AUSTIN (KXAN) — Going into Saturday’s Big 12 Conference game against Houston, the No. 8 Texas Longhorns are “a little pissed off.” As far as head coach Steve Sarkisian is concerned, that’s fine by him.
It’s been almost two weeks since the Longhorns lost their first game of the season, and the sting of it was amplified because it came in the Red River Rivalry against the hated Oklahoma Sooners. Sarkisian said the team is looking forward to getting back on the field after the bye week.
“They want to get back out there and get the taste out of their mouth,” he said. “We need to make sure we execute at a high level, but the intent at which we’re going about it is the right one.”
Saturday’s game, set for 3 p.m. at TCEDU Stadium on the Houston campus, is sold out and Cougar fans will most certainly be out for blood when the Longhorns arrive. Sarkisian says every week that each team on the schedule is going to give Texas their best shot because of who the Longhorns are and what they represent. Saturday isn’t different and Houston is flying high off their first-ever Big 12 Conference win 41-39 over West Virginia.
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Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen said the same thing his counterpart at Baylor, Dave Aranda, said before the Bears faced Texas — they could lose every other game, but a win over Texas fixes everything. Sarkisian said his senior leadership should help keep the team focused on what’s happening on the field instead of in the stands.
“Everywhere we go, everybody is going to sell out their game and do something for that game,” Sarkisian said. “I think the veteran leadership is helpful because they’ve been through some of the fires, but it’s good to know what you’re walking into. You need to understand that the battle is won before it’s fought. We need to stay level-headed and connected.”
Something Sarkisian wants his team to get back to is forcing turnovers. In the first two games of the season, Texas forced five turnovers and it looked like the emphasis during training camp was paying off in a huge way. Since then, they’ve only forced three and none came against the Sooners. He’s hoping the Longhorns swarm to the football a little harder with the second and third men in on the tackle trying to pry the pigskin loose.
“We need to have the ball on our mind,” he said. “How are we getting the football? Are we getting it through a strip attempt on a sack or recognizing route combinations to jump a route? Is it an understanding to be the second man in and get a punch or strip on the ball? It’s about ball awareness and football IQ. We’ve been emphasizing stuff like that, and hopefully here in the second half of the season it pays dividends.”
The handful of Longhorns trying to come back from injuries are mostly going to be game-time decisions, Sarkisian said. Center Jake Majors, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders and defensive backs Jalen Catalon and Ryan Watts all used the bye week to their advantage to get as healthy as possible. He said he was impressed that they were all able to practice this week, and the final decision will come as kickoff nears.
“My decision as a coach is ultimately is it in the best interest of the team to put them out there,” he said. “And you have to look at each individual. Is it in the best interest of them to put them out there? I’m a little more pleased with where we are at this week than what I was anticipating, and that’s a credit to the training staff and to the guys for putting in the work to get themselves in this position.”