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Five Things Texas Coach Steve Sarkisian Said ahead of the Big 12 Championship

‘They’re capable of being a very dangerous team.’



[Liz Parke/Big 12]

Steve Sarkisian has a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since 2009: lead Texas to a Big 12 title.

Oklahoma State plays Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday in AT&T Stadium for the conference crown. Sarkisian, in his third year with the Longhorns, met with the media Monday to preview the matchup. Here are five things that stood out from an OSU perspective. His full news conference is below.

Sark Talks Gordon

It’s hard to talk Oklahoma State football in 2023 without talking about Ollie Gordon.

A sophomore running back, Gordon is the nation’s leading rusher with 1,580 yards. He is second in the country in rushing touchdowns with 20 — running for five against BYU to punch the Cowboys’ ticket to Arlington. He was named a Doak Walker finalist Tuesday and appears, statistically, to have the inside track at that piece of hardware.

The Texas staff would have also been somewhat familiar with Gordon as a prospect. Out of Euless Trinity High School, Gordon got a Texas offer shortly before the early signing period as a high school senior before electing to stand firm in his commitment to OSU.

“Ollie Gordon is a heck of a player, and they have done a great job offensively of leaning into him,” Sarkisian said. “He really signifies who their team is. I feel like he gets stronger as the game goes on, like a lot of big, physical backs do. A lot of his best runs come in the second half when teams wear down. He has the hard yards, the tough yards in between the tackles, but yet he has the big play, explosive play ability to create those long runs.

“And they’ve got a variety of run schemes with him. They do a heck of a job out of the pistol formation where they can get to all their runs, and a lot of them look the same. Your defensive line, your linebackers have to do a great job of fitting those things. Then you’ve gotta tackle. Generally with a guy like him, one guy is not enough, so our ability to populate the ball Saturday and making sure we’re fitting these runs right is gonna be really critical.”

Ewers Facing Cowboys after Rough Outing in BPS Last Season

Before the Cowboys’ 2022 season took a nosedive, they were 6-1 after beating Texas 41-34 in Boone Pickens Stadium.

That’s a game most of the Longhorn faithful will want to forget about, but that is particularly the case for Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers. The former five-star prospect completed just 39% of his passes that day and threw three interceptions. That’s the most amount of interceptions and the lowest completion percentage Ewers has had in a game in his career. It is one of only two games in his career he has completed fewer than 50% of his passes, and it’s one of only two games he has thrown multiple interceptions in.

“Games like that are part of the growing pains of playing the position,” Sarkisian said. “When you get on the road and you get in a hostile environment and early on things are going your way, and then things start not going your way for a variety of reasons. In that game, we had a couple opportunities for some big plays, and we didn’t pass protect very well for him. Then we had a couple opportunities for some big plays, we didn’t catch the ball very well for him. Then all a sudden he misses a couple throws, and those types of things can snowball on you.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned, and I think Quinn has learned, that I’ve learned about him is his demeanor. When things at times this year haven’t gone great, for example the interception Friday night when he was trying to hit the fade to (Adonai) Mitchell, I thought his poise, his composure really showed through and he was able to come right back and still execute at a high level. A year ago, it might’ve been more of a challenge to rebound from that type of a play. I think he’s learning how to respond to those things.”

Texas Injury Update

The Longhorns could be light in the defensive backfield Saturday.

Sarkisian said defensive backs Ryan Watts and Austin Jordan are questionable for Saturday’s game. Watts has 10 starts at corner this season but went down on the first play in Texas’ game against Texas Tech last week. Jordan is a depth piece at safety, having played just 21 snaps this season, according to PFF.

Xavier Worthy, a star receiver for the Longhorns, got banged up against Tech, but Sarkisian said Worthy is “good to go.” Backup quarterback Maalik Murphy had a freak injury against Tech, as well, leading to the college debut of Arch Manning. Should the Longhorns need a backup quarterback Saturday, though, it sounds like Murphy will be back, as Sarkisian said he practiced Monday.

‘They’re Capable of Being a Very Dangerous Team’

Not many can make sense of the Cowboys’ wacky season.

From falling to South Alabama and starting the year 2-2 to ripping off five wins and beating Oklahoma just to lose by 42 to UCF — it’s been bonkers.

It doesn’t sound like Sarkisian can make sense of it either, but he said the highs of OSU’s season shows what the Cowboys are capable of.

“It is unique, but then you turn around and you think they beat, I know I can rattle off three really good teams in Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma — bang, bang bang, right in a row,” Sarkisian said. “And we played all three of those teams and didn’t win all three of those games. So I know the quality of opponents that they are. I don’t know the exact answer why, but I know what they’re capable of. They’re capable of being a very dangerous team and one that can play at a very high level and match the opponent and the quality of the opponent. Those wins were very impressive to me.”

High Praise for the OSU Linebackers

OSU’s defense has gone through quite the transition in its first year under defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo.

The group is young on the backend. The defensive line has some older guys on it, but many entered the year new to a heavy snap load. The strength of the unit, though, resides in the middle with linebackers Nickolas Martin, Collin Oliver and Xavier Benson.

Martin leads the Big 12 in total tackles with 120 on the year. Martin and Oliver are tied for a team lead in sacks with six apiece, with Oliver adding 68 total tackles. Benson, on the other hand, does a lot of the unrecognized dirty work for the Cowboys’ defense. He has 56 tackles on the year.

“I think the one area that jumps out to me is their linebacking corps,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s probably the best one we’ve faced all year. They’ve got three very, very good linebackers who impact the game. They rush the quarterback extremely well. They tackle really well. They force turnovers really well. They fly around the field. Those three guys — Oliver, Benson, Martin — they’re big-time players. Everything they do defensively is kind of structured around those three guys impacting the game. Very impressed by them.”

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