When Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian entered preseason camp in August, he was hopeful to resolve the quarterback competition between redshirt sophomore Hudson Card and redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers before the second scrimmage.
Sarkisian didn’t want to publicly reveal his timetable in case one quarterback failed to create separation from the other and the race was still tight early last week, the Texas head coach told the media.
But when Sarkisian went to sleep on Thursday night, he was confident he’d reached a decision. On Friday morning, he still felt the same way, prompting a surprise text to a Texas spokesperson during a player media availability revealing that Ewers is the new starting quarterback for the Longhorns.
“I felt like it was pretty consensus across the board from our staff, especially on the offensive staff, of this was the direction we were gonna go in,” Sarkisian said. “These are always tough, they’re always difficult, especially when you’ve got really two talented people, different players but talented people, but I felt very comfortable with the timing of it.”
Sarkisian wasn’t as vocal as he was last season about the quarterback battle forcing one of the most difficult decisions he’s made as a coach, but it still wasn’t easy.
“I will say it was a tough decision. Hudson is a very good football player. He’s got great leadership skills and he’s got the utmost respect of our coaching staff and his teammates. There’s a reason he’s on our leadership committee because of all those things,” Sarkisian said. “I’ve said all along that there’s probably going to come a point this season, whether it’s one play, one drive, or one or two games, where we’re going to need Hudson Card to win a championship… We’re very fortunate to have Hudson be our backup and be in the situation that he’s in with the maturity and leadership that he has.”
Afforded a perfect rating in the 247Sports Composite and ranked as the No. 1 player in the 2021 recruiting class despite a late re-classification before enrolling at Ohio State, Ewers was able to separate from Card in part because of the natural passing ability that makes him a generational talent.
“I think Quinn provides the ability to make all the throws in our system. I think he’s got playmaking ability and he’s got a natural passing ability… I’m excited for Quinn and I’m excited for our team,” Sarkisian said. “Quinn can make all the throws. I feel very comfortable about that and I feel comfortable about his playmaking ability. His growth in the system has been one where we can really kind of see where it’s going to head under him. I’m excited about it.”
Questioned about the accuracy of Ewers, Sarkisian noted the variety in how the redshirt freshman can deliver the football to his intended target.
“He can make a variety of throws — he can make off-platform throws, different arm angles. He has the ability to push the ball down the field. He’s got a quick release, naturally quick release when he needs it in the short to intermediate game, so no, I don’t think that’s a concern.”
When Ewers arrived in January, he consistently drew praise from Sarkisian for his coachability and how he interacted with his teammates — while Ewers isn’t known as an extremely vocal leader, his presence was notable in situations like an outing of the wide receivers to Top Golf and helping with the recruitment of Pittsburgh wide receiver transfer Jordan Addison.
Ewers showed up, and when he did his teammates tended to gravitate towards him.
“I’ve said this all along — quarterback is the most important position in sports, not because of arm talent or curl routes or how fast you can run, but I think part of it is, do you give the rest of your team, coaching staff people a sense of belief? And I think Quinn naturally has that ability and I think that’s only going to continue to grow the more comfortable that he gets,” Sarkisian said.
Naming Ewers the starter allowed him to receive all the first-team reps in Saturday’s scrimmage and two weeks of practice to prepare for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe in Austin. According to Sarkisian, Ewers quickly settled into his new role, completing a high percentage of his passes and throwing for multiple touchdowns. The performance wasn’t without mistakes, as Ewers threw two interceptions, one after a protection breakdown and another on third down against a difficult matchup when the defense made a strong play on the ball.
“So that’s stuff we’ve got to work through as an offense more so than just the quarterback,” Sarkisian said.
The challenge for Sarkisian and his coaching staff offensively is to understand what Ewers and other young players do well as they build game plans while also using practice time to develop situational awareness.
“Well, I think naturally we’re gonna have some growing pains — not only are we relatively young at quarterback, we’re a relatively young team. And so we’ve got to do a really good job as a staff of trying to put our players in position to learn from the tough situations and we try to do that in practice,” Sarkisian said.
The Texas head coach mentioned putting the ball on the 1-yard line in practice or third-down situations in potential four-down territory to expose Ewers to the some of the key, game-defining moments he’ll face this season.
“I don’t expect him to get it exactly right the first time, but as many of those situations as I can put him in, our team in, hopefully the better we respond in game when they present themselves, but I’m a realist,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to have some growing pains and that’s okay. I still think we’re pretty good football team and I think we’ve got some really key veterans at key spots that can help alleviate some of that.”
Throughout the week of practice, the goal for Sarkisian is to develop the comfort level of Ewers heading into game week and determine which schemes are the best fit for where he is on his development trajectory and continuing to address the areas for growth in practice.
“The less thinking you do, and I use thinking because when you have to try to decipher the call and what I’m doing and the more feel and reacting of plays, the better off you are at quarterback,” Sarkisian said.
Unlike last season, when Sarkisian made it clear publicly that both quarterbacks would play in the opener, he doesn’t anticipate taking the same approach against the Warhawks.
“You never know how games go — Quinn’s gonna be our starter, he’s gonna go in there and play and if if need be, Hudson will be ready to go.”