ARLINGTON and AUSTIN, Texas — The coaches for the No. 10 Texas Longhorns have something of a conundrum — the need to come out of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with a win against a Louisiana Tech Bulldogs team with some legitimate talent and the need to get repetitions for redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Thompson.
Following the departures of graduate transfer Shane Buechele and Thompson’s classmate Cameron Rising, Thompson went from competing with Rising for the third-string role to finding himself as a back up to junior starter Sam Ehlinger. A back up who hasn’t yet taken a snap in college — hardly the type of thing that allows coaches to rest easy at night.
So where exactly is Thompson with the season opener on Saturday? The hype has certainly been building over the last six weeks.
Even before preseason camp began, head coach Tom Herman was pleased enough with the play of his redshirt freshman quarterback that he decided to give himself a little pat on the back about Thompson being at Texas.
“It’s been impressive,” Herman said at Big 12 Media Days. “You can see why we recruited him.”
As a quarterback, Thompson does indeed check a lot of the boxes. Enough of them that his ranking as the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports Composite rankings seems low based on the early returns.
“The ball comes out really smooth, really effortless,” Herman said. “Very accurate. Obviously, he can run when we need him to run. For him, it’s not going to be a skill set issue ever. He can throw it and run it. Is pretty football smart. We’ve got to make it as game-like situations as we can for him, for when and if we need him.”
Thompson didn’t arrive in Austin as a finished product, however, going through the typical growing pains that freshman go through learning a college playbook and practicing against the speed deployed by the Longhorns.
Fortunately for Texas, Thompson’s learning curve took on a sharp trajectory in recent months.
“I think Casey, probably, is one of the guys that’s improved as much on our football team as anybody,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said on Wednesday. “Probably one of the top four or five guys in terms of his improvement, development.”
Of course, he’s still a redshirt freshman with room to grow.
“He’s extremely talented,” Beck continued. “Is he at the mental level of Sam at this point? No. He’s probably where Sam was closer to last year at this time. He’ll continue to grow, but he’s a worker, loves the game. I’m really pleased with what he’s done.”
And, of course, no one will know how Thompson will respond once he sees the field, so it’s clearly premature to make any judgements about his ranking as a recruit, but the staff clearly has confidence in him. That’s telling.
So one of the major storylines for the Louisiana Tech game is whether Texas can create enough of a margin to give Thompson some playing time.
“We’re not going to throw him in on the third series of the game just to do that, but, yeah, if we have the luxury to play him, we’ll play him as soon as we feel like that time is upon us,” Herman said.
Beck seemed less concerned about getting Thompson early playing time.
“I’d love to see him get in and get some meaningful reps, but I’ve also got a lot of confidence in him,” Beck said. “If we need to put him in, he’ll be ready to go.”
If that seems like a high level of confidence in a redshirt freshman quarterback who hasn’t played a single college snap yet, it’s a result of how Thompson goes about his business in practice.
“I try to rattle him all the time in practice and he just smiles at me, which pisses me off,” Beck said. “I tease him all the time. I mean, he gets off the bus throwing the ball.”
“I’m like, ‘You warm?’
“‘Yeah, coach. I’m ready.’”