NCAA Tournament game since 2014. There’s been a lot of averageness with Texas’ two biggest sports for quite some time.
Saturday could be Sarkisian’s first step in changing all of it. Texas will be public enemy No. 1 within the Big 12 until the day the Longhorns leave for the SEC.
“I don’t get too nostalgic with our players,” Sarkisian said. “Those types of things can cloud what our focus needs to be on, and that’s the intent which we prepare and the intent in which we play.”
Sarkisian said he has noticed a higher intensity in practice the past two weeks. The pads were cracking, he said.
“We’re going to get their best shot,” Sarkisian said, “but we need to make sure they get our best shot as well.”
Realistically, what do we know about these Horns? Texas had more physical talent than Louisiana and Rice but couldn’t stop the run against Arkansas. That’s not enough to fill out any résumé. Much of this team’s story has yet to be told. Nine major chapters in this book have yet to be written.
The Longhorns enter the weekend knowing full well that Casey Thompson is their starting quarterback. He’s led 13 drives this season. Ten ended with a touchdown and one with a field goal. Sarkisian is keeping Hudson Card engaged as the holder on field goals. Thus, the coaches won’t be protecting his redshirt status.
Thompson will make his second career start against Tech. But this is no journeyman. He was Sam Ehlinger’s backup the past two seasons and said he “got a lot of first-team reps whenever Sam was the starter.”
Thompson was so dialed in to the game plan in last week's 58-0 win over Rice, he told Bijan Robinson that he was going to score on an inside draw play. Robinson ran 62 yards for a touchdown. Thompson chalked it up to intense film study.
“Anybody that knows Casey, like if you walk in his apartment, his bed is made, he has all his clothes in a line, color coded,” running back Roschon Johnson said. “He’s just OCD. He just does everything to a T. That’s just the type of person he is. Ever since I met him, he’s been like that.”
By now it’s clear Texas has a solid running game threat with Robinson, Johnson and Keilan Robinson. Tech comes in having allowed just 57.3 rushing yards per game.
It’s also obvious that UT’s receivers have been inconsistent, none more so than Joshua Moore, the most experienced returnee. And for every good run block, this offensive line can get beat in pass protection.
“It’s going back to basic fundamentals,” right guard Junior Angilau said. “Eye discipline. That’s really all you need to do.”
Safety B.J. Foster admitted this week that the secondary hasn’t really been tested. Tech quarterback Tyler Shough completed 26 of 35 passes for 399 yards and four touchdowns against Florida International. Three of those scores went to tight ends, an area of importance for both Tech and Texas.
Erik Ezukanma still has his Guns Up. The Tech speedster has 14 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns in two games against the Longhorns. Also, DeMarcus Fields has 21 tackles in two games against UT.
Don’t just assume Texas has the upper hand because the Horns are at home. The Red Raiders are 11-2 against unranked teams in Big 12 openers. In case you missed it, UT is unranked at the moment.
Texas receiver Troy Omeire (knee) will not play this week, Sarkisian said. He was expected to miss three or four more weeks, and he’s now on the back end of that timetable.
Sarkisian has been in big conference rivalry games before. At Washington, his teams played Washington State. At USC, Sark’s teams lined up against UCLA. Conference play is a weekly grind.
For the next two months, Texas will be going up against Big 12 teams that truly believed they would soon become irrelevant — banished to Group of Five conference status. The Big 12 has invited four new teams and found stability. But the other league teams won’t easily forgive and forget.
Before the Horns leave for the SEC, they need to script a better ending in the Big 12.
“All week long, I’ve been posing the challenge to the fans, to the students, to really get the buzz in DKR going,” Sarkisian said. “We want to make sure it’s special at 11 a.m.”
Texas vs. Texas Tech
When: 11 a.m.
Where: Royal-Memorial Stadium
Radio: 104.9, 99.3, 98.5, 1260, 105.3 (Spanish)