AUSTIN (KXAN) — With their next two games on the road against ranked opponents, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian said even after the 24-21 win over Iowa State to hit a three-game winning streak, they’ve got to play better.
During his Monday news conference, Sarkisian said the “rat poison” of people telling the team how good they are didn’t exist and he was frank with his comments.
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“We had a real ‘Come to Jesus’ this morning,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to play better.”
It’s the old coaching philosophy to never be satisfied, even after a win like the No. 20 Longhorns had over the Cyclones — one where Sarkisian and other players said they don’t think they would have won last season. The team has matured considerably from last year and, using how the team responded to being down in the fourth quarter as evidence Saturday, is responding to adversity better.
“It was a good culture win for us. It wasn’t easy and there were some self-inflicted wounds, but we ran the ball well, defended the run well and won the turnover battle,” Sarkisian said. “Both turnovers we got were at critical times.”
First in line for the Longhorns on the road are the No. 11 Oklahoma State Cowboys, who are coming off a crushing loss to No. 8 TCU 43-40 in double overtime. It was the Pokes’ first loss of the season, and now the Longhorns have to go to Boone Pickens Stadium and play a very good team that’s presumably angry about losing a game like that.
The Longhorns have lost their only true road game of the season, 37-34 in overtime to Texas Tech on Sept. 24 in Lubbock, but from what Sarkisian has seen the past two weeks, he feels the team can handle tense situations better.
“Poise and composure is really important on the road,” Sarkisian said. “The crowd isn’t cheering for you, they are cheering against you. When adversity strikes on the road, that doesn’t have to mean it’s for the next quarter, it could be for the next play and then you have to move on. It takes mental intensity, focus and maturity, and playing as one.”
Sarkisian stressed playing complementary football is even more important on the road, and he said “that’s something we’ve been pushing for.”
“I think our guys have done that,” Sarkisian said. “Being able to regain control of a game by running the football and having long drives to give the defense rest so they can play better, and creating turnovers to give the offense a short field.”
The Cowboys’ offense is led by one of the best players in the country, quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sarkisian called him “an elite competitor,” saying that’s the ultimate compliment. Sanders had a tough day through the air against the Horned Frogs, completing just 44% of his passes, but he added 68 rushing yards and two touchdowns, further proving Sarkisian’s assertion.
“This guy has got a fire inside of him that’s clear,” Sarkisian said. “It burns inside of him and he’s going to do whatever he has to do to help his team try to win. Run it, throw it, motivate, go tackle a guy, go block a guy … he’s a winner. He’s got it. He’s an impressive young man and you can tell he’s the leader of that team.”
During the broadcast of the Cowboys-Horned Frogs game, Sarkisian said he saw something “pretty special” after TCU had outlasted Oklahoma State.
“They lost a tough game, but as soon as that game was done and the crowd went to rush the field, he had two or three offensive linemen get around him to make sure nobody got to him as they went to the locker room,” Sarkisian said. “To me, that’s a sign that a guy has the respect of his teammates that they’ll do anything to protect him.”
Jaylan Ford named Big 12 defensive player of the week
Longhorns linebacker Jaylan Ford leads the Big 12 Conference in tackles per game with 9.4, even after not having a tackle in the first game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe, and his tremendous performance against Iowa State earned him the Big 12 defensive player of the week award, the conference announced Monday.
Ford had eight tackles, an interception in the end zone and a fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter to help Texas seal the win over the Cyclones. He had a four-game streak of double-digit tackles beginning against Alabama and ending after the West Virginia game and has 66 tackles overall. He’s tied for No. 22 in NCAA Division I in tackles per game.
“He’s a versatile player at the mike position for us,” Sarkisian said. “He plays well against the run and he’s athletic. He can defend the pass and he’s smart.”
It’s Ford’s first weekly conference honor in his career, and the second time this season a Longhorn has earned the honor. Defensive back Jahdae Barron won the award after the UTSA game Sept. 19 where he returned an interception for a touchdown and had six tackles.