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Sunday Armchair QB: No. 23 Texas vs. Baylor Edition

Recapping the Horns’ convincing win to close out the regular season.


In what ended up being the final game before Bowl season for the No. 23 Texas Longhorns, head coach Steve Sarkisian’s team decisively finished off their regular season on a high note against the visiting Baylor Bears with a 38-27 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The win marked the eighth win of the 2022 campaign, and served as an emphatic end to what can now only be viewed as a year of substantial improvement over last season’s 5-7 mark.

“Clearly, 8-4 is a heck of a lot better than 5-7, but I think the style of play is really starting to come to fruition,” Sarkisian said after the game. “I think we’re playing a physical brand of football. I think our effort, the way the guys play in all three phases is pretty evident... I look at the way we’re playing the game and I think as much or more than anything that we’ve made huge strides in is our culture... We’ve got a very tight-knit team that loves one another, but that took a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of work, and I commend our players for buying into that idea that we’re building a real culture here. I think we’re reaping the benefits of it.”

The mantra all season for Sarkisian has been building a culture. Now, with a solid 8-4 building block to build upon, Texas will head into bowl season with a chance to reach nine wins for just the second time since Mack Brown vacated the head coaching position in 2013.

Here’s what else I noticed in Friday’s win over Baylor.

It was another good day for the run game

The success for the Longhorns offense yet again anchored on an impressive and unrelenting rushing attack. After last week’s resounding success running the ball, running backs Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson put on quite an encore in Friday’s win, combining for 256 rushing yards on 42 carries, with each finding the end zone twice.

More than half of those yards came when Texas needed it most. After a strip sack of Ewers resulted in a scoop and score for the Bears, Baylor led Texas late in the game, 27-24. At that point, coach Steve Sarkisian turned to his running game to get Texas back on top.

So that’s 22 plays after Baylor went up 27-24, and 22 straight handoffs to whoever was in the backfield to salt away the game.

In what is likely the final game of Robinson’s incredible career at Texas, he cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats to wear the burnt orange and white by passing Jamaal Charles for fourth place on the school’s career rushing yardage list (3,410 yards) and tying Earl Thomas for third-most touchdowns in school history (41).

And no love is lost for Roschon Johnson, either.

One of the most beloved Longhorns in recent history, Johnson toughed out a leg injury sustained last week against Kansas to gain 77 yards on the ground today in his final game at DKR. Johnson noticed the team turned to he and Robinson late in the game, and commented on the offensive strategy postgame, saying, “We understood that we had to run it down their throats hard because the pass game wasn’t working so well in the first half. So when we started getting on the run game and just started to trust the run game, that’s when everything else opened up for us.”

Though the future at running back remains bright for the Longhorns, it’s a bittersweet send off for two of the greatest running backs in Texas history.

And it was another GREAT day for the defense

It was a fantastic ending of the 2022 season for the defense, with the Longhorns holding Baylor’s offense to just 20 points, a season-low 280 yards of offense, and a season-low 103 yards on the ground. Most impressively, the defense shut out the Bears in the second half, holding Baylor to just 56 total yards. Baylor averaged a mere 3.7 yards per play on the game.

The star of the show on the defensive side of the ball was linebacker Jaylan Ford, who added the crescendo to his symphony of a season that should place him among the favorites for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Ford notched 13 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and added one interception, his fourth interception of the year. It was a truly historic season for him and he deserves all the recognition he can get.

Ewers’ game on Friday encapsulates his whole season

Quinn Ewers had an up-and-down game on Friday, throwing for 194 yards on 12-of-16 passing. On first glance — not a bad stat line. Ewers was accurate for the day and didn’t throw any picks. So where’s the “down” of the “up-and-down” day?

That lies in the five sacks and fumble, which, as mentioned above, was returned for a touchdown.

Of course, you cannot pin all of those sacks on Ewers. Baylor manhandled the Texas offensive line on pass plays all game, and really took over once offensive line Cole Hutson left the game with an injury in the second quarter.

The complaint this week with Ewers was on his unwillingness to let a bad play die.

Ewers needed to understand that with poor pass protection that day there were moments where a busted play needed to end in him taking the sack. Instead, Ewers’ go to move was to backpedal out of the pocket with his last real play of the game pushing his limit too far against a talented and athletic Baylor defensive line.

As Ewers continues to take snaps and matures, he’ll hopefully learn both his athletic limit against opposing players (he was never outrunning any of the Baylor front seven, so why try there?) and how to read if a play is dead and needs surrendered.

This game was really his season in a nutshell. Ewers has impressed at times. He’s looked the part of a freshman quarterback at times. In total, fans seemed split on whether Ewers still deserves the title of Texas quarterback of the future. Sark’s even opened the book on that question as well, stating earlier this week that this offseason would include a quarterback competition during spring practice, presumably between Ewers, Hudson Card, and incoming five-star quarterback Arch Manning.

Is Ewers still the guy for Texas at QB?

However you may feel about Ewers’ game Friday or season this year, it’s important to view in the context that he’s making his first starts since high school two years ago. He was overhyped as a potential savior of Texas football earlier this year after torching Alabama in the first quarter of that game and razing OU’s defense in the Red River Shutout. Since that point though, Ewers has lost the jolt that garnered the early season buzz that he was a top QB in the NCAA, with Friday’s performance bringing some Texas fans to the point of questioning if Ewers should be starting right now.

But let’s take a step back and compare Ewers to three names Texas fans should all recognize. Below is a table featuring the statistics from each of the best Texas quarterbacks of the past 20 years in their freshman seasons:

Freshman year seasons for notable Texas QBs

Player Year Class Games Pass Comp/Att Comp % Pass Yards TD INT TD/INT Ratio
Player Year Class Games Pass Comp/Att Comp % Pass Yards TD INT TD/INT Ratio
V. Young 2003 FR (RS) 12 84/143 58.70% 1,155 6 7 0.86
C. McCoy 2006 FR (RS) 13 217/318 68.20% 2,570 29 7 4.14
S. Ehlinger 2017 FR 9 158/275 57.50% 1,915 11 7 1.57
Q. Ewers 2022 FR (RS) 9 141/249 56.60% 1,808 14 6 2.33

Now, a couple caveats to call out here. First, the comparison to Vince Young is unfair to VY in a handful of ways, but the largest of them all is that the game of football has changed so dramatically in twenty years. Those passing numbers, while paltry when viewed through a modern day “Houston scored 63 points in a regulation game this year and lost by 14, 2022 is crazy” lens, the game in 2003 was much more vanilla and focused on running the ball (which Vince also did a lot of).

Speaking of running, the second point is that this graph won’t feature rushing yards. But total yards is not the point I’m wanting to make here. Instead, let’s focus on each of these players by the main metric that makes a great quarterback a great quarterback — their performance passing the ball.

Above, you’ll notice Ewers fails to compare to Colt McCoy’s freshman season. But, his numbers and performance are very much in line with Sam Ehlinger produced in his first season at Texas. In less passing attempts, Ewers had more touchdowns and nearly as many yards as Ehlinger in just as many games.

Of course, viewing these stats in a vacuum doesn’t show much, other than freshman quarterbacks (aside from Colt) struggle as a passer their first year in college. So, let’s look at the jump each of these quarterbacks made in their sophomore seasons.

Sophomore year seasons for notable Texas QBs

Player Year Class Games Pass Comp/Att Comp % Pass Yards TD INT TD/INT Ratio
Player Year Class Games Pass Comp/Att Comp % Pass Yards TD INT TD/INT Ratio
V. Young 2004 SO (RS) 12 148/250 59.20% 1,849 12 11 1.09
C. McCoy 2007 SO (RS) 13 276/424 59.20% 3,303 22 18 1.22
S. Ehlinger 2018 SO 14 275/425 64.70% 3,296 25 5 5
Q. Ewers 2023 SO (RS) ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? ??

The quarterback Quinn Ewers compared closest to in his first season, Ehlinger, also made the biggest leap between his first and second season. And while VY and Colt didn’t take jumps forward in year two, we know that statistically speaking, their junior seasons were their best years at Texas.

The point of these tables is two things: process and patience. Process speaks to how at Texas, and across the NCAA, it’s tough to expect All-American type seasons out of a signal caller their first year at the helm, especially when starting as a freshman. These quarterbacks are learning in real time, some plays or throws they could rely on in high school won’t work at the next level. To some degree, the three best quarterbacks in the past 20 years at Texas all struggled with this. Growing into the game at the college level takes longer for some than others, which leads into patience. This extends to us fans, as well as the players themselves and coaches. It’s likely why Sarkisian kept Ewers in winnable games despite his poor performances against Oklahoma State and TCU. Sometimes, getting a talented quarterback to the next level just takes time.

Of course, this may all be moot if Manning wins out the starting job in camp this spring. But in the more likely case that he does not, Ewers will start game one next year for Texas, with a potential short leash for mistakes. But the road map to improving into being considered among the other names in the tables above is there — Ewers just needs games like this and seasons like this to ride the ups and downs and learn from mistakes.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda been in the Big 12 Championship

For about 32 hours, there was hope the Longhorns could backdoor their way into the Big 12 Championship and earn a rematch against TCU for the first Texas Big 12 title since 2009. That wasn’t meant to be, as Kansas State dispatched the Kansas Jayhawks with relative ease.

Thus, the Longhorns will have to try again next year for the Big 12 championship in what may be the school’s last season as a member of the conference. However, disappointment and canceled plans to Arlington aside, we turn towards the future, as bowl season awaits the Horns all the same.

If all goes expected in Arlington next weekend, Texas will wind up in the Alamo Bowl with a date against a good Pac-12 team (potentially Utah, with former Texas quarterback Cam Rising leading the Utes back to San Antonio). With a Kansas State win over TCU, however, Texas will likely wind up in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Florida, and play a team from the ACC (potentially Mack Brown’s UNC team).

Either way, both are decent bowl game that will likely feature a ranked opponent for Texas to play. The storylines leading up for those bowls will be bigger than most given the quality and ties to Texas of the potential opponents, but the largest storyline coming from the Texas side will be whether two of their star players — Bijan Robinson (draft) or Xavier Worthy (transfer portal) will suit up for the Longhorns for that game.

We’ll find out in good time, but one thing is for sure — bowl season is better with Texas in it.