ARLINGTON, Texas — For the first time in three years, the Texas Longhorns head into preseason camp without a starter at quarterback, leaving new head coach Steve Sarkisian with a hugely important decision to make before the season opener against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns on Sept. 4
So the biggest storyline surrounding Sarkisian’s team was a topic of conversation last week at Big 12 Media Days after Sarkisian felt that 15 spring practice weren’t enough to create separation in a brand new scheme with brand new coaches.
As a result, junior Casey Thompson and redshirt freshman Hudson Card have continued competing as Texas has gone through offseason conditioning and player-led workouts.
Sarkisian hasn’t been able to coach them since spring practice ended, but he’s happy with his options at the position.
“I will say it’s a little bit of a luxury for me to have two quality quarterbacks like this,” Sarkisian said in Arlington.
One area where there hasn’t been any separation between Thompson and redshirt Card is work ethic. Sarkisian said that both players show up at the facilities early and stay late. They put in that work with an attention to detail. And they’ve both earned the respect of their teammates as a result.
The broad overview provided by Sarkisian during his press conference followed the outlines of the narratives surrounding both players established since the Alamo Bowl.
“Casey Thompson is a guy who has been in the program a little bit longer,” Sarkisian said. Everybody remembers what he did in the Alamo Bowl with four touchdown passes in the second half. Very athletic guy. Very driven, very focused. High football IQ. Great leader.”
With Card, it’s all about natural talent.
“Hudson Card, tremendous passing ability, great instincts of passing the football.”
To delve more deeply into the differences between the two players, former Texas cornerback Rod Babers, now a local radio personality, summed it up well from the on-field standpoint.
Casey Thompson is more comfortable in chaos on 2nd reaction plays, he extends broken plays & has better instincts when improvising off script; but when Hudson Card plays in rhythm & on schedule w/ in the structure of the offense his superior arm talent separates him from Thompson https://t.co/rMGNR7bwVl— Rod Babers (@rodbabers) July 21, 2021
Thompson is also known as a more energetic, vocal leader than Card, who is more quiet by nature and prefers to lead by example at this stage of his college career. Will that influence the quarterback battle? Sarkisian doesn’t think it matters as much as it might have when offenses actually huddled up.
“I don’t think you have to be the most vocal guy, especially in this day and age — the idea of being in the huddle and the quarterback looking you in the eye and those things, the no-huddle thing has kind of changed that some,” Sarkisian said. “But if you’re doing things the right way, you’re carrying yourself the right way, and you’re doing things in such a way that you represent the university and our football program the right way, then that’s as powerful and impactful as anything.”
With the Orange-White game serving as the only public tool to evaluate the two players, it’s difficult to handicap the competition right now — Thompson got the benefit of playing with the first-team offense, but threw a bad interception returned for a touchdown, while Card made the scrimmage’s best throw as he dealt with regular pressure in the pocket.
“We’re in a good position, but at some point in training camp, I’m going to have to trust my gut and I’ve got to name a starter,” Sarkisian said.
When Sarkisian does make that decision, likely at the end of preseason camp as Texas moves into game-week preparation for the season opener against Louisiana, the Longhorns head coach wants to keep his backup engaged.
“Because I name one guy the starter doesn’t mean we don’t need the other one, because the other guy’s a play away,” Sarkisian said. “In this day and age of college football to think you’ll go 13, 14 games throughout a season with one quarterback probably isn’t realistic. We have to develop both of them.”
Since Sarkisian will use the quarterback run game sparingly, the odds of needing the use that backup because of injury reasons isn’t as high as it was in previous seasons with Sam Ehlinger serving as the primary short-yardage option in the run game. But Shane Buechele got beat up in 2017 and had to play through some injuries the previous year, so even more pocket-bound quarterbacks can struggle to stay healthy in college football.
However it plays out over the next five weeks and into the regular season, Sarkisian sounds confident about getting quality play from the winner of the battle between Thompson and Card.
“They both have huge upside. I love coaching them. And I think we’re in good hands at that position.”