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It’s finally game week in Austin.
Texas has a big task in front of them with having to take on the No. 23 ranked Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in their season opener.
The Longhorns had a full offseason under a new coaching staff to prepare for their tough first half of the schedule, and to just simply just to train in general as last season the offseason was decimated by COVID-19. However, just because Texas feels as if they are prepared for this matchup, does not mean that it will be a walk in the park by any means. It’s college football, anything can happen.
There is added pressure for Texas to succeed this season for a multitude of reasons. The first being the fact that they hired arguably the best offensive mind in college football in Steve Sarkisian to help them contend, and also the fact that the Longhorns are slated to make the move to the SEC conference in the near future. The target on their back is as big as its ever been.
All the questions of whether Texas is back or not will not be determined by a single game, but it could be a great indicator as to how this era will be different from the last.
The Longhorns got off to a rough start under Tom Herman when they lost to Maryland. Many of the issues we saw in his opening game became a constant throughout the Herman era as the team struggled with penalties and were unable to overcome a slow start.
Granted, this is obviously a much different team, but there are areas of concern that have emerged and could be prevalent in the Week 1 matchup for Texas.
Let’s take a look at some potential issues that could potentially get the Sarkisian era off to a Herman-like start.
Playing both quarterbacks?
Aaron E. Martinez /Austin American-Statesman via AP
Even after redshirt freshman, Hudson Card was named the starter, it was reported by 247Sports' Chip Brown that Sarkisian may indeed use both Card and Casey Thompson in the game. Sarkisian also mentioned the possibility of that in his media presser on Monday. There is a known adage that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. I do feel for Thompson, as he had a great performance in the Alamo Bowl, and he waited his turn, but I think playing both quarterbacks is the worst thing Sarkisian could do. Not only does that show he possibly isn't content with Card as the full-time starter, it can easily rattle the young quarterback who might be playing with a "don't make a mistake or I will get benched" mindset causing him to make mistakes that will hurt the team. Something that has to be understood, is that Card, and even Thompson if he were to start a game eventually, will make a mistake or two. This is Card's first collegiate game as a starter, and Louisiana is a tough team to open up against. Playing both quarterbacks can divide the team, and simply not allow for Card to find himself. The Longhorns need to trust Card, otherwise trying to figure out who to play during the game will likely just give Louisiana more confidence.
Putting pressure on Levi Lewis
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Longhorns defense has been very unproductive in the last few years when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback and bringing him to thr ground. Although Lewis is not one of college football's elite quarterbacks, he is no slouch either. He threw for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, while rushing for another five. He is poised for another big season, after getting all of his wide receivers back along with a TCU transfer and a Texas A&M running back transfer. Louisiana is returning their whole offensive line from last year, and also added a couple in the transfer portal. It is an experienced group that should be serviceable, but should not contain the Texas pass rush. If Texas is unable to get pressure on Lewis, he has shown that he is a very capable passer, who had a down year last season compared to his junior season, and still helped lead the Ragin' Cajuns to a 10-1 record. Texas also must contain him from scrambling as well, as he can take off and create with his legs if needed. Allowing a fifth-year quarterback, who has an Iowa State win under his belt, time to throw and breakdown the defense is the last thing Texas needs. The Longhorns need their defensive line to not only generate pressure, but get results in the backfield. Lewis did not have a huge game against Iowa State, but he also didn't make any catastrophic mistakes that would allow for the Cyclones to get back in the game. Texas needs to force him to be uncomfortable, and make him make the uncomfortable throw or scramble.
Wide receiver injuries, question marks
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The wide receiver position has been a big concern throughout preseason camp, as they have constantly been dropping passes, and simply not making the big play that Sarkisian's offense needs. This group has also seemed to be injury plagued, as it is still unknown if Troy Omeire will be ready for the season opener, true freshman Xavier Worthy was sick and missed some time, and Jordan Whittington has suffered a variety of injuries throughout his first two seasons. Texas really needs this group to step up and make plays in order to help Hudson Card's transition go smoother. Joshua Moore has shown flashes of being able to be the team's best receiver, as he led in every statistical category last season, but he needs to be much more consistent. Sarkisian's offense will put them in position to succeed and be open, they just need to be able to finish the play. If this group can be more consistent, they will be playing rock-paper-scissors for the touchdown route in no time.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images
The Texas defense showed great flashes of improvement last season, but the same issues still plagued them. Those being tackling and mental lapses that allowed other teams to take advantage. Tackling, or lack thereof, was a staple of Tom Herman's teams at Texas, as the Longhorns missed tackles at one of the highest rates in the nation. That is a trend that defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is hoping to put an end to. There is not much to say about lack of tackling, it's quite simple, the more tackles Texas misses, the more opportunities that Louisiana will have to take advantage. Something about having a new defensive coordinator that also worries me is mental lapses in live game action. It is bound to happen because they are human, but if there are consistent lapses, whether it be not knowing ones' job in a certain look, or being overly aggressive. Kwiatkowski's defenses are known for being uber aggressive, but that does not mean that the players need to take risks every single play. The Longhorns defense has a lot of experience all over the field, they just need to know their job, and the turnovers and big plays will come organically.
Inexperienced starting quarterback
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Just because I said to believe in Card and allow him to work through mistakes, does not mean that his inexperience isn't a concern. First game jitters, and a new offensive system can very much frazzle the young quarterback. He likely has a great grasp of the system, otherwise he wouldn't have won the job, but live action games against an actual opponent is different than any scrimmage, regardless of how game-like coaches make it. The Ragin' Cajuns have a very experienced defense that held a more experienced Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy to 16-of-35 and 135 yards last season, while also did a decent job of containing running back Breece Hall for a little over 100 yards. If Louisiana can build a lead and neutralize running back Bijan Robinson, they can put all the pressure on a freshman quarterback to beat them. If Card tries to do too much it could certainly end badly, as Louisiana is ranked No. 2 nationally in defensive pass efficiency and held seven opponents below 200 passing yards last season. There isn't a defense that Sarkisian has not prepared for, or torn apart, but Card has to make the right reads and trust his teammates in order to succeed.