UTSA Roadrunners have full attention of head coach Steve Sarkisian

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The UTSA Roadrunners might be from a smaller conference, but they still have the full attention of Texas Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian.

“Clearly, we’ve got a heck of a challenge ahead of us,” he said during his Thursday news conference. “We’re playing a really veteran football team that’s really well-coached. They’ve got a lot of seniors that have won a lot of football games. We have to prepare for a very physical game.”

The Roadrunners won the Conference USA championship last year and rose to as high as No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25, and while graduation took some of their talents, it certainly didn’t take it all. Sarkisian is going into the game holding things close to the vest, including who will play quarterback after Quinn Ewers and Hudson Card both suffered injuries against Alabama last week.

“Quinn and Hudson got healthier as the week went on, and I thought Charles [Wright] did a good job with managing more reps. I felt like his comfort level and confidence was as good as I’ve ever seen it, or better. All three guys got better as the week went on.”

Ewers suffered an injury to his collarbone in the first quarter of the Alabama game and didn’t return after that while Card played through an ankle injury for nearly the entire second half. Wright, the third-string quarterback, could see time against the Roadrunners, but Sarkisian is going to make sure no one outside the program knows how the Longhorns are going to manage the situation.

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When a reporter followed up with a clarification question, asking if all three quarterbacks would be available Saturday, he said sharply, “I don’t think it’s my job to get on here and tell you guys what our gameplan is going to be.”

There’s also a chance the Longhorns employ more plays where Roschon Johnson, a quarterback in high school, takes snaps in a single-wing “wildcat” formation like he did last season against Kansas State.

Whoever takes the snaps has plenty of people around them to shoulder the load. After all, it’s a team game, and the Longhorns have talent everywhere on the field. Bijan Robinson said earlier in the week he was healthy and confident he’d play Saturday after dealing with a sore shoulder after the Alabama game, and Sarkisian said he liked what he saw from his young offensive line and some other receivers.

“I think our offensive line is starting to settle in,” Sarkisian said. “We’re into Week 3 now and we’re starting two true freshmen. I feel like for Kelvin [Banks Jr.], the moment wasn’t too big for him. I felt like it wasn’t too big for Cole [Hutson], and I think Christian [Jones] feels comfortable and you can feel Jake Majors’ leadership and Hayden Conner in his second year. I feel good about the way we were operating in sync.

He mentioned receivers Jordan Whittington and Casey Cain as pass catchers that stood out in last week’s game, as well as tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. He said a big area of improvement, however, needs to come in the red zone. Kicking field goals, rather than scoring touchdowns, when that close to the end zone doesn’t typically equate to winning, and the Longhorns’ red zone issues bared that out.

“You get five shots in the red zone and only score one touchdown, that’s going to impact the outcome of the game,” he said. “That’s an area we definitely have to improve upon and we’ve spent time on that.”

A look at the Week 3 opponent, the UTSA Roadrunners

Quarterback Frank Harris, a fifth-year senior from Schertz just outside San Antonio, stirs the drink for the Birds and second-year head coach Jeff Traylor. Harris is a dual-threat and has done some damage both through the air and on the ground in the first two games.

He’s ranked sixth among Division I passers with 348 passing yards per game and is a top-35 passer in terms of completion percentage at 68.2%. He’s thrown six touchdowns to just one interception so far, and both games the Roadrunners have played have both gone to overtime. He rushed for 93 yards combined in both games this year, as well. If Texas’ secondary, who may be down one of its best pass defenders if D’Shawn Jamison can’t play due to an ankle injury he suffered against Alabama, isn’t careful, Harris can turn unsuccessful pass plays into productive scrambles.

“He’s got a lot of tools,” Sarkisian said of Harris. “He does a nice job of making quick decisions and he throws it accurately, and he gives his receivers an opportunity to make plays in space. In turn, they force you to cover down because you don’t keep giving up those throws, and then he does a nice job at throwing the 50-50 fade throws. They’ve got big wideouts, too. There’s a lot of levels to his game.”

Harris’ favorite target, Zakhari Franklin, has caught 20 passes for 222 yards with a pair of scores while Josh Cephus has 17 catches for 218 yards. De’Corian Clark leads the Roadrunners with three touchdown catches.

Harris is the team’s leading rusher, but both Brenden Brady and Trelon Smith should get carries against the Longhorns. Brady has rushed for 85 yards on 25 carries so far and Smith has 82 yards on 21 carries.

Sarkisian said Thursday’s practice was one the best the team has had since he’s taken over as head coach. He said it was “efficient and fast,” and Tuesday’s practice was also one of the better ones for that day of the week.

“This was a really good week of work for us,” Sarkisian said. “I was proud of the way they came back and practiced Tuesday, it was one of the more physical practices we’ve had. I love the mindset of where we’re at.”

The Longhorns’ third consecutive home game kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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