With Longhorns fans and Arch Manning watching, Texas reloads against No. 12 Oklahoma State
Forget about the Sooners. Huge recruiting weekend on tap as Longhorns host undefeated Cowboys
Don’t think Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns spent the week sulking.
Last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma might have knocked Texas off track. Oh, there’s been the requisite fallout, for sure. But now here comes No. 12 Oklahoma State rambling into Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Pistol Pete would gladly shoot down the Horns just as the season’s second half begins.
“I’d much rather be playing this week than not,” Sarkisian said. “I think this is the perfect scenario for us.”
Saturday is a huge day for Sarkisian and the Longhorns (4-2, 2-1 Big 12). They’re unveiling a new offensive line combination and some changes on defense. High-profile recruits are scheduled to be in Austin, most notably five-star quarterback Arch Manning.
OK, so maybe fans hate these 11 a.m. kickoffs. Not Sarkisian. The coaching staff loves the idea of playing early and then spending the rest of the day with recruits and their parents. Sweet-talking all the offensive and defensive line recruits is encouraged. “There’s a benefit to playing an 11 a.m. kick,” he said.
Mostly, the Longhorns are focused on getting back on the winning side of the ledger. The Cowboys (5-0, 2-0) are undefeated with quarterback Spencer Sanders and boast the Big 12’s second-best defense.
“They’ve got some cats,” Sanders said this week. “It’s Texas, you know. They always get those cats.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy might have cut off his mullet and maybe some of his offensive prowess too. The Cowboys average just 25.4 points per game, which is low by Stillwater standards. Gundy said he would “prefer not” to get into a high-scoring affair.
“I mean, you're talking about Texas,” he said. “I don't need to stand here and convince people that they have good players.”
This setup mirrors 2017, when first-year Texas coach Tom Herman lost to Oklahoma and then had to immediately prepare for No 10 Oklahoma State at home. The Horns lost that one. Herman came to the podium afterward and talked about the opportunity “to send these seniors out with a bowl game.” UT had started the year 3-3 and finished 7-6.
Sarkisian is pulling every lever and twisting every knob to keep this team on track for the Big 12 title game.
First, the Horns unveiled a depth chart with a reshuffled offensive line. After one game at left guard, Derek Kerstetter is going back to right tackle. “I think there’s a little bit more of a comfort zone for him being at right tackle,” Sarkisian said.
Junior Angilau, who has been playing on the right side, is going to left guard. Tope Imade, a sixth-year veteran reserve, will make his first career start at right guard. Imade, a 6-foot-6, 361-pounder from Arlington Bowie, has played for three head coaches and four offensive line coaches.
“Perseverance is a bit of a lost trait,” Sarkisian said. “To see what can come through hard work, through perseverance, through grit and staying the course. I couldn’t be more proud of him for what he’s done, because quite frankly, he’s improved all year long.”
Jake Majors will stay at center. Left tackle is the spot up for grabs at this point. Christian Jones, a junior, is now being pushed by Andrej Karic, a redshirt freshman. “I think the competition is good for us at left tackle,” the coach said.
Elsewhere in lineup news, Sarkisian said Marcus Washington will take over for Jordan Whittington, who is probably out the rest of the regular season with a clavicle injury. Whittington had 24 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns in the first six games. He slid awkwardly trying to make a tough catch against OU and didn't return.
The Horns still have Xavier Worthy and Joshua Moore, both of whom had big games against the Sooners. Sarkisian pointed out this opens the door for redshirt freshman Kelvontay Dixon to get more targets too. Dixon is the younger brother of former UT running back Keaontay Ingram, who transferred to USC.
On the flip side, sophomore Alfred Collins is expected to make his first start this season at defensive end. The Cedar Creek graduate has two sacks playing off the bench. He’s replacing starter Jacoby Jones, who suffered a foot injury against OU and is sidelined for now.
“He's playing quick. He's playing violent. He’s playing big,” Sarkisian said of Collins.
There weren’t any other major lineup changes, at least not according to the updated depth chart. The defensive staff presumably spent the week working on all those missed tackles.
The tackling, or lack thereof, was the worst against OU that it’s been all season. The Sooners rang up 662 yards, including 339 on the ground. Texas has allowed more than 300 rushing yards twice — against Arkansas (333 yards) and OU. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
“You can play a really physical brand of football,” Sarkisian said. “But you’ve got to get the man on the ground.”
At this point, fans aren’t going to see any drastic changes on a week-to-week basis. The Horns are who they are. The second half of the season is about grinding it out.
Based on that rationale, this is a team with some offensive star power, such as Bijan Robinson, Casey Thompson and Worthy, but inconsistent line protection. It’s a team that’ll rattle some heads defensively, but there’s no consistent pass rush, and tackling is a problem.
Is that enough to win at least five or even all six remaining games and reach the Big 12 championship? That remains to be seen.
“We do want to see those dudes, Oklahoma, again at the end of the year,” Robinson said. “We understand that we have teams we have to play at a high level.”
Best to stay even keel, just like the head coach.
“We’ve still got a lot of things we can do with this team,” defensive back B.J. Foster said. “Just keep getting better each week, and we’ll be all right.”
No. 12 Oklahoma State at Texas
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Royal-Memorial Stadium
Radio: 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 99.3, 98.5, 1260