A decade’s worth of mental mayhem now falls on Texas coach Steve Sarkisian’s desk
Horns’ breakdowns are not physical, mostly mental: ‘We’re presented with something here that, like I’ve said, I feel like we’re plenty capable.’
Talking about kicking a fan base while its down, Texas’ next game at Baylor on Oct. 30 will kick off at — wait for it — 11 a.m.
Because of course.
As if back-to-back, second-half meltdowns weren’t bad enough, Texas is now on a streak of five straight 11 a.m. kickoffs. Such is life when the team is a sporadic 4-3.
Fans may need a therapy session right alongside the Longhorns themselves.
“Obviously, there’s a level of frustration for us all,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “We all get into this to ultimately want to win. You want to play well in doing so.”
Sarkisian wasn’t in Austin for all the close-but-not-close-enough moments that defined the last decade. But he’s fully aware of the Longhorns’ mental acuity at winning time.
How else to describe what’s happened the last two weeks? It’s certainly not a talent issue. Texas led Oklahoma by 18 points and was up by 11 over Oklahoma State, two top-15 teams. Sure, the Horns need more offensive and defensive linemen, but they were winning, heck, even dominating at various points in both games.
But Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both came storming back in the fourth quarter to secure victory. After Saturday’s loss to the Cowboys, Sarkisian appeared totally flummoxed.
On Monday, he was asked if Texas had a systemic problem that’ll take longer than five regular-season games to fix.
“Nothing that we’ve ever done since I’ve gotten here has been to lay blame on what has ever happened before,” Sarkisian said. “None of it’s ever been, ‘Well, we’ll just deal with that later' or 'he can’t do this.’ It’s dealing with the issues as they present themselves. We’re presented with something here that, like I’ve said, I feel like we’re plenty capable.
“Now it’s about getting our players to understand, you know, one step after another mentality and not worrying about what lies ahead or what’s happened in the past and just focusing on the task at hand,” Sark added. “That’s the next-play mentality that we’re really trying to instill in our team.”
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Unwavering in his approach, Sarkisian said, “I think we’ve shown we have the ability to do it. And we’re more than capable physically to do it. Now we got to put that into action moving forward in the second half of the season.”
This is one of those moments Sarkisian might lean on his mentors. What did Pete Carroll do whenever USC ran into trouble? How did Nick Saban rally Alabama? In fairness, the Tide don’t need pep talks all that often.
“I do a lot of work in this area. I think this is probably one of the more underappreciated aspects of sport,” Sarkisian said. Great athletes, regardless of sport, are tough of mind.
“We’ve tried to dig a little deeper into it, understand it and try to develop it from a team mentality.”
Sarkisian indicated this is now a major talking pointed with the coaching staff. “OK, this is an area where we need to improve upon, and so it can’t just be ho-hum, let's keep moving on. We have to do the necessary things to address it, and that started this morning in our team meeting.
“From a psyche standpoint, I feel like that's really kind of in our wheelhouse, because we've already laid a really good foundation for that in the in the 10 months that we've been here,” he added.
Sarkisian said he’s been talking about a mental approach to the game since his arrival in January.
“It wasn't like I’ve just been a rah-rah coach for 10 months and then today, I started to get into the psyche, and they were like, ‘Who in the heck is this guy? He's never talked this way to us before,’” Sarkisian said. “So I think it’s a natural progression for us. We’ve laid a good foundation, and now we've just got to dig deeper into that aspect of it.”
In some respects, Monday’s press conference was unlike anything anyone’s ever seen at UT. Charlie Strong and Tom Herman certainly never spent this much time during their 30-minute press conferences on the mental side of football.
As per custom, Sarkisian did get into the football weeds.
Quarterback Casey Thompson will remain the starter. He left the field for one play after taking a massive shot from Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez. Backup Hudson Card came into the game, his fifth appearance of the season, and effectively lost his redshirt status.
Thompson ran back onto the field after one play. Sarkisian said he “earned that right” to start after suffering a thumb injury against Oklahoma and then returning to play well.
“We monitor a lot in the program,” Sarkisian said, “but Hud’s going to get his opportunity, as I’ve been saying it from day one.”
Speaking of the Rodriguez hit, Sarkisian sent film into the Big 12 office about that play along with the flag thrown on UT’s Ray Thornton. The Horns were called for a roughing the passer penalty while the Cowboys were not.
“Consistency is all we're looking for,” Sarkisian said. “So that was probably the only thing that was my frustration in the game on those two calls.”
Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown has entered the concussion protocol, but it’s likely he’ll return for the Baylor game. Cornerback Kitan Crawford is also being monitored with an undisclosed injury.
No players were made available to reporters on Monday.
Texas did not practice Monday morning inside Royal-Memorial Stadium, as is customary. The Horns will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The coaching staff will fan out for recruiting visits starting Thursday evening “and then crank it up for Baylor next week,” Sarkisian said.
No matter how frustrating the OU and OSU losses were, the head coach is still bullish on where the program is headed.
“I think we’ve got an exciting brand of football,” Sarkisian said. “I think we see glimpses of what it will look like going forward. I’m excited for what the future holds for us.”
Texas at 20-Baylor, Oct. 30, 11 a.m., ABC