Steve Sarkisian: Texas' goals remain intact, it's just about getting better, fixing issues
So, the sun came up Sunday morning around the Texas football complex — despite the heartbreak at the Cotton Bowl during the day, despite watching Texas A&M with its backup quarterback knock off No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night. Sounds like the Horns regrouped, broke down video of the game and started focusing on Oklahoma State this Saturday.
Texas (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) is clinging to its Associated Press Top 25 status, dropping from No. 21 to 25th this week. The Horns dropped out of the coaches poll, now a fairly distant 28th in terms of "other receiving votes" behind Auburn and even Baylor at Nos. 26 and 27.
Highlights from Sark's presser:
Putting the OU loss to bed
Sarkisian offered his breakdown of just exactly what went wrong last Saturday. The Sooners were down 28-7 at one point. After watching the game tape, he offered up the following key points:
"The one thing that continued to show up was the second half of the game, the momentum of the game obviously swung, and our ability to stay focused on the task at hand, I think, was really the deciding factor," Sarkisian said. "We did some things uncharacteristic to us that we had done really well in the first half — same calls, same looks — that we weren't able to execute."
Specifically, he pointed out:
• Once OU replaced Spencer Rattler with Caleb Williams at quarterback, the Horns didn't get the same amount of pressure that they were getting early in the game. It allowed Williams to break out of the huddle and land punches with off-script, or off-schedule as Sarkisian said, plays.
• Last week, Sarkisian pointed to "winning first down" as one of his keys. That happened in the first half, but not in the second. "They had a very good defensive front, and in the first half of the game we were winning on first-and-10, which gave us second-and-mediums or first downs, and we stayed out of the third-and-longer or didn't even get to third down," he said. "In the second half of the game, it was too many second-and-longs or third-and-longs. You can't have half of your third downs be third-and-11 plus; I think we had 12 third downs, I think six of them were third-and-11 plus. That's tough against that front, that's the strength of their team. So that's where the game kind of got out of whack."
• Too many missed tackles. "Tackling's not all about the want-to," he said, "our guys want to get them on the ground. It's getting back to the proper fundamentals and techniques to do it, and when we miss, generally we're not using the proper fundamentals and techniques."
So, back to the drawing board.
"I kind of like these challenges, quite frankly," Sarkisian said. "I think this is when we learn a lot about ourselves. I talked (after the OU loss) about (how) our mettle would be tested this week. I think the best way to deal with these type of things is to address them head on, be honest, be upfront, here's what we need to fix."
Jacoby Jones, Jordan Whittington out
There were two notable injuries against OU, and both sound fairly serious. Starting DE Jacoby Jones will have foot surgery after getting hurt in the first quarter and WR Jordan Whittington, who was hurt in the fourth quarter and missed Texas' final two drives, will have surgery on his clavicle (collar bone). Sarkisian did not give a timetable for either.
That puts more pressure on Ovie Oghoubo, Alfred Collins and Ray Thornton to step up for Jones, Sarkisian said. Ben Davis, too. And Whittington's injury opens the door for Marcus Washington and Kelvontay Dixon at receiver. "And then, at that point, it's who else can step up beyond that? But also, what can we do from a personnel standpoint maybe to take some of the stress off those guys, whether it's multiple tight ends, multiple running backs, whatever that looks like to remain creative but also still run our schemes at a high level."
About that defensive line ...
Our own Kirk Bohls asked Sark if he still felt the defensive line was the strength of this team or whether it hasn't lived up to his expecations ... and also "how far away from you from just being a really good team?"
"I think our defensive line has progressively actually played better throughout the year," Sarkisian said. "The one thing we would all love is to just be this unbelievable pass-rushing football team — that's not really how we're built. So we've gotta be stout, we gotta have really good rush lanes and not let quarterbacks escape through the pocket, and try to collapse the pocket, and that's an area that we continue to work on."
And how far away are the Longhorns?
"I don't know exactly how far we are, from a metrics standpoint," he said. "What I do know is that was a top-five team in the country and with two minutes to go in the third quarter, we were ahead 41-23, so if that's the metric, maybe we're not as far (away) as we think. But it's not really about that, it's about how do we continue to get better and fix the issues that we have."
Texas is currently in fourth place in the Big 12 standings, at 2-1, right behind 3-1 Baylor, 2-0 OSU and 3-0 Oklahoma. ... OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders has thrown four interceptions in five games. ... Talk about role reversal: This year, Texas is averaging about 45 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally. Usually it's the Cowboys that are ranked up there.
Saturday's game against Oklahoma State kicks off at 11 a.m. — the Horns' third straight 11 a.m. game. It'll be aired on Fox. The Longhorns are favored by 5 1/2. OSU is 5-1 in games played at Royal-Memorial Stadium since 2010. This will be the first time both teams are ranked when playing each other since 2013.