It was always coach speak.
Even before the regular-season finale last November, Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian was talking about an open quarterback competition in the offseason, rhetoric that continued at the start of spring practice, sparking national discourse about the supposed battle between redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers and freshman Arch Manning.
On Saturday, following the annual Orange-White game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Sarkisian finally admitted what his repeated decisions to stick with Ewers through his struggles in 2022 had already made abundantly clear — Ewers is QB1 for the Longhorns.
“I think it’s pretty clear to say Quinn is our starting quarterback and we feel very good about that,” Sarkisian said.
In leading the White team to a 21-10 victory over the Orange, Ewers was steady in completing 16-of-23 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, a spectacular one-handed catch by junior wide receiver AD Mitchell for a 13-yard score. The flash expected from a player with the arm talent of Ewers was also there on a 46-yard pass to junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy.
“I thought Quinn was really efficient today,” Sarkisian said.
The Orange-White game performance by Ewers capped a spring during which one of the major storylines was his increased dedication to improving multiple areas — in being a more vocal leader, in studying harder to read defenses, and in paying more attention to details like his footwork in the pocket.
So it wasn’t surprising to see Ewers look like the starting quarterback. But it was surprising to hear Sarkisian admit publicly that the Longhorns will enter the summer with a clear starter as Manning competes with redshirt freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy for the backup role.
“I don’t ever want to take the stinger of these other guys that they’re not competing for something or that they’re not striving for something because they’re all talented players,” Sarkisian said. “They’re great teammates with one another and I think they appreciate how hard each of them work and I think we’re in a very fortunate position to have three quality guys in that room that work the way that they do.”
As for that backup role, Sarkisian wasn’t willing to say whether Murphy or Manning has the advantage even after Murphy sparkled in going 9-of-13 passing for 165 yards and a 79-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Johntay Cook.
“The beauty of it is I don’t have to establish a pecking order right now — that’s the beauty of it. We have another 29 practices to go in fall camp. I think to be fair to all these guys, like Maalik, that was his first spring that he’s ever had. He didn’t get spring a year ago and of that, he missed the first about five practices before he really was able to go in team drills. So what does that look like moving forward? Arch, those are his first 15 practices of his life in college. So sometimes we can rush to judgment on where guys are at.”
But there was no rushing to judgement on Saturday in acknowledging the separation that Ewers created during the spring.