AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian laughed on Monday recalling his first start for the BYU Cougars in 1995.
In the thin air of Colorado Springs against the Air Force Fighting Falcons, Sarkisian remembered spending his late morning and early afternoon on the turf at Falcon Stadium.
“It was an early kickoff at Air Force and they were sacking me a lot,” Sarkisian said. “I remember that.”
Technically, the box score indicates Sarkisian finished the game having taken four sacks, but that’s not a full accounting of the frequency with which the service academy disrupted his pocket — Sarkisian totaled nine carries for a loss of 42 yards with a single positive run of two yards in a 38-12 loss that saw the Cougars fall behind 28-0 before Sarkisian threw a one-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
It wasn’t a completely lost performance for Sarkisian, who passed for 346 yards and two touchdowns on 8.2 yards per attempt — and it didn’t stop him from throwing for 7,464 yards and 53 touchdowns in a prolific career at BYU — but it did put into relief the value of trusting his coaches.
Looking back, Sarkisian considers himself fortunate he was coached by the legendary Lavell Edwards, who won 257 games at BYU, including a national championship in 1984, offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who went on to become the offensive coordinator when Sarkisian coached the quarterbacks to the 2002 national championship at USC, and quarterbacks coach Robbie Bosco, who tutored Ty Detmer when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1990.
Bosco and Detmer were only two of the successful quarterbacks to precede Sarkisian in Edwards’ program; one would be remiss not to also mention Jim McMahon and Steve Young.
“Those guys had a really good plan that made me feel comfortable and what I did was trust those guys — they had done it for a long time,” Sarkisian said. “I just kind of instilled my trust in them that they were going to do everything for me in my best interest to play well.”
Sarkisian intends to tell Ewers the same thing this week — “Just allow us to coach you and trust the fact that we’re putting you in a really good position, whether it’s myself, [quarterbacks] coach [AJ] Milwee, [offensive coordinator/offensive line] coach [Kyle] Flood, the entire offensive staff.”
Ewers also has some veterans on the team to lean on, too, from junior running back Bijan Robinson to senior running back Roschon Johnson to sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy to junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington.
“He’s got some really good players around him that have been through some fires — trust those guys that they’re going to do their job and focus on your job and trust the people that are kind of connected to you on that night,” Sarkisian said.
Robinson is already used to stepping up into that role, telling Ewers consistently that if his quarterback has any questions about small details, Robinson is there to answer them.
“I know he has to know a lot with this offense and we have run a lot of things and we put defenses in a bind sometimes because we have so many plays,” Robinson said.
Robinson wouldn’t mind helping out Ewers by catching some check-down passes, either.
“I just told him, I was like, ‘If worst comes to worst use, check it down to me, and I’ll do whatever I can to get you in the best position,’” Robinson said.
Overall, the feedback on Ewers has been positive since earning the starting job with Robinson joining in the belief in his comfort level in the offense, but the veteran running back still understands the importance of a strong week of practice from the redshirt freshman gunslinger.
When Ewers does make a mistake in practice, Robinson doesn’t see it impact his body language or his next play.
“I think the good thing with him is that Quinn doesn’t really show any bad emotion when he makes a mistake,” Robinson said. “He’s always positive — if he does make a mistake, he runs to the sideline, gets coached up again, and comes right back out there to make the throws that he’s used to making. I like that about him, that nothing really quite creeps into his mind of any negativity.”
Now, in the final days before Ewers make his Longhorns debut, Sarkisian and the offensive staff will put the final touches on a game plan featuring the parts of the offense that Ewers can successfully major in against the Warhawks.
And yeah, they’ll also try to make sure Ewers doesn’t find himself on the Campbell-Williams turf as much as Sarkisian did all those years ago at Falcon Stadium.