AUSTIN (KXAN) — The main goal for the Texas Longhorns this season has been to play for the Big 12 Conference championship, and even with the hiccup at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, it’s still firmly in sight.
The No. 9 Longhorns have a chance to heal up some bumps and bruises with a bye week before they head to play Big 12 newcomer Houston on Oct. 21, and in a college football landscape where one loss is mostly treated with panic, the team just has to “handle its business,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said.
“The overriding message out of this is everything we want out of the season is right in front of us,” he said. “This week is as important as any to learn from yesterday, focus on today and prepare for tomorrow. That will help prepare us for the second half of the season.”
With no divisions in the Big 12 Conference, the top two teams at the end of the regular season advance to the conference title game Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. As long as the Longhorns play the rest of the season like a top-10 team, it should work out to a rematch against the Sooners (or someone else if OU slips) for the whole enchilada at JerryWorld. In order to do that, the Longhorns needs to clean up a few things, get some of their first-string players healthy and perhaps most importantly, continue the course they’ve been on.
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“We went into the season with the goal to be champions, and those goals still remain because they are reality,” Sarkisian said. “We talk about the big picture, especially during a bye week, so they can understand the lay of the land, and then we drill back down to what’s important now and what we need to do to put ourselves in that position down the road.”
Among other areas, Sarkisian said red zone offense is something the team will focus on during the bye week. It hasn’t been as good as it could be this season, and a bye week is a perfect time to get extra work in. Texas scores 83.3% of the time in the red zone this season, tied for 64th in the country with seven other schools. That’s simply not going to get it done if the Longhorns have Big 12 title and College Football Playoff aspirations.
Texas is No. 14 in the country in total offense, averaging 486.5 yards per game yet tied for 29th in scoring offense with 35 points per game. Typically those numbers should correlate somewhat, but if series continue like the one Texas had where it failed to score on four plays inside the 2-yard line, those statistics go the opposite direction.
“We’re moving the ball too well to not have more points on the board,” Sarkisian said. “We need to be more effective in the red area, for sure.”
Center Jake Majors went down in the first quarter of the Red River Rivalry with an ankle injury and Sarkisian said he’s going to take this week to try to get him as healthy as possible to see what his status could be for the Houston game. With Cole Hutson still out with an injury, Connor Robertson stepped in at center and did “a pretty good job,” Sarkisian said.
Jalen Catalon and Ryan Watts are also on the mend, but with the depth Texas has at safety, Sarkisian always feels good about rotating players in and out with minimal production drop-off.
In the end, Sarkisian said this team is very mature and should be able to bounce back after such a disappointing loss.
“There’s a level of disappointment. They wanted to win as bad or more than anyone else, and they wanted to play well. Unfortunately, we didn’t,” Sarkisian said. “We need to own that, now what are we going to do moving forward? Our team has a mature perspective on that, and I don’t expect anything less than for them to go out and practice well and be coached so we can play better in the second half of the season.”