Steve Sarkisian says Longhorns had to ‘recreate ourselves this spring’ after Orange-White Game

Texas is coming off its first appearance in the College Football Playoff, and head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns are working to return to the postseason amid their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Sarkisian and the Longhorns held their annual Orange-White Game on Saturday, splitting the team into an intrasquad scrimmage and seeing Team Orange win 35-34 over Team White. Between their 37-31 defeat to Washington in the Sugar Bowl, managing roster construction and building during spring practice, Sarkisian said the Longhorns have looked for their identity for the 2024 season.

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“Between a lot of these mid-year high school kids and the transfers that showed up in the program, we had to kind of recreate ourselves this spring,” Sarkisian said. “And I thought that the buy-in was there. I would say this, like, our practices were really competitive. And they were hard. And they were tough, and they were physical. But yet, they really were working with one another to try to get better, and to me that that sets us up for June. As you guys know, in June and July, we do a ton of culture work and that’s when we really start on that stuff. But man, I feel like we’ve almost got a head start on that because of the way they competed in spring.”

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Texas took in several transfers since the offseason began, including Alabama wide receiver Isaiah Bond. He impressed with 98 receiving yards across three catches, including a 75-yard touchdown thrown by redshirt freshman quarterback Arch Manning. Bond, entering his junior year, caught 888 yards and five touchdowns with the Crimson Tide, and he figures to be a weapon for Longhorns starting quarterback Quinn Ewers.

Ewers played two series, and senior defensive lineman Alfred Collins returned a tipped pass 32 yards for a touchdown when Ewers was in the game. Texas’ returning third-year starting quarterback said gaining chemistry with new receivers was among his top priorities this spring.

“Some of the goals were obviously just needed to get to know those guys — a bunch of new faces in that room — and be able to connect on the field and even off the field,” Ewers said. “But I think as a whole that whole room did a great job of coming in this entire spring and really trying to put their head down whether that’d be learning the offense for some of these guys or continue to work on their routes for the guys that do know the offense and just come out each day. And again, just put their head down and go to work, so proud of those guys for that.”

Wide receivers senior Thatcher Milton had a 50-yard receiving touchdown, sophomore DeAndre Moore Jr. had 93 receiving yards and a touchdown, and freshman Ryan Wingo scored on a 56-yard touchdown.

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Manning shined in the spring game. By halftime he’d gone 11-for-13 with 190 passing yards and two touchdowns eventually finishing with 335 yards and three scores.

“The biggest thing I saw from Arch was something that we kind of really harped on with him about a week and a half ago about just dialing into playing the play, keeping your eyes up, and I think I talked about this last week: when he gets himself in trouble at times at quarterback is when he relies on his athleticism, which he has a ton of and he can do, and there’s times today I blew the whistle on him,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t know if he was really happy with me that I blew it, but he’s noncontact. But when he keeps his eyes up and steps up in the pocket, and he can deliver those balls down the field the way we’d like to play. And so it was good to see and was good to see some of the guys around him play with him the way that they did.”

The Longhorns will begin summer workouts until the start of fall camp in August. They’re looking forward to opening the season against Colorado State at home on Aug. 31.

Texas will have an interesting schedule its first year in the Southeastern Conference. Sarkisian and the Longhorns will host Florida, Georgia and Kentucky, and they’ll travel to Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

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The summer yields vital results when players focus on continuing their progress from the spring. Sarkisian said he’ll hold exit meetings with each player who’ll also meet with their position coaches. Sarkisian listed the defensive line and secondary among the areas he hopes the Longhorns can address this summer — as well as getting Texas back to the Playoff.

“What excited me today is that playmakers made plays, and that’s something that you try to recruit to, and how do playmakers make plays? You got to be effective at the line of scrimmage, right?” Sarkisian said. “I think that that we’ve got a lot of talent. We’ve got — there’s a lot of playmakers. We play a physical brand of football. But more importantly, I like the kind of energy of this team. They’re in it together, and they want to be really good. And when you as a coach, when you have a team that’s motivated to shoot towards a goal like you are, that’s what makes it exciting to come in every day and to tap into them and go to work.”