Nine times out of 10, the quarterback going down is a death sentence for a football team. If Pat Mahomes goes down, the Kansas City Chiefs go down with him, when Aaron Rodgers tears his Achilles, the Jets are stuck with Zach Wilson. However, there are rare exceptions — sometimes the backup is a hidden gem, sometimes the team as a whole is capable of elevating their second option.
When Drew Bledsoe went down in 2001, Tom Brady stepped in and the Patriots went on to win a Super Bowl. Dak Prescott stepped in for Tony Romo and went on to win 12 games and Rookie of the Year honors. Maalik Murphy stepped in for Quinn Ewers and the Longhorns demolished a two-loss BYU team, 35–6.
Now it’s time to see if the Longhorns can do it again. This time, the young gunslinger must do so against a Wildcats defense ranked sixth in third-down defense, 14th in scoring defense, 16th in passing-efficiency defense, and 23rd in rushing defense. Will this opportunity given to Murphy end where a star is born or a flame extinguished?
Success against a dangerous opponent hinges on Murphy, the team, and Sarkisian’s culture and ability to rally the players around the young quarterback.
Let’s get one thing straight — Maalik Murphy would start at numerous programs around the country. The 6’5, 235-pound four-star recruit was given a grade of 93 and was ranked the ninth-best quarterback in the nation coming out of high school in 2022. His arm talent is constantly praised by scouts and coaches.
“Has a clean, easy delivery and one of the strongest arms in the class,” said 247Sports national recruiting scout Gregg Biggins.
“Maalik’s a natural passer when he throws the ball, it’s a very beautiful ball and I think there’s not a throw that he can’t make,” Sarkisian said.
With Ewers and now Manning in this depth chart, many wondered why someone with Murphy’s skill set would stick around in Austin?
“He stayed because he wanted to be part of this team,” Sarkisian said. “He just wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity to compete and that’s what makes him special. I think that’s why our team really loves him so much is that he loves his teammates.”
Teammates, that is really what this all boils down to. When a dog loses a leg he doesn’t stop being a dog, frankly he continues as if the leg was still there. The same holds true for this Longhorns team. Texas proved on Saturday that they have that mindset. That they believe in Maalik Murphy. That they are dogs.
This Texas team almost seemed to play better with Murphy under center, despite his struggles to start the game. They rose to the occasion and answered the call. Murphy certainly saw his own ups and downs in his first collegiate start. But a rising tide lifts all boats.
Wide receiver Xavier Worthy broke off a punt return touchdown to start the game. The defense was relentless, only allowing three third-downs conversions while recording 12 tackles for loss, creating two turnovers, and never letting the Cougars into the end zone. Murphy was never forced to play from behind, going up 21–3 in the first half.
This team believes in their identity, and they believe in Murphy. Sarkisian proved it by starting the game with nine of the first 10 plays coming through the air.
“Sometimes the best way to get rid of any of the jitters that guy might have is to let them go play,” Sarkisian said. “When I was a quarterback, the first time I went out there, give me some throws, don’t make me wait till it’s 3 and 9 and now I have to throw it to try to make a play. I thought there were some good throws in there.”
Murphy showed some growing pains with two turnovers in the first half looked a little lost to start the game, although, as discussed, the Longhorns never let those mistakes become too costly for the young quarterback.
Murphy threw an ugly interception in the first quarter, so the defense turned around and got a takeaway of their own. Murphy fumbled the ball in the red area, so the defense forced a field goal, making the game only 14-3 instead of a one score game.
In another interesting factor of the team’s culture, Sarkisian didn’t blame either of the turnovers on Murphy.
“We got to execute better around him,” Sarkisian said. “I think a little bit was the guys wanted to play so well around him that sometimes you can try a little too hard. You’re trying to make up for other stuff, but I was proud of Malik in the way that he responded.”
Sure Murphy came out a little slow, but with the support of his coaches and teammates, he turned it on in the second half. Following the turnovers, Sarkisian gave Murphy some easy throws in the flat to Worthy to get his confidence up. Settled him down, then BAM! A beautiful 30-yard bomb to AD Mitchell for a touchdown.
Up 21–6 the troubles returned with two goal line stands by the Cougars to keep the Longhorns out of the end zone on fourth down. But the defense stayed strong, and never gave up another point for the rest of the game. Then Murphy fired a dagger to Mitchell on a slant for a 13-yard touchdown pass. With Murphy’s bullet arm, it seems if the wideout doesn’t catch it, no one will.
Murphy ended the game 16-of-25 passing for 170 yards, two touchdowns, and two turnovers.
Now it’s time to get your gameface on, because Cougars and Wildcats are two completely different animals. This time around this Texas defense probably won’t give up only six points; K-State’s already racked up 82 in their last two games. Two turnovers against the Wildcats WILL cost you more than three points.
BYU is a good football team, but Kansas State is a great football team. BYU was a good test for the Maalik Murphy experiment to get some quality reps, learn from some rookie mistakes, and see the ball go through the basket.
It’s unfair that Murphy will be thrusted into this situation, but life is unfair, and more importantly football is unfair. From what we have heard from current and former head coaches and teammates, Murphy lives for this type of pressure and competition.
“He loves to compete,” Scott Altenberg, who coached Murphy for four years at Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California said. “If he’s not the best quarterback, then he wants to compete. That’s his mentality. He has a lot of confidence.”
Murphy didn’t back down against two five-star recruits in the same position room, so he damn sure won’t back down against Kansas State. The rust is shaken off, the lights are on, Big Noon Kickoff is coming to Austin. It’s time to prove to Longhorn Nation, and the rest of the country, that Maalik Murphy belongs on the biggest stage.
Your teammates love you, your coaches believe in you, and all of Longhorn Nation is behind you. From coaching, to weapons, to defense, to special teams, Murphy has everything a young quarterback could ever need to shut down the number 23 team in the nation. Now it’s time to go make it happen.