Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian put an official end to any clamor for redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card to return to the starting lineup on Monday during his weekly press conference by confirming that junior quarterback Casey Thompson will remain the starter moving forward.
After Card suffered a quick hook after struggling mightily against Arkansas in his second start, the difference now with Thompson is the body of work he’s created since taking over as the starter for Card in the third game against Rice.
“I think Casey has earned a little bit more of that right to work through some of those struggles,” Sarkisian said. “The week before he throws five touchdowns against Oklahoma, he had a six-touchdown game against Texas Tech, so he’s played and shown really good football to us. I think he’s he’s earned that opportunity to work his way out of this.”
But Sarkisian didn’t rule out the possibility that Thompson will lose the job if he continues to struggle.
“Now, we’re still developing Hudson and if that that time comes we need to make a change, we’ll be prepared to do so,” Sarkisian said.
The news comes as Texas enters the season’s only bye week riding a two-game losing streak during which the offense struggled to move the ball in the second half of both defeats as the Longhorns blew significant leads.
Thompson’s own struggles heavily contributed to the Oklahoma State comeback.
Leading 17-3 in the second quarter against the Cowboys, the Longhorns had a chance to stretch the lead to 17 points with a field goal in the Oklahoma State red zone. Instead, on third down Thompson made a dangerous throw that Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II read all the way from robber coverage, intercepting the pass and taking it 85 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, the game’s entire complexion changed as the win probability for Texas dropped from 95.3 percent to 85.2 percent.
The Longhorns never really recovered — the opening drive of the second half went 80 yards for a touchdown, but the other seven drives resulted in only five yards gained as the running game and the passing game both cratered.
Thompson helped seal the loss himself with an ugly mesh on a zone read on 3rd and 1 in Texas territory after Oklahoma State took its first lead, ineffectively scrambled on 4th and 3 and then threw his second interception on an underthrown pass that allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock.
The final numbers for Thompson were subpar — 15-of-27 passing for 179 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. It was the third straight game in which he completed less than 60 percent of his passes and the fourth time in his five starts that he threw at least one interception.
But Thompson’s first poor performance as a starter and the occasional interceptions, along with more incomplete passes than is ideal, obscure an impressive overall body of work. Thompson currently leads the Big 12 in quarterback rating, sitting No. 7 nationally even after the Oklahoma State game, and also leads the conference in yards per attempt at 9.3. And even though he didn’t start the first two games, his 15 touchdown passes are more than any other Big 12 quarterback.
If Thompson can maintain his lead in quarterback rating, he would become the first Texas quarterback to top the conference in that statistic since Colt McCoy in 2009.
More importantly, his struggles aren’t the biggest issue for Texas offensively.
After all, Thompson only attempted two passes in fourth quarter — six rushing attempts that gained only a single yard did more to stymie the offense prior to the interception when Thompson and the offense entered desperation mode.
Missing one starter and rotating multiple relatively inexperienced players at two positions, it’s the offensive line loomed as the most consistent impediment to moving the ball effectively in the second half of the last two games, especially against Oklahoma State.
“A lot of miscommunication,” sophomore running back Bijan Robinson said in diagnosing the issues. “They brought full-out blitzes. We were trying to open up the pass game a little bit and get some passes off but they came up with some different twists or pressures and it was hard for them to pick them up. We just need to hone in on our focus and make sure that we understand and learn from those experiences.”
Thompson can help redshirt freshman Jake Majors get into the right protections and help identify any blitzes revealed before the snap, but he can’t ensure that the offensive line effectively communicates after the snap. And it’s no surprise that those communication issues surfaced for a group with shifting personnel within the game and little experience playing together.
An elite group by the advanced metrics, the Oklahoma State defense was able to sack Thompson three times and hurried him four more times.
As Sarkisian’s decision relates to Card, the risk is making things worse with a quarterback who was benched in large part because his eye discipline broke down against Arkansas, a familiar problem in practice, as well. When Card loses his vision, it becomes difficult to see open receivers and contributed to indecision about whether to throw the ball or run.
So Sarkisian plans on sticking with the quarterback more capable of remaining composed behind the porous offensive line as Kyle Flood continues to work with the unit to find the best starting combination with super senior guard Denzel Okafor out for the season.
“Bigger picture. I think holistically it’s us as a team and then you pare it down is to us as an offensive unit, and same with the defense and obviously the quarterback, it’s like anything, we choose to be a head coach, we choose to play the position of quarterback,” Sarkisian said.
“With those types of positions, when you win, sometimes you get a little bit more credit than maybe you deserve, and when you lose maybe you get a little bit more of the blame than maybe you deserve, but that’s okay — you’ve got to understand the arena you chose to be in and to be part of. And you can’t ride the emotional roller coaster of the up and down, you got to try to find that even keel, so I’ve all the utmost confidence in Casey that he’ll bounce back and play great football for us.”