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Two days before the Longhorns return home to face Wyoming, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian addressed his team's rotation on the offensive line and the health of starting running back CJ Baxter as well as his team's focus after knocking off Alabama and climbing to No. 4 in the national rankings. Here are some takeaways from Sarkisian's weekly Thursday Zoom call with the media:
Will running back CJ Baxter play against Wyoming?
After injuring his right lower leg or ankle on Texas' final drive against Alabama, freshman running back CJ Baxter will be a “game-time decision” against Wyoming, Sarkisian said. Earlier in the week, Sarkisian said the injury is “not quite as serious as we may have originally thought,” which bodes well for the rest of the season.
“I'm going to need to monitor him up and through pregame,” Sarkisian said. “I want to make sure that he's healthy enough, that he can perform, but also that there's nothing lingering where he's trying to take care of himself and then he can get injured another way.”
Baxter, a five-star recruit from Florida, has started both games this season and has 69 yards rushing on 16 carries and another 21 yards on four receptions. If he misses the game, Jonathon Brooks would likely get the start and see extended action. Brooks is the team’s leading rusher with 26 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown and 46 yards and another touchdown on three catches.
In other injury news, linebacker Morice Blackwell Jr. could see his first action of the season after suffering an injury in preseason camp. He's practiced this week and looks close to full speed, Sarkisian said.
“Morice has made tremendous strides,” Sarkisian said. “He'll be another guy that will make a decision on game day if he's going to go or wait until next week.”
Coaches happy with rotation at right guard
With last year’s starting right guard Cole Hutson healthy for the first time since offseason surgery, offensive line coach Kyle Flood and the Texas staff found themselves in an enviable quandary: Stick with season-opening starter DJ Campbell or reinsert Hutson?
The Longhorns leaned on both, and Sarkisian said the team will continue to rotate in the sophomores against Wyoming — and likely for the foreseeable future.
“I'm OK where we're at right now,” Sarkisian said. “They both played well Saturday night. I think for both of them, it’s not the worst thing that they're rotating a little bit. DJ, this is kind of his first real experience playing (and) Cole is coming off some offseason surgeries and getting his getting his body in shape. And in the end, there's no telling what other things can happen on the offensive line where injuries and different things potentially could occur down the road.
“Both those guys are getting really valuable experience, and they're both maximizing their opportunities when they're on the field. We'll just continue to monitor that situation as we go.”
Players-only meeting 'good sign' for team focus
Naturally, Sarkisian said he’s worried about a letdown after Texas’ dramatic win at Alabama that propelled the team to No. 4 in The Associated Press poll and into the thick of the College Football Playoff chatter.
“This is the classic week where you can have a sore back by the end of the week from everybody patting you on the back going to class or on social media or wherever else,” he said. “I do think it's important for them to understand that when the ball gets kicked off Saturday night at 7 o'clock, they don't spot us 21 points because we played good last week.”
That’s why Sarkisian liked what he heard from quarterback Quinn Ewers and other members of the team’s informal leadership council, who called a players-only meeting Tuesday to discuss the importance of maintaining the team’s focus against Wyoming.
“The fact that Quinn and that leadership committee wanted to have a meeting to make sure that they were reiterating the message about getting refocused on what we need to do this week, I thought it was a great sign for us,” he said.
Cowboys corral respect from Sarkisian
Wyoming, a perennial bowl contender from the Mountain West Conference, may have caught the attention of Texas players after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to beat Texas Tech in double-overtime in the season opener. But Sarkisian knows all about Wyoming coach Craig Bohl, a respected veteran in the coaching ranks who won multiple FCS national titles with North Dakota State before taking over the Wyoming program.
“I think teams ultimately take on the personality of their head coach, and coach Bohl has been doing it a long time, and he's been doing it at a high level at multiple places,” Sarkisian said. “He's always been really successful. His teams have always been gritty, hard-nosed and tough. They play a physical brand of football. And this team is no different.”
Will a night game at DKR turn into Club Bevo?
Night games on any campus bring a different energy, as the Longhorns found out last weekend in Tuscaloosa. The game-day crew at Alabama helped create a memorable atmosphere that drew a massive audience to ESPN and added to the excitement on the field.
On Saturday, Texas gets its chance to show off some new toys during the first night game of the season at Royal-Memorial Stadium. And Sarkisian can’t wait.
“I'm a fan of college football, and I think the better environment that we can create, the better atmosphere we can create for our fans and for our players,” he said. “Creating that home-field advantage and creating that experience here at DKR Iis something that I appreciate. I saw it grow from year one to year two. And now we're into year three, and we've got some new things going on. So yeah, I am looking forward to that.”
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte, executive senior associate athletic director Drew Martin and the Texas staff will unveil some new bells and whistles Saturday, including pulsating burnt-orange lighting that can turn Royal-Memorial Stadium into Club Bevo, even for just the few moments after a Texas score.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Steve Sarkisian talks injuries, lineups for Texas before Wyoming game