In what Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian has called the most difficult quarterback decision of his head-coaching career and the second-most difficult overall after the 2003 battle at USC between Matt Leinart and Matt Cassel, there wasn’t much separation throughout preseason camp between junior Casey Thompson and redshirt freshman Hudson Card.
With the season opener against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns now seven days away, Sarkisian made his choice on Friday — Card will start next Saturday against the Ragin’ Cajuns, first reported by Chip Brown at Horns247 and then confirmed by Bruce Feldman at The Athletic.
Sarkisian asked the quarterbacks to make it difficult on him and they obliged.
But, according to a Wednesday report from Matt Galatzan at Longhorns Country, sources said that Sarkisan was “leaning towards” making the Card the starter, as well as confirming the report from Brown that Card has continued taking more first-team reps over Thompson in practice.
Sarkisian denied that during a Thursday media availability, saying that the reps were being split 50-50 between the two quarterbacks, though there was clearly some truth in those reports after Sarkisian informed Card of his decision following a walkthrough practice on Friday night.
Card began to take an apparent lead early following the first scrimmages, including starting Wednesday’s open practice with the first-team offense after both quarterbacks struggled during the first scrimmage. Both bounced back in the second scrimmage, with Sarkisian saying that he loved the improvement from the offense.
An ability to make off-platform throws, critical in an offense that heavily utilizes run-pass options, and a quick release are two possible reasons why Card has reportedly achieved that hard-fought separation.
“Hud does a good job of kind of finding his arm angles and arm slots,” Thompson said two weeks ago. “I don’t know if he played baseball or not, but he does a really good job of that, similar to like Shane Buechele. He does a good job of finding good arm angles.”
During the Orange-White game in April, Card flashed his quick release on an impressive touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Marcus Washington, throwing him open in the end zone even though Washington opted against trying to beat the cornerback across his face on the slant. From the time that Card started his delivery to when Washington caught the ball, the six-yard throw took less than three seconds.
Both abilities are emblematic of the arm talent that had former quarterback Sam Ehlinger raving about Card, wondering why he can’t spin the football like the Lake Travis product, termed a “golden boy” by Ehlinger last fall.
“Hudson is just a special player — there’s really no other way to put it,” Ehlinger said. “He came out of the womb spinning the football.”
Not only has Card earned a comparison to Green Bay Packers great Aaron Rodgers from a former Texas assistant coach, he also has the speed to make opponents pay when he leaves the pocket or, less likely in Sarkisian’s system, pull the ball on a read option.
The effusive praise for Card, as well as the apparent lead in the quarterback competition, surely isn’t surprising to current Ohio State standout Garrett Wilson, who caught passes from Card at Lake Travis.
“He’s a freak athlete. He showed that last year and he’s got a really good arm, too. He’s the type of dude that’s got Heisman potential,” Wilson told Burnt Orange Nation in 2018. “He can extend plays, put it anywhere, hit passes on the run, or run for a 50-yard touchdown. He’s really that dude and we’re going to have a great year with him.”
The comments came before Card became the starter at Lake Travis, but the sentiments were widely shared — Texas had already accepted a commitment from Card months before, over 20 other offers, including Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State. The recruiting services agreed, ranking him as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback nationally.
Card didn’t disappoint once he took over the starting job for the Cavaliers, throwing for 3,543 yards and 50 touchdowns on a 67.8-percent completion percentage with a 1.1 percent interception rate. On the ground, he added 619 yards and nine touchdowns.
By the time that Card signed with the Longhorns in 2019, he was the highest-rated Texas quarterback signee since Garrett Gilbert in the 2009 class.
Now Card is starting to capitalize on his prodigious talent and will take the field against Louisiana at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with the first-team offense and a chance to begin what could be a lengthy Card era for Texas at quarterback.