For anyone associated with the Texas Longhorns, the individual events of a loss to Kansas are horrific enough. Despite strong statistical performances from Casey Thompson, Xavier Worthy, and Marcus Washington in a tenacious comeback effort, it was not enough to overcome the Kansas Jayhawks at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium.
That’s bad. Very bad. Kansas had not won a conference game on the road since 2008 until they topped the Longhorns 57-56 thanks to a game-winning two-point conversion from Jalon Daniels to Jared Casey.
Texas now is the owner of a five-game losing streak, the longest since 1956. That’s bad. Very bad.
The Longhorn defense allowed Kansas to rush for 218, throw for 202, and convert 11-of-17 third down opportunities. The Texas offense turned the ball over four times, a significant reason behind the Jayhawks’ 35-14 halftime lead.
All these are bad, but at least on the surface some things appear fixable. If one player catches one pass, or makes on tackle, or makes one block, et cetera… That’s a bit more manageable, and the fact they haven’t been properly managed since Texas came out for the second half against Oklahoma remains a concern.
But Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian explained a facet of his current program that should trouble not just him, but those watching his team.
“It says it up on the wall right here in our team room. The team that has discipline, commitment, toughness and accountability all of the time, that’s what wins games,” Sarkisian said. “And that’s what ultimately wins championships. And we didn’t play that way in the first half.”
Later on, he said: “Until we figure that out, that it takes discipline, commitment, toughness, and accountability all the time, we’re going to be swimming upstream. That’s the message to the guys. At some point, they’ve got to recognize that and they’ve got to do the things necessary day in and day out, game in and game out, first half, second half out, start of ball games, end of games, it doesn’t matter if it’s losing a fourth-quarter lead or coming out flat, that’s what it’s about.”
Why isn’t that happening? Or why has that commitment not been present in now five-straight games?
More succinctly put, are there players tuning out Sarkisian and his message?
“I don’t know,” Sarkisian said. “You’d have to ask them that question. I feel good about our messaging. I think we’ve got great leaders on the team. But you’d have to ask them that question.”
No probl… come again?
If you don’t believe the schematic or instructional issues with this staff are fixable or rectifiable in some form or fashion, at least Sarkisian can bring in different coaches he has to hope are upgrades. 57 points to Kansas is a good impetus for action in that regard.
But if players are tuning his staff’s message out? New assistant coaches won’t change that.
That’s a top-down issue.
Inside Texas took Sarkisian’s directive to heart and asked the players made available by the school (Thompson, Worthy, Ovie Oghoufo) if the message is resonating with the team.
“On the right side of the team meeting room, it says the team that has commitment and focus all the time wins championships,” Thompson said. “We don’t have that right now. I think (Sarkisian) hit that right on the head.”
Oghoufo pushed back against the idea of a tune-out: “I wouldn’t say that. I would just say we need to make it more of an emphasis. Not tuned out at all. I still think that we’re a team that’s together.”
But take a look at what one of the few players Sarkisian himself put on the roster thought.
“Like Coach Sark said, we’re going to find out who’s really down to earth about this stuff,” Worthy said. “We’re going to figure out this week in practice.”
To Sarkisian’s credit, he’s accepted and provided answers to the difficult questions that have come during the five-game losing streak.
He says the right things, including how the only thing he knows to do is to go back to work and keep trying to get things right.
That task is made much more difficult by not having a message resonate in the locker room, a message that is unable to properly motivate players to get up for 1-8 Kansas.
To say Sark is O-fer probably isn’t accurate. There are players who are in and are marching along with his message, the one Texas paid a lot of money for as a result of its move to part ways with Tom Herman.
“It’s probably not safe to put every player in that category because I think we had a lot of guys tonight that did play that way,” Sarkisian said in response to a question about players not responding to his messaging. “And had a lot of guys that didn’t, clearly, for 60 minutes.”
Sark said it isn’t about waiting until next year to make those things happen. He has a sense of urgency that implies he knows the culture needs to change and change now.
But he hasn’t done it. He hasn’t done it enough for the past five weeks.
And whatever method he used to try and convey his message, he didn’t do it well enough to prepare his team for 1-8… 2-8 Kansas.