Five storylines to watch for in Texas’ season opener against Louisiana

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Just three days away from Texas’ season opener against Louisiana and everyone is trying to hurry up and wait. After a brutal offseason, Longhorn football is nearly upon us, and with a treat as well. It’s the first season-opening ranked matchup since 1984.

Opening up as an 8.5 point favorite, everybody seems to be picking the upset, let alone Texas covering the spread. After getting a win over Iowa State last season, beating up on Big 12 teams is nothing new to the Ragin’ Cajuns. Nothing is going to scare an already talented set of returning personnel.

Plenty of storylines will be present for Texas no matter if they win, lose, or draw. Sarkisian’s debut alone would be enough to quantify Saturday’s matchup a big one. Adding in a tough matchup makes everything just a tad bit more interesting.

Here are five storylines to watch for in Texas’ season opener against Louisiana.

11 vs 12 personnel

Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

This will all be determined by Steve Sarkisian himself. Is he confident enough in Texas' receivers to run three of them out there, or will he go with two tight ends to help with blocking? Cade Brewer is going to be TE1 per the depth chart released on Monday. Jared Wiley (most likely) OR Gunnar Helm would be the second guy and be play the receiver role more times than not. They could be split in the slot or in the H-back role just behind the line of scrimmage. Another factor could be Troy Omeire is missing Saturday's game with another knee injury. Joshua Moore, Jordan Whittington, and Xavier Worthy will be the three on the field or in the wide receiver rotation. Limited numbers at the position should have Sarkisian running a decent amount of 12 personnel.

Quarterback usage

Aaron E. Martinez /Austin American-Statesman via AP

After a long battle, Hudson Card was named the starter by Steve Sarkisian, but not without a twist. The head coach said both Card and Casey Thompson are going to play this weekend.

“I know Casey is going to play,” Sarkisian said. “When, how much, I’m not exactly certain."

There are plenty of hypothetical scenarios as to when the quarterbacks could get playing time. Thompson could come in after a few drives and get his shot with the first-team offense. Or if the game ever gets out of hand, the full second-team trots out in the fourth quarter. What we know is that Card will take the opening offensive snap Saturday. Per Sarkisian, Thompson will get his chance at some point.

Where Louisiana's rushing game comes from

James Mays/LafayetteLA

Louisiana's leading rushers from last season, Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas, have both left the program for the NFL. The two combined for over 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. The Ragin' Cajuns will now be relying on redshirt sophomore Chris Smith. Special teams in where Smith contributed most last season, earning First Team All-Sun Belt Conference honors. In the backfield, he had 350 yards and a touchdown on 62 carries. Not bad numbers by any means, but Smith has never been the feature running back in the offense. Louisiana's offensive line is going to be the factor. Four of the five starters returning started at least 10 games last season. With how good Texas' defensive line projects to be, a strength-on-strength matchup could be on our hands.

How often Pete Kwiatkowski is in nickel

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Fall camp began with Chris Adimora being the perceived fifth defensive back in Pete Kwiatkowski's defense. It ended with Anthony Cook earning the spot to open the season. As for how much the senior will be on the field is unknown. Instead of an extra DB, Kwiatkowski could bring on another outside linebacker in the form of Ogie Oghoufo or Ben Davis. Maybe if the previously mentioned Louisiana run game starts to pick up, a switch to a more traditional 3-4 will be made. Saturday will give us baseline expectations for how Kwiatkowski plans on using his players in certain scenarios. Against a good opponent as well, none of it will be vanilla either.

Steve Sarkisian vs Billy Napier

SCOTT CLAUSE/The Daily Advertiser

On paper, Tom Herman has teams far more talented than most of his opponents per recruiting rankings. Where some games were lost for the Longhorns over the past four years was coaching decisions. With Sarkisian, things must change right away. Especially with somebody such as Billy Napier on the other sideline. The Louisiana headman is not your ordinary Group of Five program coach. He reportedly turned down multiple offers from Power Five schools to remain in Layfette for at least another season. If the game comes down to coaching, Napier may hold the slight advantage, for now. Barring the 2020 Iron Bowl, it's been nearly seven years since Sarkisian was a head coach. Please, no more Turtle Tom mentality.

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