Steve Sarkisian got his second chance as a big-time head coach — one day after he helped Alabama win a national title — when he was announced as the successor to Tom Herman at Texas.
Longhorn Nation seemed to get more excited about Sarkisian’s hire with each new assistant coach he added to his staff. Six of those assistants have been on staffs that have either won a national title (TE/special teams coach Jeff Banks, offensive coordinator/O-line coach Kyle Flood, QB coach AJ Milwee and D-line coach Bo Davis) or reached the College Football Playoff (defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and secondary coach Terry Joseph).
Players say the vibe under Sarkisian is much more straightforward and transparent than life under Herman, who, like his mentor Urban Meyer, used fear as a primary motivating factor. Whether that new vibe translates into wins for Sarkisian — and how many — remains to be seen. But Sarkisian said after taking the job that he thought “there’s talent to win a championship with.”
Texas fans have been burned before by getting their hopes up for new coaches since Mack Brown was let go after the 2013 season. But it’s fair to say that most of Longhorn Nation is cautiously optimistic.
Previewing Texas’ Offense for 2021
Sarkisian, who will call the plays on offense, joked that he wouldn’t take a head-coaching job unless there was talent at quarterback already on the roster.
The only UT quarterback Sarkisian has seen in game action is junior Casey Thompson, who relieved injured starter Sam Ehlinger at halftime of Texas’ 55–23 rout of Colorado in the Alamo Bowl. Thompson was impressive, completing 8-of-10 passes, including four touchdown strikes, as he led Texas to points on all five of his drives before freshman Hudson Card entered the game. Thompson, the son of former Oklahoma star quarterback Charles Thompson, showed he was ready every time he hit the field, leading the offense to points on eight of his 10 drives. Card, an Austin native, is also a gifted passer and dual-threat with a lot of upside.
The quarterbacks will rotate taking reps with the first-team offense until Sarkisian feels comfortable naming a starter — probably some time in fall camp.
Whoever wins the quarterback job will have a new best friend in sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, who set a school record for yards per carry (8.2) as a freshman in 2020 while also catching 15 passes for 196 yards and two scores. If Robinson had gotten more than 86 carries (for 703 yards and four touchdowns), Herman might still be the head coach at Texas. That’s how good Robinson is.
Texas has experience at receiver in Joshua Moore and Jordan Whittington. But it’s 6'3", 230-pound redshirt freshman receiver Troy Omeire who had everyone buzzing before tearing his ACL in fall camp last year.
Gone is All-Big 12 left tackle Samuel Cosmi, but the other four starters on the offensive line return, as well as the team’s top three tight ends.
Previewing Texas’ Defense for 2021
Texas may have lost versatile, pass-rushing outside linebacker Joseph Ossai to the NFL, but the Longhorns saw a new star emerge late last year in sophomore defensive lineman Alfred Collins.
Collins dominated in UT’s Alamo Bowl win over Colorado, including making a diving interception after sniffing out a screen pass. Texas has talent and depth on the D-line, including tackles Keondre Coburn and T’Vondre Sweat as well as ends Jacoby Jones and Moro Ojomo.
Graduate transfers Ray Thornton of LSU and Ovie Oghoufo of Notre Dame are expected to help replace Ossai, who had 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season.
Weakside linebacker DeMarvion Overshown had a breakout season in 2020, making plays all over the field, including two interceptions and two forced fumbles.
With middle linebacker Juwan Mitchell, the team’s leading tackler last year, entering the transfer portal, Kwiatkowski and co-defensive coordinator/ILB coach Jeff Choate will need some young players to emerge at linebacker, such as Jaylan Ford, David Gbenda and Jaden Hullaby.
Texas has plenty of returning talent in the secondary, including starting cornerbacks D’Shawn Jamison and Josh Thompson, graduate transfer cornerback Darion Dunn and safeties B.J. Foster, Brenden Schooler and Jerrin Thompson.
Previewing Texas’ Specialists for 2021
Two-time All-Big 12 placekicker Cameron Dicker returns, as does senior punter Ryan Bujcevski, who missed the final three games of 2020 after suffering a torn ACL trying to make a tackle late against West Virginia. Jamison is a threat to score every time he returns a punt or kickoff. His third-quarter 100-yard kick return for a touchdown at Oklahoma State last year was the turning point in UT’s come-from-behind overtime victory.
Texas is thin at certain positions and needs to find a proven pass rusher as well as consistency at receiver. But if Casey Thompson can pick up in Sarkisian’s offense where he left off in last year’s Alamo Bowl, or if Card wins the job and can excel, Texas has a chance to be a factor in this year’s Big 12 race. There’s enough talent on the roster.
National Ranking: 20
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(Bijan Robinson photo courtesy of texassports.com)