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Steve Sarkisian says the training wheels are off for Texas QB Quinn Ewers

The redshirt freshman quarterback showed plenty of room for improvement in his debut, but also flashed the arm talent that makes him special.

NCAA Football: UL Monroe at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — Following a solid debut against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks with some notable highs and some notable lows, Texas Longhorns redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers is already receiving the full trust of head coach Steve Sarkisian, who named Ewers the starter less than three weeks ago.

“You can’t expect him to ride this bike and do it with training wheels on — I’ve gotta let him go, and we did that tonight,” Sarkisian said after the season-opening 52-10 win.

Ewers finished 16-of-24 passing for 225 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in his first game for the Longhorns. At times, Ewers flashed his ability to make accurate, off-platform throws, showed poise in going through his progressions and checking down to his third or fourth options.

“Very rarely did I feel like, man, the ball’s not going to the right spot to the right person,” Sarkisian said on Monday.

But Ewers also made a poor decision on the interception, forcing a third-down throw into a crowd of defenders, and missed on some shot plays.

The first possession didn’t go well for Ewers, who put a little too much air under his first throw, intended for sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy, and failed to look off the safety, who came over and nearly intercepted the pass. On third down, Ewers was flushed out of the pocket to his right and tried to throw back across his body to find Worthy and the pass was intercepted.

“I think it was a good learning lesson for him — sometimes you have to earn the right to punt, as they say,” Sarkisian said.

Aside from the interception, the biggest area for concern as Ewers played his first game in burnt orange and white was his inability to connect on downfield throws.

“Didn’t generate kind of the vertical passing game the way we would have liked,” Sarkisian said on Saturday. “Took some shots and that didn’t play out the way we would have liked it to. So that was that was a little bit frustrating. But that’s that’s part of it. We’re gonna we’re gonna keep taking those shots when they present themselves and we’ll hit them.”

Twice on post routes intended for Worthy, the two weren’t quite on the same page about where Ewers was trying to deliver the football and both fell incomplete. Ewers also missed Worthy in the end zone on an overthrow that Sarkisian said was a result of a missed signal by Ewers.

“I think some of the throws on the deep balls I think he’d love to have back just from an accuracy standpoint and he’ll fix it,” Sarkisian said. “Sometimes you need to get that full-speed rep of guys running down the field, of what that feels like.”

As the Southlake Carroll product grows into his role as a starter, Sarkisian took heart from Ewers’ response to adversity.

“I didn’t feel for a second where he got flustered or was out of whack by any means,” Sarkisian said. “I thought he was very composed. Even the throws that he missed, he almost signaled to me like I should have done this or I could have done that and that part was encouraging.”

In fact, Sarkisian even said he was thankful that Ewers didn’t come out and complete a long string of passes in a row. Instead, Ewers had a chance to show the even-keeled nature that impressed his teammates during preseason camp and helped him win the job.

“If he would have came out and been, you know, 17 for 18 or 17 for 19, he wouldn’t have had to respond to some of those things,” Sarkisian said. “And so I didn’t want him to throw a pick on his second pass of his career, but I found out about him. I found out that he’s not going to go in a shell. He’s not going to beat himself up and get down on himself. He’s going to bounce back.”

Ewers flashed his ability to bounce back on the second drive when he completed a fourth-down pass to sophomore tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. On the surface, the five-yard completion on 4th and 4 when Sanders came open on a drag route wasn’t especially impressive, but a close look at the play reveals that Louisiana-Monroe dropped a defender off the line of scrimmage and into the window where Ewers needed to deliver the football to Sanders. So Ewers rolled left out of the pocket, forcing the defender to commit to him and opening up a throwing lane to find Sanders for the first down.

After junior running back Bijan Robinson picked up 13 yards on the following play, Ewers found Sanders wide open down the sideline on a wheel route for a touchdown, the first for both players in college.

The ability of Ewers to make off-platform throws made his toss to Robinson on a 16-yard touchdown pass another play that looked simple but featured pin-point accuracy, hitting Robinson in stride and on the upfield shoulder.

More obviously, Ewers showed his ability to climb the pocket and deliver a perfect pass to Sanders up the seam even though his feet weren’t set.

“Oh my God, bro, that was a dime,” Sanders told Ewers after seeing the replay.

“I told you, I’m going to put it where it needs to be every time,” Ewers responded.

When Ewers met with the media shortly after Sanders, he was much more humble publicly, but the behind-the-scenes description from the Texas tight end provided insight into just how much confidence Ewers has on the field.

“Like I touched on when we named him the starter — we’re gonna have some growing pains and we had some tonight, but I thought we came out on the other side of them and were better for it,” Sarkisian said.