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Can Longhorns handle success? Texas looking to plant its Big 12 flag squarely on TCU

Another 11 a.m. kickoff matches motivated Longhorns against Frogs, who are 7-2 in this series since joining the Big 12

When Steve Sarkisian talks about Texas having “unfinished business,” he’s talking about things like TCU.

He might be new around here, but Sark is already tired of the TCU-owns-Texas narrative.

Just who exactly will be planting their flag in Fort Worth this week?

“Clearly you can stack the potential distractions for this game,” Sarkisian said Thursday. “Eleven a.m. kick. Potential weather. Road game. Playing an opponent we’re allegedly not supposed to play good against.”

Oh, Gary Patterson gets his team ready for Texas. The locomotive horn will be supercharged Saturday inside Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Frogs have dominated the Horns at times since joining the Big 12, going 7-2 over the past nine years. But TCU is 2-8 the week before playing Texas and 3-6 afterward.

Coach Steve Sarkisian has his Longhorns off to a 3-1 start in his inaugural season, including a dominating win over Texas Tech in last week's Big 12 opener. Texas isn't nationally ranked but had enough votes to be 26th in both The Associated Press and coaches polls.

“We’re coming in knowing we haven’t been very dominant against TCU in the past couple of years,” UT defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said. “We’re going in there with a chip on our shoulder that we want to be dominant in the Big 12. TCU is in front of us. We have to take them off the table.”

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The Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) sure have things rolling offensively at the moment, having scored 128 points in their last two games. But Patterson, TCU’s veteran coach with a defensive DNA, has long been someone who rises to the burnt orange challenge.

“It’s a Texas team that’s always talented," Patterson said. "That’s what they have. They’re always going to be that way. So you’ve got to get ready to play. And they’re playing very well.”

TCU coach Gary Patterson has always downplayed his success against Texas. But the Frogs are 7-2 against the Horns since joining the Big 12 before the 2012 season.

The Frogs (2-1) head into their Big 12 opener having been on the defensive all week. SMU went westward on Interstate 30 and went Pony Up for a 42-34 win. Immediately afterward, a Mustangs player planted an SMU flag smack dab in the middle of the field, right in front of some Frogs players.

Pushing, shoving and some brother-in-lawing ensued. Both schools issued terse statements. It was wild, social media catnip and everything you’d expect in the Iron Skillet rivalry.

Patterson was upset that TCU assistant coach Jerry Kill sustained a concussion from apparently being hit by someone’s helmet in the fracas. Kill lives with epilepsy. But the TCU coach was irate about the flag-planting, which Patterson believes was planned as some kind of marketing ploy. 

SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice, followed by Mustangs linebacker Brian Holloway, runs the SMU flag to midfield at Amon G. Carter Stadium after last Saturday's win over the Horned Frogs.

Patterson’s comments prompted SMU athletic director Rick Hart to issue a statement that said, in part, “This is a complete fabrication. I can state unequivocally that there was no such plan.”

So the Frogs are flustered. And here come the Horns, ready to make amends for last season’s disastrous finish at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Texas was well on its way to a home victory until Keaontay Ingram fumbled at the goal line with 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining. TCU escaped with a 33-31 victory.

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So much has changed since then. Ingram transferred to USC. Texas changed its coaching staff along with its entire organizational philosophy. New quarterback Casey Thompson was named Big 12 offensive player of the week after his second career start. The defense has improved the past two weeks, too.

But this is still TCU.

Sarkisian would’ve lost his mind in 2015 if his team had been blown out in the first quarter and players had been tweeting at halftime. He would have been frustrated at the methodical way TCU won in 2017. And he would’ve been furious at how TCU quarterback Max Duggan ran in the clincher from 11 yards out in 2019.

“Max is a really gritty player, and that is a term of endearment,” Sarkisian said.

TCU quarterback Max Duggan runs for a touchdown against Texas last season. He's 2-0 against the Horns.

Duggan is now 2-0 against the Horns when you include what happened in Austin last season.

“I missed that game,” UT running back Bijan Robinson said. If you’ll recall, he was sidelined last season against TCU after getting folded in half the week before against Texas Tech. He tried to hurdle a tackler and was turned into a human pretzel.

Robinson is ready to go step for step against TCU’s Zach Evans. They were the nation’s top two running backs in the 2020 recruiting class. Robinson was ranked No. 1, Evans No. 2. Both were considered five-star studs.

Behind the numbers: Longhorn defense looking stronger than national numbers indicate

Sarkisian said he recruited Evans hard from Galena Park North Shore while he was still Alabama's offensive coordinator. “He really looks like he’s playing kind of like the player we saw in high school,” he said. “When he gets in the open field and he has space, he can be a problem.”

In other personnel news, Sarkisian announced Thursday that receiver Troy Omeire will have season-ending knee surgery. Omeire missed the 2020 season with torn knee ligaments. Now, he’s out again for 2021, and he still hasn’t played in a game at UT.

Sarkisian’s on his toes this week because he remembers TCU’s wild 47-41 come-from-behind win against Oregon in the 2015 Alamo Bowl. That game stuck with Sarkisian, and the coach admired how hard the Frogs played for Patterson.

“I didn’t know Gary. I had no skin in that game and just happened to be watching it,” Sarkisian said. “But I thought that was really impressive.”

Now, Sarkisian is lined up opposite Patterson and guiding a team the Frogs are happy to welcome.

Texas definitely has “unfinished business” with the crew in Fort Worth.

“I really believe that when we go on the field, a lot of our opponents do not respect us,” Sarkisian said. “So we’ve got to go earn it.”

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

Texas at TCU

When: 11 a.m.

Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth

TV: ABC

Radio: 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 99.3, 98.5, 1260

Purple reign

Since Mack Brown left after the 2013 season, Texas has gone 1-6 against TCU, including 0-3 in Fort Worth:

2014: TCU, 48-10. A miserable night in Austin, including four interceptions by Tyrone Swoopes.

2015: TCU, 50-7. The loss in Fort Worth dropped Texas to 1-4 to start the season.

2016: TCU, 31-9. Trivia question: Against whom did Charlie Strong coach his final game at Texas?

2017: TCU, 24-7. Things didn't start out so well for Tom Herman in the rivalry, either. His first taste of TCU came in Fort Worth.

2018: Texas, 31-16. The recent rivalry outlier; Texas' win came in its Sugar Bowl season.

2019: TCU, 37-27. Doomed by turnovers again — four interceptions by Sam Ehlinger.

2020: TCU, 33-31. Keaontay Ingram's goal-line fumble in the final 2½ minutes allowed the Frogs to escape with the W.