AUSTIN — As first impressions go, Steve Sarkisian made the most of his head coaching debut at Texas.
The Longhorns didn’t make baffling decisions, play down to the level of the opponent or find a way to gift wrap a winnable game.
As promised, standout running back Bijan Robinson got the ball more than he ever has since arriving on campus.
Quarterback Hudson Card was composed and poised, justifying Sarkisian’s decision to make Card the starting quarterback.
While plenty remains on the to-do list, the 38-18 win by No. 21 Texas over No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette before an announced crowd of 91,113 showed that Sarkisian and his staff are remaking the program in their own image.
“I loved it, man,” Sarkisian said. “There’s nothing like winning, I’ll tell you that much. We put in a lot of work.”
At least it wasn’t a loss to Maryland as in the rock bottom coaching debut of Tom Herman.
Yes, Louisiana-Lafayette is a Sun Belt team from the Group of Five. The Ragin’ Cajuns were also coming off a 10-1 season with a road win over Iowa State and 20 returning starters.
Robinson led the Texas win, rushing for 103 yards on 20 carries and catching four passes out of the backfield for another 73 yards. That added up to a career-high 24 touches, including two touchdowns. Last season, under Herman, Robinson averaged just 11 touches per game, prompting grumbling from the fan base.
It wasn’t just the number of touches. The offensive coordinator on Alabama’s national champions last season, Sarkisian found different ways to get Robinson the ball. He had catches of 28 yards and 18 yards (twice), including one for Texas’ first touchdown.
“One of the questions I kept getting was how many touches for Bijan,” Sarkisian said. “I kept saying somewhere around 20. … That’s 24 [touches], nearly 180 yards of total offense. That’s a good day of work. That’s utilizing him.”
Texas put together four consecutive touchdown drives of 72, 65, 48 and 83 yards spanning the second to the fourth quarters to take command on a brutally hot day in Austin.
The tone-setter was the first drive, which included 14 plays and consumed 7:45. Card hit senior tight end Cade Brewer just inside the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown pass. After winning the preseason quarterback competition with Casey Thompson, Card finished 14-of-21 passing for 224 yards while throwing two touchdowns and running for another.
“It’s pretty special,” Card said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about as a kid. Just to be able to come out here and take it all in is pretty surreal.”
He kept Texas’ first scoring drive alive with a 6-yard scramble on fourth down.
“He’s not a big emotional up-and-down kind of kid,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t feel like the moment was too big for him. I’m sure there were some jitters and butterflies, naturally. … But I never felt like he showed it.”
When Thompson found Jordan Whittington (seven catches, 113 yards) for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 12:24 remaining, Texas had turned a 14-6 halftime lead into a 35-12 advantage.
Under new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, the Texas defense didn’t allow Louisiana-Lafayette a third-down conversion until the third quarter. Louisiana-Lafayette finished with just 77 yards rushing. Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown recorded a career-high 13 tackles.
“DeMarvion, early on, you could really feel his presence,” Sarkisian said.
Texas finished 8-of-15 on third down. Louisiana-Lafayette was 4-of-13.
“When you look at third downs, they were just better than us today,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier said.
Sarkisian’s first head coaching win since 2015 at USC wasn’t the only special moment.
Texas officially dedicated the field at DKR to Longhorn greats Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. Robinson, for one, was star-struck at meeting Williams.
“He just said, ‘Go ball out and represent for the guys who have been here before you,’” Robinson said.
The school also unveiled the new $175 million south end zone project, complete with a supersized video board.
Then, Texas delivered.
“More teams lose these openers than teams win the game,” Sarkisian said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t go out and lose the game.”
Briefly: Texas improved to 3-0 all-time against Louisiana. … Kicker Cameron Dicker, who is handling the punting duty as well, misfired on a 45-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. He later connected from 48 yards. … Middle linebacker Luke Brockermeyer made his first career start and finished with a career-high 10 tackles, including 0.5 sack and 1.5 tackles for loss.
How Texas head coaches have fared in their first games:
|1957||Darrell Royal||Georgia||W, 26-7|
|1977||Fred Akers||Boston College||W, 44-0|
|1987||David McWilliams||Auburn||L, 31-3|
|1992||John Mackovic||Mississippi St.||L, 28-10|
|1998||Mack Brown||New Mexico St.||W, 66-36|
|2014||Charlie Strong||North Texas||W, 38-7|
|2017||Tom Herman||Maryland||L, 51-41|
|2021||Steve Sarkisian||Louisiana||W, 38-18|
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