Staying the course: How Sarkisian, Longhorns hope to respond to Arkansas loss

Matthew Boncosky, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the September 17 Double Coverage flipbook.

Moro Ojomo was almost at a loss for words Monday when reporters asked him to reflect on what happened two days prior in Fayetteville.

“It’s pitiful,” the junior defensive lineman said. “I can’t put into words the pain from losing, but you have to use it and transfer it into a positive.”

The 40-21 drubbing that Ojomo and the Longorns took at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks in front of a sold-out Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and a national television audience was shocking in nature, especially to fans in Austin.

Arkansas thoroughly manhandled Texas in almost every facet of the game from the line of scrimmage outward. With the Longhorns riding a wave of high emotions heading into the contest, the humbling defeat put a sizable dent in the “All Gas, No Brakes” campaign of first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian.

“I think our team enjoyed winning Week 1 against Louisiana, but they didn’t know the feeling that they would have if they lost, and we got slapped in the face with the feeling of loss,” Sarkisian said.

As Week 3 of the regular season approaches and as Big 12 conference play looms on the horizon, the Longhorns must now understand how to respond to the humiliating defeat. But, the man in charge, Sarkisian, has dealt with losses before.

The 47-year-old coach has endured a long journey over the course of his career. Sarkisian rose through the ranks to land the head coaching jobs at Washington and USC before having a public fall from grace. Sarkisian ultimately lost the USC job due to personal struggles with substance issues, but he wouldn’t let that hold him back. The road back to finding himself at the top included two stints under Alabama head coach Nick Saban and a brief fling as offensive coordinator with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons sandwiched in between.

Sarkisian has referenced the many lessons he’s learned since his time at Alabama, particularly under Saban, from both an X’s and O’s standpoint and from his journey of developing into an effective leader. When game plans fail to go according to plan, Sarkisian is not the ultra-aggressive, fire-and-brimstone style coach that seeks to use fear to push through adversity; he’s different.

“Sometimes when you get loud and yell and berate people, they’ve missed the message because all they hear is loud and berating,” Sarkisian said. “So, I try to be very clear and concise with my messaging with them so that they know what we’re going to work on next week.”

Part of that message has been an expression of gratitude for the current step back occurring now rather than later. Losing in the fashion that Texas did last Saturday exposes problems, all of which stand out now and can be focused and improved upon. Sarkisian has brought in an experienced staff that he hopes to lean on to help right the ship.

“I rely on our coaching staff to be the leaders in this group,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to get our mindset to we hate to lose more than we want to win, and that’s something that we’ve got to shift in our locker room and that process is underway.”

A culture shift doesn’t occur overnight, especially for a program that has dealt with accusations of being “soft” in the past, but the first tough loss of a new era can bring things into perspective. According to Sarkisian, a renewed focus has been seen in practice as the team prepares to take on Rice on Saturday.

Junior quarterback Casey Thompson, whom Sarkisian named starting quarterback for Week 3, takes over the offense’s reins with plenty on his plate. Not only has Thompson been tasked with getting the Longhorns back in the win column, but the junior also desires the starting quarterback position long-term, something he’s patiently waited for his entire career at Texas.

Despite all the noise, every Longhorn from Sarkisian to Ojomo to Thompson and others, have stressed the importance of remaining composed and at ease in the face of adversity.

“There’s going to be ups and downs, and you kind of just have to be calm and poised,” Thompson said. “So, I think that this week, we don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need to panic.”