The quarterback situation for the Texas Longhorns is once again unsettled after redshirt freshman Hudson Card replaced junior Casey Thompson late in the first quarter against the Iowa State Cyclones after an ineffective start by Thompson. On Monday, head coach Steve Sarkisian declined to name either player the starter during his weekly press conference.
“We’re gonna evaluate it this week,” said Sarkisian. “Obviously, Casey has been starting here for the past I guess it’d be six or seven games, obviously we made the move in game and we need to evaluate that this week. There’s plenty of things to evaluate.”
Sarkisian expects to publicly announce a starter for the Kansas game during his Thursday media availability.
The foremost consideration is the thumb Thompson injured against Oklahoma. It’s appeared to impact Thompson at various points since it happened, but never more so than it did against Iowa State — Thompson was 2-for-6 passing for two yards when he was benched in favor of Card.
Following the narrow loss to the Sooners, Thompson was leading the Big 12 and ranked seventh nationally in passer rating with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Since then, he hasn’t posted a passer rating higher than 134.53, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions with a completion percentage of 56.3 percent.
Beyond the thumb injury, Sarkisian believes that several other factors have contributed to Thompson’s struggles.
“Played some pretty good defenses in the last three weeks — I’ve got to give those guys credit, whether it was Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, three pretty quality teams,” said Sarkisian.
Indeed, those are the type three scoring defenses in the Big 12.
Inconsistency at the wide receiver position and some play-calling struggles have impacted Thompson, too.
“I think we we haven’t been efficient enough at getting the completions that we don’t have to work as hard for,” said Sarkisian. “Part of that is on the quarterback, part of that is on the receivers and the consistency, and part of that’s on me and making sure that I’m calling enough of those things to get some rhythm to what we’re doing in the passing game.”
Not only have wide receivers struggled to finish plays with catches, contested or otherwise, Sarkisian said after Saturday’s loss that the group busted several routes, complicating life for Card once he entered the game.
The talented redshirt freshman finished 14-of-23 passing for 101 yards and one touchdown, an average of 4.4 yards per attempt that illustrated how much the Longhorns struggled to create any explosive plays in the passing game.
Some of that was on Card, as he missed freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy on a potential 59-yard touchdown thanks to an underthrown pass. Texas was leading 7-3 at the time, then gave up 27 unanswered points as the offense started a stretch of five consecutive three and outs.
In the first half, Card’s pocket presence looked more like it did against Louisiana than it did when Card lost his eye discipline against Arkansas. But in the second half, Card started becoming uncomfortable and let his eyes drop to the pass rush as his decision-making about when to run and when to pass once again broke down.
“I was just trying to get him to settle his feet down, trust what he saw. I think that’s one of the things when you almost think there’s pressure sometimes and there’s not and when you have really good vision and you trust your reads, you get the ball out in a timely manner and it just wasn’t coming out as timely as we would have liked,” Sarkisian said after the game.
The issue for Card is that unless his eye discipline can become more consistent, the physical attributes that made Sam Ehlinger and his former coaches rave about him — and the attributes that helped him win the job prior to the season — get sidelined because he can’t effectively process what’s going on down the field.
And even if Card does become more consistent in that area of his game, he also has to prove that he can hit shot plays to lend an explosive element to the passing game. Thompson has already done that, but through the first three periods of extended playing time in Card’s college career, he’s struggled to connect on those vertical throws.
If Thompson’s thumb isn’t healthy enough to improve his accuracy, the decision for the Kansas game may end up being a simple one for Sarkisian. However, the short-term perspective on the position obscures the long-term reality that Card doesn’t appear ready and that could have major consequences for how Sarkisian approaches the potential need to add an instant-impact quarterback from the transfer portal during the offseason.
For now, there are still three games left for the quarterbacks to make positive impressions on Sarkisian, who is still searching for more steady play in the throw game.
“If you want to be a complementary team, if you want to be a balanced offense like we want, we’ve got to find that consistency in the passing game, and it’ll be a big point of emphasis for us this week,” said Sarkisian.