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Sunday Armchair QB — Texas vs. Louisiana-Monroe Edition

Observations from the ULM game as the Quinn Ewers era and year two in the Sark Tank are underway.

Scott Wachter - USA TODAY Sports

Game one, game won. With a superb showing from the Texas Longhorns in their dominating 52-10 victory over the visiting Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, the Texas college football season is off and running.

Yes, Texas entered the game with a 99-percent chance to win according to ESPN FPI. And yes, Texas was a hefty 37.5-point favorite at the time of kickoff. And yes, ULM isn’t quite a team expected to make any real noise this year.

However, the end result is as good as any that a rational Longhorn fan could ask for — after all, a wise man once said “Good teams win, but great teams cover.”

Amidst the win and backing of Vegas’ greatest minds and odds-makers, the Longhorns also ushered in a new era with Quinn Ewers making his first collegiate start (and promptly got his car towed while doing so).

Now, I’m by no means an “Expert” in this field, hence the self-proclaimed title of Armchair QB. Nonetheless, here’s a few things I noticed from last night’s win:

The potential is there for Quinn Ewers, but he’s still just a freshman. Let’s go ahead and address the mullet-sporting elephant in the room. You won’t find many major blemishes if you comb through last night’s game, but perhaps the biggest one was Ewers’ interception thrown on the Longhorns’ first offensive drive of the game. At that time, I know what you may have been thinking “For three years, we court and recruit this ‘prodigy’ and it turns out the dude is just Garrett Gilbert 2.0?”

For all the hoopla surrounding Ewers’ first start on the Forty Acres, it was to be expected to see a few jitters and mistakes made. While many Longhorns may have expected a coronation of the quarterback who would Texas back into its next set of glory years, the second throw Ewers made that was intercepted was also the second throw he’s attempted in a game since 2020 at Southlake Carroll.

Ewers was never going to vault into Heisman consideration last night. If he torched ULM for 400 yards, well then it was just ULM. Instead, what he showed was poise, progress, and promise. He didn’t post any highlight-worthy dimes to the end zone like we saw in the spring game with Isaiah Neyor. He had a couple overthrows, the deep ball wasn’t really on point (his feet were hardly ever set on the ground when throwing more than five yards downfield), and of course, throwing across your body to force a ball into traffic could often result in an interception.

It would have been easy to see Ewers get rattled after throwing an early interception, and for that to snowball as additional mistakes were made. But after that first drive, Ewers led the Longhorn offense with a 16-of-22 passing performance with 225 yards and two touchdowns. He made some really impressive throws we’ve seen Texas quarterbacks struggle to get away with in the past, including this impressive 25-yard strike up the seam between defenders to tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders — his best throw of the night.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian commented on Ewers’ ability to bounce back post-game, saying “I found out about him. I found out that he’s not going to go into a shell, he’s not going to beat himself up and get down on himself. He’s gonna bounce back.” That resiliency was sorely missed last season, and is a critical part of any great quarterback’s makeup. Mistakes this season will happen, but the talent and mindset is there.

Speaking of passing — Texas may have (hopefully) found their second weapon in Ja’Tavion Sanders. Sanders, the No. 13 recruit in the 2021 recruiting class, was limited to mostly special teams in his freshman season. Last night though was his potential coming-out party, as he netted 85 receiving yards including a 19-yard touchdown in the win. Tight ends have long been a staple in the Sarkisian passing offense, and the 6’4, 242 pound Ja’Tavion Sanders looked every bit the part of a reliable receiving option last night.

Ewers, who completed six of his sixteen completions to Sanders, said post-game “He’s a big body, big target, easy guy to throw to… He’s gonna catch a lot.”

Texas might have one of the best (and deepest) running back rooms in the nation. Everyone knows Bijan Robinson, the potential Heisman candidate and preseason All-American, is obviously incredible and one of the best running backs in the country. But the overall talent and depth Texas has at this position could go toe-to-toe with any other school in the country.

The top three running backs of Bijan Robinson, Roschon Johnson, and Jonathon Brooks combined for 21 carries, ran for 137 yards, and each had one touchdown. It may not look like the most impressive day on paper, but much of that is due to limited opportunities and excellent field position. The average yards per carry of 6.5 yards help paint a picture of success the Longhorns found when rushing the ball, and all three backs looked explosive, fresh, and hard to bring down once in the open field. If the offensive line can make some modest improvements over last year, the Longhorns could find themselves in an embarrassment of riches at the running back position.

On the topic of field position — the defense and special teams units showed out. The game got off to a start with a big bang off the blocked punt returned for a touchdown off an opening three-and-out series from the defense.

From there, the starters overwhelmed ULM, holding the Warhawks to just three points (largely aided by Ewers’ interception in Texas territory). The Longhorns later added another defense/special Teams touchdown courtesy of a D’Shawn Jamison pick six in the third quarter. This was just another check in what was a career night for Jamison, who, on top of the interception for a touchdown, blocked the punt from the clip above, and became the first-ever Longhorn to return a kickoff, punt, and interception for a touchdown in the history of the program.

All night, the defense was relentless and swarming on the overmatched ULM Warhawks. “Swarming” was the word used to describe the Longhorns in the Longhorns Republic’s postgame reactions livestream. The Longhorns defensive line manhandled the Warhawks at the line of scrimmage, making work tough on the opposing quarterbacks and limiting ULM to just 2.2 yards per carry. Senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown was seemingly everywhere (it’s hard to miss him with all the bands on though, to be fair) and the front seven for the Horns really excelled at keeping the ball in front of them and limiting any kind of explosive plays.

Again, I know, it’s just ULM. But good play of any kind can lead to progress, and the woes of the defensive line and linebacking corps from last season was one of the largest areas of improvement needed if the Longhorns were to expect any kind of growth or success this season.

Meanwhile, the special teams units, for the most part, played very well tonight. On top of the blocked punt, sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy had a handful of good punt returns and Longhorns always seemed to pull a good amount of yards in the kickoff and punt return game. With Worthy and Jamison back again this year, we should expect a good return team for the season.

The actual punting and kicking, on the other hand, looks a little raw. Losing Cameron Dicker last season was always going to leave a hole in the special teams department, but it became glaring how big that hole was on Saturday. Redshirt freshman punter Isaac Pearson dropped a snap and was forced into an Aussie rules-style running punt and also mishandled a snap on a field goal. Really, it’s the kicking game that concerns me most.

Redshirt freshman kicker Bert Auburn connected on one of two field goals, and even that lone made field goal only barely squeaked in past the left upright. The other field-goal attempt was botched from the start due to a bad hold, and Auburn never really had a chance at it. For a team that was able to rely on a good kicking and punting game for the last four years and STILL struggle to win close games, it’s worth keeping an eye out for as Texas tries to iron out mistakes and smooth out their special teams unit.

I have no idea what to expect next week. It’ll probably still be an Alabama three-score-plus win, and we lose the talent and coaching battle nearly every step of the way. But ESPN’s College GameDay is in town, it’ll be a packed house, and you just never know.