Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mario Cantu/CSM/Shutterstock (13398678j) Texas Longhorns Head Coach Steve Sarkisian in action during the NCAA Football game between UTSA at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX NCAA Football UTSA vs Texas, Austin, USA – 17 Sep 2022
Though it may be too soon to say that Texas is back, the Longhorns are certainly different. It is year two of the Steve Sarkisian era, and there have been growing pains, but in the last two weeks the team has shown they are on the verge of a return to the top of the college football mountain.
In snagging a top five recruiting class and landing transfer quarterback Quinn Ewers, Sarkisian has drastically upgraded the talent level in Austin. The lack of NFL first round draft picks in recent years has been an indicator that an influx of talent was necessary, but it’s not just getting the recruits, it’s getting them to perform at a level that has eluded coaches in Austin for at least a decade.
That seems to be changing under Sarkisian.
Most pundits predicted the Longhorns would get blown out when they hosted Alabama, but it took a dramatic last second field goal and several officiating decisions that were questionable at best for the Tide to escape with a victory. Most impressively Texas matched Alabama physically, harassing quarterback Bryce Young and making life difficult for the Tide in the running game as well. The young Texas offensive line also gave Huson Card time and neutralized the Alabama pass rush for much of the game.
The clearest evidence of the change in the Texas program came this past week as the Longhorns overcame a 17-7 deficit to defeat a veteran UTSA team. The Roadrunners are a quality opponent that came in prepared and hungry to catch Texas in a trap game following Alabama. UTSA built its lead scoring after a prolonged drive, then converting an onside kick, and executing a double pass. This kind of haymaker might have put the Horns down for the count in the past, but this Texas team rallied to outscore the Roadrunners 34-6 from that point on.
Once again the Longhorns turned in a solid defensive effort. Coming into the matchup, Roadrunner quarterback Frank Harris led the nation in total offense, averaging 394.5 yards a game. But the Texas defense held Harris to 260 yards, and forced an interception that Jahdae Barron returned for a touchdown to ice the game.
With starting quarterback Ewers sidelined with a shoulder injury, Texas relied on a bruising ground attack that churned out yards and eventually broke the UTSA defense. Bijan Robinson had runs of 78 and 41 yards in route to a massive performance and the Longhorns rushed for 298 yards as a team.
This kind of gritty offense and performance on defense have been missing in the Texas program since the fall from prominence years ago. It is also a formula that will travel and win in any conditions and against almost any opponent.
Many coaches talk about a culture change when they take over a program, but the change being brought about by Sarkisian and company is occurring before our eyes every week.