Football

Sarkisian’s first UT spring game mostly uneventful, but signs of progress evident for new head coach

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The public’s first look at a Steve Sarkisian-led Longhorn football program was rather unspectacular. Luckily for Texas, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Star player Bijan Robinson scored a rushing touchdown for the Orange squad early in the game and delivered a few runs that were reminiscent of some of his 2020 rushes. The defensive line, easily a team strength, accumulated eight of the nine total sacks. No player sustained an injury, the biggest win from the White squad’s 20-12 victory.

“It was good to see our players compete,” Sarkisian said. “Obviously, this was a watered-down version of our offense, defense, and special teams. When you split squads, some of our rotations were a bit off. In the end, I thought to see some of the early-on jitters wear off and our guys settle in and start to play a little bit and make some plays.”

There were ups, downs, drops, missed tackles, and missed throws. Quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Hudson Card, both in the midst of a battle to succeed Sam Ehlinger, had their share of good plays. Thompson was 23-of-42 for 242 yards. He was intercepted twice, the first a pick-six from D’Shawn Jamison and the second on an end-of-game Hail Mary heave. He probably should have one touchdown to his name but Josh Moore was unable to haul in a great pass in the end zone on the game’s first drive.

Card was 15-of-25 for 168 yards and a touchdown pass to Marcus Washington. The toss required Card to “throw open” his receiver, and he did just that for Washington’s score.

Thompson had the benefit of being behind the first team offensive line, while Card had the benefit of the first team defensive line’s standout day. Both players in the competition for QB1 were often forced out of the pocket because of the pass rush.

“I feel great about the performance on both sides of the D-line,” said Keondre Coburn, who tallied three tackles Saturday. “I was watching the other side too. First drive it was kind of shaky, the offense got off to a fast start. After that, we regrouped on the sideline.”

Neither quarterback delivered overly spectacular days. The Longhorns’ head coach had a simple explanation.

“I thought they managed it fine,” Sarkisian said. “I thought both guys were maybe jittery at times in the pocket and lost their eyes, but that’s understandable in the spring game. I thought there were some other really good throws that were made. We had a couple drops in there. I think, overall efficiency, not bad.”

If any player stood out, it may have been Cameron Dicker. He hit 4-of-5 field goal attempts, including a 58-yarder, to account for 12 of the 32 points scored. He also averaged 47 yards on his six punts and placed himself in the heart of the starting punter battle.

Any concern from Sarkisian about Texas’ offense tallying two touchdowns? Not from the head coach when pressed on the issue postgame.

“Spring game,” Sarkisian said when asked for his thoughts.

The two most exciting plays resulted in six points for the White team. With the first half winding down, Thompson brought the Orange team closer and closer to the end zone. He tried to make a throw from the right hash to the left near pylon, but he couldn’t sneak the throw by Jamison.

The senior corner gathered the pass and ran back 90-plus yards for a touchdown at the end of the half.

“It was a great feeling knowing that I got a pick-six,” Jamison said. “That’s one of my goals for my senior year, to at least get two or three of them.”

The White offense created, too. Near the goal line, Washington worked against early-enrollee Jamier Johnson. There was a window for a throw, but it required a perfect lead on the pass from Card. The ball was placed exactly where it needed to be, and after a tough drop earlier in the game, Washington put two hands on the football and brought it in for six.

Robinson’s rush, Jamison’s return, and Washington’s reception were the only touchdowns of Saturday’s game. The Longhorn defense, both on the Orange and White teams, made the majority of the plays of the day. The defensive lines often got the best of the offensive lines. The best encapsulation of the defensive performance may be how the game ended; Kitan Crawford intercepted a Thompson Hail Mary as time expired after Thompson scrambled around the offensive backfield avoiding white jerseys as best he could.

While the secondary played well, the defensive line made it possible most of the game.

“I think we’re an active group up front,” Sarkisian said. “We were active today and we weren’t moving them as much as we’ve been moving them coming into this game. Again, I think that they provide a real strength to our team starting up front on our defensive line, and their activity in our attacking style is going to be critical to our success.”

When asked his thoughts on his first spring, Sarkisian emphasized leaving the spring game without any major injuries. He spoke about how the next step is meeting with players and giving them time off ahead of summer workouts beginning June 1.

Sarkisian believes he was able to accomplish plenty in his first spring. However, there’s more to improve upon before the next time he walks the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium sidelines in September.

“It was fun for our guys just to get out and compete,” Sarkisian said. “Clearly we’ve got a long way to go, but that’s why we work at it. We’ve come a long way here over three and a half months, but we’ve got plenty of work to do starting in June and then into fall camp.”