AUSTIN (KXAN) — With a chance to heal some bumps and bruises from the first half of the season, the No. 8 Texas Longhorns are big favorites on the road in Saturday’s Big 12 Conference game against Houston.
Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian talked about the matchup in his regular Monday press conference and said the Cougars’ quarterback is someone the Longhorns know all too well.
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
“We all know Donovan Smith, the transfer from (Texas) Tech. We know how he played against us a year ago and the challenges he presents.”
Texas is currently a 22.5-point favorite, but Smith’s past success against the Longhorns is certainly a factor in the gameplan. Smith threw for 331 yards with a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 45 yards and another score to help the Red Raiders beat Texas 37-34 in overtime. Smith has traded Lubbock red for Houston red, and Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen has been a Big 12 coach previously for West Virginia.
Holgorsen overcame his former team with a Hail Mary pass as time expired to win 41-39 last week at home. Stephon Johnson Jr. hauled in a 49-yard pass from Smith amidst a mass of humanity in the end zone to lift the Cougars to the victory. Smith ended the game 21 of 27 passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns and he also ran for a score. Kick returner Matthew Golden ran a kick back 100 yards for Houston’s first touchdown of the game, so there’s that to think about, as well.
“All in all, we know this team presents a lot of challenges,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to play against a confident football team in a sell-out game on the road, so we’ve got to prepare for the opportunity that lies ahead.”
With the bye week, they’ve had two weeks to prepare, but the last week focused on getting key players healthy. Sarkisian said Jake Majors, Ryan Watts, Ja’Tavion Sanders and Jalen Catalon all practiced on Monday without limitations after being very limited last week. He said offensive lineman Cole Hutson was the most limited of the bunch Monday, and that he’ll make a decision on who will play Saturday later in the week.
“I was encouraged today that they were all out there going,” Sarkisian said. “I’ll have a cleaner update as to who will be available after our more physical practices Tuesday and Wednesday, but today was a really good sign.”
Connor Robertson stepped in at center after Majors went down against Oklahoma and Sarkisian said he was the first-team center all last week and will continue to be until Majors is cleared. Sarkisian said Robertson “got some great experience” in the Red River Rivalry, and in general, his offensive linemen can mix and match position-wise. For instance, Hutson is typically the back-up center even though he was playing right guard, but with his injury, Robertson became the replacement.
“Hadyn Conner is extremely versatile and can move around, and Neto (Umeozulu) got a lot of good opportunities last week to rep things out,” Sarkisian said. “Cam Williams is another guy who can move around … so I think that’s one of the reasons why Coach (Kyle) Flood and I have such a good rapport. We’re very comfortable doing those things.”
The game at TDECU Stadium kicks off at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on FOX.