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Needing two wins in three games, getting to a bowl game vital for Texas, Steve Sarkisian

Please excuse the Longhorns for not being polished as normal. As tight end Cade Brewer said Monday, “It’s been a hard month on us.”

Defensive tackle Moro Ojomo met reporters with a half sigh, half chuckle. 

“I’ve been told to have better body language,” Ojomo said. “I'm going to try, guys.”

It’s been a rough go, that’s for sure. Texas has lost four straight games, and coach Steve Sarkisian has one singular mission going into the last three — just get to a bowl game.

The Longhorns (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) must win six games overall to reach the postseason. Texas could get its fifth win on Saturday against 1-8 Kansas, a 30-point underdog. Then it comes down to winning either at West Virginia (Nov. 20) or at home against Kansas State (Nov. 26).

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The ice under Sarkisian’s feet is now thawing. He inherited a program that climbed out of despair and enjoyed four straight winning seasons capped by four straight bowl wins. He cannot be the coach who supervised over another downfall. 

Getting to a bowl game should be paramount.

Texas cheerleaders cheer on the team during Saturday night's 30-7 loss to Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. The Longhorns now must win two of their last three regular-season games to become bowl-eligible. They have lost four straight games.

“I think my job is to inspire, coach, develop young men to become great football players and become a great team,” Sarkisian said Monday. “How that’s perceived, that’s for somebody else’s thought. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Sarkisian fully believes that by sticking to his process, the players will “continue to gain confidence and continue to grow.”

“And I recognize the fans and people that are upset of the outcome,” Sarkisian said. “But I’ve said this before, nobody’s more upset than we are. I can’t worry about the perception of what it looks like. I have to worry about the 115 young men that I have to face every day that they feel inspired, and they feel led by me that we’re heading in the right direction.”

Some are tapping out. 

Receiver Joshua Moore will enter the transfer portal and has left the team, Sarkisian said. The junior had 61 catches for 790 yards and 13 touchdowns in three seasons. Moore got into a verbal altercation with Sarkisian last Wednesday and did not play until the second quarter of Saturday’s loss to Iowa State.

Texas wide receiver Joshua Moore, who led the Longhorns in receiving last season, has left the team and will enter the transfer portal, UT head coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. Moore had two catches last week in the Iowa State game.

“I just hear one yell at practice,” Ojomo said. “Like, it was normal to me. I had no idea what was even going on the whole time.”

Sarkisian was sending all kinds of messages Monday in something akin to coach’s Morse code. 

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Sarkisian referenced Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech from 1910. Everyone in the football building chose to play or coach college football, and they chose to do it in Austin. “We chose this arena, we chose to be in this environment, so that we can be part of the group that makes Texas football special again,” Sarkisian said.

If the players have a social media account, they’re choosing to go into that arena and face negative feedback “whether it's worthy of it or not,” he said.

A Texas fan takes a photo of the field from the stands at Jack Trice Stadium. The 30-7 loss dropped the Longhorns to 4-5 this season with three games to play. Texas led Iowa State 7-3 at halftime.

And the Horns must be open to coaching. “Not demeaning of players, but be demanding of what’s expected of them,” Sarkisian said. “So that ultimately we can make the progress and get the results we’re looking for down the road.”

Mental health is a hot-button topic on campus today. Coaches around the nation are getting fired in part for being verbally abusive. But there must be a line somewhere. Coaches can’t go crazy, but athletes must grow up and toughen, too. 

Often times, athletes lose sight of the message because of the method it’s being delivered. Anyone raising kids will understand.

Asked if players were more worried about their feelings, Brewer bit his tongue. “Yeah, I mean, I don’t know,” the fifth-year senior said. “I think that’s a thing we’ve got to fix and address. I don’t know how to answer that.”

Brewer and offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter went through a similar transition in 2017 with first-year coach Tom Herman. His style was different than Sarkisian's. But they both pushed players’ buttons looking for maximum effort. 

Texas cheerleaders and Hook 'em, the team mascot, huddle at Jack Trice Stadium before last Saturday's game in Ames, Iowa. The Longhorns lost their fourth straight game.

“You’ve got a lot of different backgrounds in locker rooms. A lot of people come from different things, of course,” Kerstetter said. “As a leader, you’ve just got to make sure you’ve got your house in order, your room, and just focus on making sure that your position group is just constantly where you want it to be.”

Ojomo held back as well. “It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you guys. I’m just holding back the goodies,” he said. 

Nobody wants to criticize teammates through the media. When pressed, Ojomo said, “Or course, it’s hard to hold it in. You just want to, like, spill. Those are the things that make headlines. You don't want to make headlines in the wrong way.”

There is one benefit in losing: it exposes who’s really engaged and who isn’t. Sarkisian needs to rid himself of the latter in expeditious fashion. 

“One thing I'll tell you is that this season, compared to other seasons, I've kind of felt less negativity as a whole from the team,” Ojomo said. “You know, my last couple years here, there have definitely been players that weren't the greatest locker room guys, but we just needed them. I don't feel that this year.”

Needless to say, there was virtually no talk about the Jayhawks on Monday. Kansas is 0-6 in Big 12 play but still gave Oklahoma plenty of grief. 

Sarkisian declined to name a starting quarterback, preferring to let Casey Thompson and Hudson Card battle it out in practice. He’ll update reporters again on Thursday. 

Texas quarterbacks Hudson Card, left, and Casey Thompson talk during warmups before the Texas-Rice game on Sept. 18 at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Also, running back Bijan Robinson, linebacker DeMarvion Overshown and defensive lineman Alfred Collins were all on the injury report Saturday night. All are listed as day-to-day; none have been ruled out this week. 

“I think the fight’s still there,” Brewer said. “Losing four straight, it’s tough on us. It’s tough to bounce back from it. But we’ve just got to get our confidence back, and this is a great week to do it.”

Sarkisian and his players all talked about just going out there and having fun. “That’s what we’ve been lacking these last four weeks,” Brewer said.

Have some fun, get a win and everyone’ll have better body language.

“Sark mentioned losing is contagious just like winning is contagious,” Ojomo said. “So we've got to get our belief right. And belief leads to results. Results lead to confidence.”

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

Saturday's game

Kansas at Texas, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU, 104.9