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Having gotten traction, Texas now must overcome its stubborn demon — inconsistency

Sark after Saturday’s blowout over Texas Tech: ‘One game doesn’t win you the Big 12 conference championship.’

To win championships, teams must stack one good play on top of another to have a good day. Good days during the week turn into wins on Saturdays. Start stacking wins, and teams can compete for championships.

That’s been Texas’ problem in recent years. There’s been no consistency. 

The Longhorns started 2-0 in Big 12 play in 2017 and then lost two straight. They started 3-0 in 2018 but lost back-to-back games before scrambling to reach the Big 12 title game. The 2019 team won, lost, won and lost in a zigzag pattern. Last year’s team just couldn’t close the door at winning time.

This year?

“It feels different,” receiver Jordan Whittington said after the 70-35 win over Tech. “That fire that burns for me to win, everybody has that. Not just players, but literally everyone on the staff.”

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson directs the offense during the Longhorns' 70-35 win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Thompson has led 21 touchdown drives on 26 possessions since he took the field for the second half of the Alamo Bowl against Colorado last season.

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Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) faces another daunting challenge this week against TCU (2-1, 0-0). The Frogs are 7-2 in this series since joining the Big 12 in 2012. Nothing pleases coach Gary Patterson more than to hear how little ol’ TCU owns Texas.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said the Horns had their best week of practice leading up to the game against the Red Raiders. 

“Now the new challenge is that one game doesn’t win you the Big 12 conference championship,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a body of work that you have to continue to put together. Again, we’ve got challenges ahead, and the biggest one is next week going up to TCU. We’ve got work to do.”

Pollsters have seen this movie before and refuse to take the bait. Despite two blowout wins, the Horns remain just outside the Top 25 in The Associated Press and the USA Today coaches polls. Texas sits atop the "others receiving votes" category. It’s a reminder that Sark’s bunch has a long climb ahead.

For those keeping track, 4-0 Arkansas is now up to No. 8 in the AP Top 25 after taking down then-No. 7 Texas A&M on Saturday in Arlington.

More:Golden: After Arkansas loss, Texas A&M Aggies offense is going south in a hurry

Texas’ veterans know their own history, too. The Horns would have big September wins and build up momentum, only to go nowhere in early October. How can these Horns avoid the same result?

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian blows the whistle during warmups before the Longhorns' win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Sarkisian's offense has not had to punt in two games.

“I would say just from my experience is to live where your feet are,” Whittington said. “Don’t look at the past, don’t look at the future, just where you are right now. Focus on that, and make sure you’re doing 100% on that moment.”

Never get too high, and never get too low, as coaches say.

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Longhorn Confidential: What we think of Texas' 70-35 win over Texas Tech

"Just staying focused, man,” tackle Derek Kerstetter said. “You’ve got to be able to go in each and every week and know that you’ve got to put your head down and go to work. Just focus on beating your next opponent and not look too far ahead and not look behind at all. You’ve just got to focus on the next week.”

There’s a lot to like about where these Horns are heading.

Quarterback Casey Thompson has now led the offense to 21 touchdowns (11 passing, 10 rushing) on 26 possessions dating back to the 2020 Alamo Bowl — a staggering statistic by any measure. The offense has been so efficient, UT has not punted in back-to-back games, something that had never happened before in the school's history. 

Texas ranks third nationally in scoring offense (46.8 points per game), one spot ahead of Alabama (46.5). Who would have guessed that four games into the season? 

Texas has the Big 12’s second-best rushing attack (267.8 yards per game). And Sarkisian is unyielding in his belief that big plays in the passing game are coming. 

Texas center Jake Majors motions for less crowd noise during the Longhorns' win over Texas Tech. Majors is part of an offensive line that has powered Texas to the Big 12’s second-best rushing attack (267.8 yards per game).

The offensive line had some rough moments in September, but give credit where it’s due. Offensive line coach Kyle Flood is turning his unit around. Having a more experience quarterback under center certainly helps.

“You’ve got to grow together as an offensive line,” Kerstetter said. “It shouldn’t take a long time, but you never know how long it’s going to take. You’ve just got to continue to grow tougher and really find your game and continue to get better each and every week.”

More:How the Texas Longhorns graded out in their win over Texas Tech

On a day when the offense scores 70 points, it's easy to overlook the defense. Sarkisian won’t. Backup Tech quarterback Henry Colombi threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his long touchdown throws were busted coverages in the secondary. 

TCU quarterback Max Duggan is second in the Big 12 in passing yards per game (239). There’s a sizable hole on the defensive side, though. TCU is allowing 25.7 points per game. 

There’s simply no reason to start the Texas hype train until after the Oklahoma game Oct. 9. If the Horns come out of the Cotton Bowl with a 5-1 overall record, they will become the odds-on favorite to reach Arlington and possibly win the Big 12.

But let’s see Texas get past TCU first.

This team’s history shows it struggles with success. Now it’s Sarkisian’s turn to manage expectations and carve a pathway to consistency.

One play, one practice, one day, one win at a time.

Never forget Sarkisian’s words from Sept. 13. It’s a mantra that may come to define this team.

“I hate to lose,” Sarkisian said after the Arkansas debacle. “As much as I love to win, I hate to lose. And that’s what drives me. I don’t want to lose. And hopefully our team takes on that same approach.”

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

Saturday's game

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