AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Longhorns and first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian are yet again searching for answers after another loss. Texas is working to put together some positive momentum while dealing with a three-game losing streak — the program’s first since 2016.
Texas doesn’t have much time to work its way out of this slump, traveling to Ames for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff against Iowa State Saturday. Iowa State opened as a 7-point favorite over the Longhorns, according to oddsmakers.
Iowa State has won the last two games in this series, winning 23-20 in Austin last year to clinch their spot in the Big 12 championship game. The Cyclones were expected to be preseason contenders, but two early season losses derailed those expectations.
Iowa State is entering this week’s game off a loss at West Virginia.
Here’s what Sarkisian said Monday during his availability with the media.
“It was unfortunate because we had some opportunities especially early in the second quarter. Having the ball down there twice in the second quarter and coming away with no points is difficult. We don’t hit on two deep balls. We need to capitalize on those opportunities. We have to do a much better job, playing complementary football as a team. When we decide to go for it…which we’re going to take out shots on fourth down. On the flip side when we’re struggling a little defensively, that’s when offensively we need to control the tempo of the game, control the ball a little bit…and we struggled with that. Clearly, this week another great challenge against Iowa State. Eerily similar, just the trajectory of their season…lost another tough game Saturday. Sometimes it feels like when you watch them and you’re looking us…it’s like looking in a mirror with the games they’ve lost. It’s a good football team. Really well-coached. Look forward to the challenge Saturday.”
Where’s this team’s confidence after another loss? Motivation for remainder of season
“Win this week. Our emphasis every week is the most important game is the next one. This is no different. We recognize the big picture where we’re at but we’re focused on this week’s ball game. There’s never been a great triumph without a struggle. Clearly we’re in the midst of the struggle and the only way to get over that hump and get through it is to have grit and determination and perseverance. I believe that we will. We’ve got to stay to the grind, keeping working at it…and ultimately we’ll break through.”
How do you get through to this team?
“You try to paint a picture. One, that is the reality of the situation. Two, you try to use some parallels to different circumstances that they can relate to. Ultimately, it gives them a good understanding. I thought we had a great team meeting this morning. I think the guys really understand the message. They believe in what we’re doing. I feel that, I felt that in practice — the energy, the enthusiasm.”
How do you make sense of the first and second half discrepancies?
“Sometimes psyche can get involved…whether I’m too relaxed or too tense. My job is to push all of the right buttons to make sure all guys play with the utmost confidence. That’s encouraging that we’re capable of doing it…how do we sustain it to continue to have the success that we had early on. It’s a double-edged sword. You sit here at 4-4…all of us in here can count on one hand…the plays that we could be sitting here at 7-1 and this would be a different press conference. We haven’t broken through that barrier yet. We just have to stay the course and ultimately we will.”
Why has the defense performed so poorly
“That’s the hard part. There’s so many glimpses of us playing it really well. The idea against the last two opponents, their an outside zone running team. The reality is that if everybody does their job, it’s a three-yard run. A couple of the runs that spit out on us…the option play clearly hurt us in the game. I thought they did a nice job checking to it. We need to do a better job of feathering so that’s definitely something to work on this week.”
Is strength and conditioning affecting play?
“We look at all of those numbers. We have all of our players wear the GPS monitoring. We look at the explosive movements, we look at the high-velocity yards and we don’t see a drop off, we don’t see it as a physical conditioning thing. We see the same movement and movement patterns based off their 100%. That tells us it’s not a conditioning thing.
Why hasn’t Hudson Card seen any playing time?
“I’ve said for a while…early on, I’ve wanted to play both and see both. I do think there’s some merit to when the guy becomes the guy…I’ve never been in favor of rotating quarterbacks. You let a guy plat through it. I think Casey’s done some really good things for us. Obviously, there are plays that he would like to have back. Like all of us would, I would as a play caller. That’s the way it goes. I think Hudson is chomping at the bit for another opportunity, which is great. He’s working hard and we’ll see if another opportunity presents itself.”
Are you noticing teams selling out to stop the run?
“I don’t know if teams are selling out. They’re committed to stopping the run. They know we’re a run-first offense. One thing Baylor did a nice job was…setting the edge of their defense and funneling it back to the defensive front. There just wasn’t enough space. As much as that’s a credit to them, I think we need to be better. I think we need to create more space whether that’s through scheme or individual effort. It’s one thing to be blocking the man you’re supposed to blocking, it’s another to move that man so you can create a bigger gap. That’s an area for us to improve upon moving forward.”
Barring injury, will Casey Thompson be the starter at Iowa State?
“When team’s win, quarterback probably get too much credit and when they lose, they get too much blame. You choose to play the position and you choose to be in that arena and you have to accept the arena that you’re in. I think Casey’s in a really good spot. I think he does everything in his power to prepare himself to get himself ready to play. Highly motivates his teammates around him. I would anticipate Casey, barring injury, would be the starter Saturday and expect that he’ll play really well.”
How has the defense’s bend-don’t-break defense working with your offense?
“That’s the complementary aspect of the football piece we’re talking about. We’ve done a nice job…we weren’t great Saturday…we may give up some yards but generally we play pretty good defense in the red zone. When you play that way, you’re going to play some snaps. Teams are going to control the ball on you. We’ve been a little bit big-little as an offense. We’ll score quickly and then we’ll have three-and-outs. In turn, the defense isn’t getting that time to review the drive and make the necessary adjustments and/or catch their breath and get themselves ready to go again. I do think there’s an aspect of complementary football that we can improve upon. It goes both ways. You fake the punt, which I made the call…it didn’t work. That’s when you want the defense to stand up and make the stop…hold them to a field goal. That’s a victory in itself and that’s an area that we’re trying to fine tune them in and how the really good teams play is complementary.”
How disappointing is it when receivers drop passes or turn the ball over?
“There’s a level of frustration for everybody…for them included. If they weren’t frustrated, then I’d have a real problem. The competitive fire would be concerning. We know the capability there because we see it in spurts and flashes. There’s got to be a level of consistency in the passing game that…you’re fearful of how you defend us. We flash at times…we hit Xavier there on the third drive for the touchdown…that should put some fear in the defense. It’s about can you do it efficiently and consistently to a point where you have to pick your poison in how you defend us. That’s all part of the maturation process of us as a football team. We’re just not there yet. That doesn’t mean we won’t get there. That’s part of the grind. It’s a great challenge. It’s not for a lack of effort or lack or working. We’ve just got to keep grinding.”
Thoughts on ISU running back Breece Hall
“He’s a good player. Breece…he’s kind of steady Eddy. You look up…there’s a hundred-plus yards. I think he’s scored a touchdown in 20 or 21 games, which is a phenomenal stat to have. They do a nice job offensively. Brock Purdy is a really good football player and he’s a better athlete than people give him credit for. The tight ends cause problems and when you focus on that…they’re hitting the wideout and he’s making the explosive plays. It starts with Breece. It’s the effectiveness and versatility that he has.”
How much do you pay attention to body language on the sideline?
“This was one of our better games. I thought the energy, the intent, the communication on the sideline was really good. Even when we were down 10, I saw a spirited group ready to go out there. They had a lot of believe they were going to drive the field, which they did. We didn’t convert on third down and chose to kick a field goal. I’d love to have that call back. I wish I would’ve given our offense a better play call there. The spirit has been really good. I think they’re connected and they’re sticking together and that’s going to pay dividends whether it’s this week or the year’s to come.”
How do you build confidence heading into hostile ISU environment?
“At the end of the day, if we keep talking about a bruised psyche. We’re going to get a bruised psyche. We have to make sure our players understand what they are capable of doing and why they’re capable of doing it. We’ve got enough veteran players to know what it’s like to win. It’s a great challenge. The entire season has been a heckuva challenge. Outside of one game in Arkansas, our guys have risen to the challenge week-in and week-out. Now it’s the ability to sustain that when we’re in the midst of the fire so that’s really where we’re at with the guys.”
Thoughts on recruiting and offensive line recruits
“There’s a fine line in all of this. If you want to settle on linemen, we can probably get five linemen by tonight. If you want to recruit the best players, if you want to ultimately put together a line for your future that is something upper echelon, upper tier in the country…you’ve got to recruit the best players. A lot of the best players haven’t decided where they’re going to school. We feel great about the recruiting class in general. What I do know is…from a depth chart standpoint…we only signed two offensive linemen in last year’s class which is a real rarity in recruiting. For various reasons…we had a coaching change, we only end up signing two guys. There’s a great opportunity moving forward for a kid coming in as a freshman because of the lack of depth there that was in last year’s recruiting class. There’s no doubt we need to sign a minimum of five players, but we want to make sure we’re signing quality players.”