In a reversal from the first scrimmage of preseason camp for the Texas Longhorns last week, the key second scrimmage on Saturday produced more positive results for an offense that caused consternation when both quarterbacks struggled.
“I thought the offense played pretty well today,” said head coach Steve Sarkisian. “I thought they did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage — we ran the football well, which in turn I thought the quarterbacks had a nice day. I thought they were efficient with the ball, took advantage of opportunities down the field when they were there, and in the end I thought they kind of controlled the tempo.”
The defense responded towards the end of the scrimmage with several three and outs to get off the field, but the main story of the day was the offense performing at a higher level.
“I love the improvement from the offense,” Sarkisian said.
The running back position may be the team’s strongest unit thanks to the star power of sophomore Bijan Robinson, the steady contributions of junior Roschon Johnson, and the additions of all-purpose back Keilan Robinson from Alabama and Jonathon Brooks in the 2021 recruiting class. Sarkisian noted that Brooks, a summer enrollee, has become a factor in recent practices.
But the running backs need good offensive line play to succeed and Sarkisian said that group also played better this week. Redshirt freshman Andrej Karic is emerging as the top backup at the tackle position, with freshman Hayden Conner serving as a swing player who contribute at guard or right tackle, and super senior guard Tope Imade in the mix as another interior backup.
Thanks to the ongoing quarterback competition, though, the top storyline was the performances from junior Casey Thompson and redshirt freshman Hudson Card. As usual, Sarkisian addressed their play as a duo rather than individually, but if there were concerns about the ability to receive quality contributions from the eventual starter, those somewhat subsided on Saturday.
During the first scrimmage, Sarkisian was most disappointed that both quarterbacks abandoned their preparation, making mistakes that included an interception thrown by Thompson and taking too many sacks.
Sarkisian and quarterbacks coach AJ Milwee challenged both players coming out of that scrimmage and they responded with strong practices on three of the four days leading into Saturday. In the game-like environment provided by the approximately 100-play scrimmage, they continued the positive trajectory.
Both quarterbacks took care of the football and controlled the tempo offensively, whether it was shifts, motion, or hurry-up mode. They were able to complete passes to maintain drives and get the ball to players in space, but they also hit the shot plays downfield when they were open.
“I would say they played winning football today, and that’s the standard, right? I mean, they are putting us in a position to win games and they did that,” Sarkisian said. “First of all, that starts with taking care of the ball. The second aspect of that is managing the offense... And then the third thing, I thought they took advantage of the opportunities when they were there.”
Last week, the quarterbacks took too many sacks, in part because their eyes weren’t right — as they struggled to identify coverages, they held on to the ball too long. On Saturday, the ball came out on time and with accuracy, reducing the number of sacks and allowing the offense to maintain drives with efficient play.
Though there’s still no timetable for Sarkisian to name a starter, the Texas head coach once again reiterated that he feels comfortable with the ability of both quarterbacks to contribute.
“We’re probably in a better position at quarterback than a lot of people because I really believe we have two guys that can play,” Sarkisian said. “Now, I believe in having a starter and having a backup, but when you know, I’ve got a backup that can play at a high level, and operate our offense the way we want to operate, that’s really a luxury for us because there’s a lot of teams that maybe have a returning starter who’s a frontline guy, but their backup may not be very capable.”
Asked about the possibility of playing both quarterbacks against Louisiana, Sarkisian didn’t rule it out if the starter ends up struggling.
Better wide receiver play helped the quarterbacks on Saturday. Texas was without redshirt freshman wide receiver Troy Omeire, who suffered a “subtle strain” of his knee during Wednesday’s open practice and could miss several weeks, but Sarkisian said that junior Joshua Moore was the player of the game, an important development after the position group struggled during the first scrimmage.
Moving forward, the staff will meet on Sunday to start preparing a two-deep depth chart. On Monday, the team will move into the new south end zone for the first time. With classes starting on Wednesday, the Longhorns will move out of preseason mode and begin preparation for the season opener against the Ragin’ Cajuns in two weeks.