More than a bump in the road: Arkansas loss is a sign of tough times from the past and tough times to come

Nathan Han, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 14 flipbook. 

Yes, Steve Sarkisian is only two games into his tenure as Texas football head coach. Yes, he inherited an imperfect roster with no clear starting quarterback. And yes, the Longhorns went into an extremely hostile environment in Fayetteville, Arkansas against a Razorbacks team on the rise.

But Texas’s 40-21 loss against Arkansas wasn’t just a growing pain for a program with players learning a new scheme under a new coaching staff. 

Last Saturday’s blowout was a reminder of just how much work Sarkisian will have to do to bring Texas out of a decade of mediocrity.

It wasn’t just the fact that Texas lost to a SEC team the Longhorns will likely face when they take the leap to the vaunted Southeastern Conference. It was the way in which they lost in almost every facet of the game: dominated in the trenches on both sides, outschemed by Razorback defensive coordinator Barry Odom and just not ready for the rowdy crowd and physical play of Arkansas.

The loss against the Razorbacks will only count once on the record, but it exposed flaws in the Texas team that take weeks of coaching and years of recruiting and roster building to fix. 

Having a better understanding of offensive line coach Kyle Flood’s new scheme isn’t enough to improve this 2021 version of the Texas blockers enough to bring them to an above average SEC position group. Bringing in the right recruits and developing them is the solution — a long-term solution the past two Texas head coaches haven’t been able to accomplish.

Former head coach Tom Herman’s recruiting classes were no slouch. But Sarkisian knew what taking a new job at a program that won seven and eight games in 2020 and 2019 means.

“We (have) a talented team. Is it ideally built exactly how I would (build) it? Maybe not, but that’s part of taking over a program,” Sarkisian said. “You try to put all of the pieces on your roster and in your organization to be successful. And then you got to recruit and build the roster the way you want it. There’s always a little bit of that transition period.”

And the humiliating defeat to Arkansas showed that that transition period will take a long time, time that isn’t normally afforded to head coaches at the University of Texas.

Nineteen-point losses to unranked opponents aren’t lengthening that already-short leash.

Of course, there is a road to redemption — starting with bouncing back from Saturday’s loss and navigating a tricky Big 12 schedule. Sarkisian, along with players like sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, were quick to say that the loss doesn’t have to define the season.

But the loss did show that they’re just not ready yet for an SEC schedule and not ready to turn the corner of the past ten years of Texas football.