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Steve Sarkisian will open Texas QB competition during offseason

Quinn Ewers hasn’t done enough to avoid having to re-win the job heading into the 2023 season.

NCAA Football: Texas at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, the Texas Longhorns will have an open quarterback competition during the offseason, head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Monday, following recent struggles by redshirt freshman starter Quinn Ewers that prompted calls for redshirt sophomore backup Hudson Card to receive another opportunity.

“I think competition is healthy for all of us,” Sarkisian said. “I think to anoint for the future, that probably wouldn’t be fair to the other guys in that room. And hey, Quinn’s made some really good strides. I know there’s opportunities he would probably love to have back throughout the year. I think Hudson has really improved. I thought he was really valuable for us early in the season when we needed him. I think Maalik Murphy is another guy who’s got a bunch of upside who I’ve seen development in him.”

Sarkisian views the competition at quarterback as similar to every other position and as part of his approach in recruiting that remains the same message once players arrive on the Forty Acres.

“So like every year we’ll go into the offseason and wipe the slate clean and let these guys compete and battle and see what it looks like, because that’s what makes us better and ultimately, when other guys are working at their craft that should motivate us to want to continue to improve our game,” Sarkisian said.

“And that would be no different than any other position — we have to give everybody those opportunities or we’re not living up to the idea that we’re a developmental program and if you don’t give guys the opportunity to develop and then show what they’re capable of, then I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth and that’s not right. I always trying to be upfront and honest with our guys and so competition is at the forefront of our program to go along with the development, and so that position is no different.”

While Sarkisian may end up making the same statement before every offseason, it sends several clear messages this season — that Ewers hasn’t done enough to solidify his place as the starter, that Card will have another chance to compete if he remains at Texas, and that the No. 1 recruit in the 2023, New Orleans (La.) Isidore Newman’s Arch Manning, will receive the opportunity to challenge for the starting role whenever he enrolls, which will reportedly happen in January.

The first point may be the most important in light of the ideal plan for the quarterback position made apparent with Manning’s decision to commit to the Longhorns despite the addition of Ewers from the transfer portal nearly one year ago — Ewers is not currently on track to leave for the NFL following the 2023 season because he hasn’t been able to maintain the level of play he flashed in the first quarter against Alabama before his shoulder injury and then upon his return in the Cotton Bowl when he dominated Oklahoma.

After a solid performance in the narrow win over Iowa State during which Ewers threw three touchdown passes and completed 65.4 percent of his passes, he’s regressed into inefficient play, even when the weather hasn’t been a factor, as it was in the loss to Oklahoma State and wins over Kansas State and Kansas.

On a windy day in Stillwater, Ewers completed only 38.8 percent of his passes and threw three costly interceptions. In the victory in Manhattan, Ewers managed to throw two touchdown passes and avoid any interceptions, but averaged just 6.4 yards per completion. When TCU came aggressively downhill at linebacker and safety to stop the Texas running game, Ewers was unable to make the Horned Frogs pay by failing to complete any passes over the top, ultimately finishing 17-of-39 passing (43.6 percent) for 171 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and an interception.

So it was unsurprising when Sarkisian moved Ewers into full-on game management mode against Kansas, running the ball 57 times for 427 yards and six touchdowns as Ewers attempted only 21 passes, completing 12 for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Since the Oklahoma game, then, Ewers is 83-of-166 passing (50 percent) for 966 yards (5.8 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Overall, his 128.24 passer rating is nearly 30 points behind Card and would rank eighth in the Big 12 among qualifying passers, ahead of only West Virginia’s JT Daniels.

The struggles forced Ewers to admit that he’s gotten lazy with his footwork, including how he moves in the pocket, setting up an important offseason during which he needs to refine the base of his delivery, emphasize moving in the pocket with more purpose, improve his accuracy on deep balls, and develop better study and preparation habits.

Meanwhile, the recent struggles of Ewers never resulted in Sarkisian making a change in favor of Card, who was efficient during the nearly four games he played after Ewers was injured, completing 69.4 percent of his passes on 8.6 yards per attempt with six interceptions and one interception. Card has been vocal about wanting to graduate from Texas, an achievement he’ll accomplish this December, but after that it may be difficult to keep him from exploring other options in the NCAA transfer portal — teams rarely end up carrying five scholarship quarterbacks into preseason camp and Card has played well enough to land Power Five opportunities.

A top-200 prospect in the 2022 class, Murphy’s development was limited first by the ankle injury he suffered at the end of his high school career and then an undisclosed injury early in the season. Sarkisian has expressed satisfaction with Murphy’s progress, but his true development trajectory is difficult to assess at this time.

Redshirt freshman Charles Wright, the addition to the 2021 recruiting class when Jalen Milroe decommitted, is the least likely scholarship quarterback to legitimately compete for the starting job, although he was not far from landing that role against UTSA when Ewers injured his shoulder and Card injured his ankle.

And that leaves Manning, who appeared willing to redshirt in 2023 when he committed, but could now play a bigger role in the quarterback competition if he does enroll early and can quickly acclimate to the massive increase in competition level after an impressive senior season that remains ongoing.