Texan Tuesday Football Talk: Week one takeaways, keys for Arkansas, and more

Matthew Boncosky, Nathan Han, Sports Reporters

Welcome to the third edition of the Texan Tuesday Football Talk, where Daily Texan football beat reporters Matthew Boncosky and Nathan Han discuss, of course, Texas football. This time around, it’s coming on a Wednesday thanks to Labor Day:

Nathan Han: Well, I walked out of DKR (Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) the most confident I’ve been in a Texas team after an opener in the past decade. What were your big takeaways from Saturday’s win against Louisiana?

Matthew Boncosky: My biggest takeaway from Saturday’s win was how well the defense played. We remember defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski saying his goal was to hold teams to under 20 points, and that’s exactly what happened Saturday.

Outside of a couple chunk plays like running back Chris Smith’s 27-yard touchdown run, the Texas defense held firm against an experienced offense. The competition will certainly get even tougher as the Big 12 famously has some high powered offenses, but if week one is any indication, the defense appears to be in a good spot.

Obviously, the focus going in was on Hudson Card and Bijan Robinson, but who were some of the under-the-radar guys you thought performed well on Saturday?

NH: Keeping it with the defense, Darion Dunn got more reps on Saturday than most fifth cornerbacks normally get, and he made the most of it with solid coverage and a forced fumble for the only turnover of the game.

Kwiatkowski rotated players in and out of the game a lot, especially in the second half, so I was struggling to keep up with names for a bit there. But one other player who did stand out was junior edge rusher Jett Bush, who recorded his first sack of his career after joining Texas as a walk-on in 2019. He saw most of his time on clear pass-rush downs, and is somebody to watch on those 3rd-and-longs going forward.

On the flip side though, which position group do you think needs the most work heading into Arkansas this week?

MB: For me, it starts up front with the offensive line. Hudson Card was sacked three times and was forced out of the pocket on several other occasions. Plus, if you take out his 17 and 19 yard rushes, Bijan Robinson averaged under four yards a carry.

So while Card and Robinson did well overall in masking the offensive line’s performance that wasn’t exactly up to standard, improvement within that group will be key going forward as Texas faces an SEC defensive line this week at Arkansas.

Speaking of facing Arkansas, Texas will head into a very hostile environment Saturday. For many Texas players, it’ll be the first truly hostile atmosphere they’ve played in since 2019, and for the new guys it’ll be their first experience. What are the keys for the Longhorns if they are to go into Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and leave with a win?

NH: One key for Texas is finding the explosive plays that were lacking against Louisiana. The explosiveness is part of what made Sarkisian’s past offenses so effective.

But last Saturday, Texas used long, grindy drives with several third-down conversions to beat the Ragin’ Cajuns. The offense can’t count on third-and-long conversions every game to keep those drives alive. 

Instead, either Card needs to improve his deep ball and find that missing connection with wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Joshua Moore, or Sarkisian needs to continue to give Robinson and wide receiver Jordan Whittington the ball in space with the room to generate yards off their shiftiness.

Who are some players on that Arkansas defense to watch that could give Card trouble and contain those Texas weapons?

MB: Like Sarkisian mentioned on Monday, the strength of the Arkansas defense is in the middle. Linebackers Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan were the top two tacklers in the SEC last year. Both were penalized for targeting in their season opener against Rice, and Pool will miss the first half of Saturday’s game as a result, but those two guys are not to be taken lightly.

Up top, safety Jalen Catalon is one of the best safeties in the SEC as well. He had two interceptions against Rice and consistently knows where to be to make plays. Card will have to keep an eye on him to avoid costly interceptions.

Right now the oddsmakers have Texas as a seven point favorite in enemy territory. I think Arkansas keeps it close in the first half, feeding off the energy of the crowd, but then Texas pulls away in the second half and wins by multiple scores.

NH: Seven points feels about right to me, but I do think if Texas slips up at any point and falls into an early deficit, it could get dicey real quickly in enemy territory. Give me Texas by one in a 24-23 win.