Save for a few seasons under Sam Ehlinger’s reign, the past decade-plus worth of offseasons in Austin were almost certain to feature a quarterback competition. New year, same situation — only this time around, the competition for QB1 features junior Hudson Card and redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers. Of course, Card and Ewers headline a quarterback room that also includes touted true freshman Malik Murphy and redshirt freshman Charles Wright, and collectively, head coach Steve Sarkisian believes he has “the quarterbacks” to get the offense going the way he wants, he told ESPN.
But to be sure, Texas’ competition for QB1 — at least as far as the 2022 season is concerned — begins and ends with Card and Ewers.
To that end, Card is back in the exact same situation he was last season; one that ultimately saw him earn the starting nod over Casey Thompson, who has since transferred to Nebraska following Ewers’ arrival after a brief stint with the Ohio State Buckeyes. If Card is to win out once more, he’ll now need to do so over a former No. 1 overall prospect who’s dubbed as a generational talent in Ewers.
It’s anyone’s guess as to which of the two will lead the offense onto the field on Sept. 3 when the Horns host Louisiana-Monroe, but at this point in his career, it’s fair to say the pressure is on Card, who might not get another chance at the starting nod if the younger, higher-upside Ewers takes control.
After capitalizing on the competition last season, Card kicked the season off in a respectable fashion, playing simple, smart football in his first start.
“He didn’t force the issue and try to prove he was Texas’ true starting quarterback, but rather, he worked check-downs and crossing routes and delivered crisp, accurate passes to move the chains, and generally just took what the defense gave him … All told, Card capped an encouraging debut as the starter by completing 14-of-21 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.”
But the following game — a 42-21 blowout loss to Arkansas — without much help from what started as a notably poor offensive line, Card’s weaknesses were on full display, as he struggled to maintain composure under pressure and keep his eyes downfield to work through his progressions. As a result, he couldn’t consistently connect on deeper chunk plays, which effectively handicapped the offense and its strength — the running game.
Thompson, of course, made the most of his minutes in garbage time and took control of the starting role going forward.
Card saw consistent snaps in just two more games in road losses against Iowa State and West Virginia, completing 24-of-39 attempts (61.5%) for just 224 total yards and two touchdowns, taking four more sacks along the way in efforts where he quite simply looked the part of a backup quarterback. Fast forward to the spring game and the struggles and more specifically, the conservativeness remained, as his pocket presence was still suspect and he relied almost solely upon the short to intermediate passing game.
On one hand, in anticipation of an improved Longhorns offensive line in 2022, Card can almost certainly have success simply chipping away and capitalizing on what the defense allows if given the time to do so. But in a less than ideal scenario, will he have the improved pocket presence necessary to extend drives, and furthermore, the touch to deliver the downfield shots the Longhorns lacked last season?
In an offense now featuring a wealth of weapons at receiver, tight end, and out of the backfield, can Card make the most of his weapons and unlock the offense?
If not, can Ewers?
Once regarded as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2022 class, Ewers reclassified, and then was dubbed as the top talent in the 2021 class, as well. He’s that elite of a prospect.
“Quinn’s a heck of a player, obviously very talented,” Sark told ESPN. “The thing I love about him is [he’s] super coachable, great teammate, has really good work ethic, and loves to compete, and he’s in a heck of a competition right now with Hudson Card.”
Ewers can make nearly every throw on the field and place the ball into some remarkable windows from a variety of arm angles, allowing him to complete 70 percent of his 643 career attempts for Southlake Carrol, amassing 6,445 passing yards and 73 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, and adding 701 yards and 12 more scores with his legs. Not to mention, he tallied these totals in just 22 career games. but to that end, Ewers hasn’t played a meaningful snap of football since his junior season in 2020, when he missed six games due to injury.
Since then, he’s spent a year in Ohio State’s quarterback room, which can only help his development, and of course, he’s now learning under Sark, but there’s quite simply no replacement for experience.
If it were a mere matter of talent, Texas would probably already have its QB1, and it would be Ewers. And if raw talent, alone, were enough, Sark likely would have already named his starting quarterback, rather than entering fall camp with a neck-and-neck quarterback competition for the second time in as many years.
Instead, both Card and Ewers enter fall camp with a unique opportunity.
For Card, his fate as a Longhorns quarterback may be decided throughout the next month. His 2021 struggles that led to him losing the starting role were disappointing, to be sure, but they could easily be chalked up to inexperience and uneasiness fairly early in his quarterbacking career, which was negatively amplified by Texas’ poor offensive line play and the lack of quality depth at receiver. If he can display a renewed sense of calm and comfort in the pocket and look to let the ball go a bit more to the wealth of options at receiver, Card can absolutely win the starting job yet again, though he’d likely have to live up to that QB1 level throughout with Ewers looming.
Ewers, on the other hand, has the outright arm talent to win if that were the only factor, but it’s not. At this point, Ewers should technically be a true freshman who, as noted, hasn’t played a meaningful snap since 2020, so is he ready to perform at the level necessary to overtake the junior Card? If so, after transferring into the program in January, does Ewers have a firm enough grasp of Sark’s offense perform up to his talents?
As usual, it should be an interesting fall camp on the Forty Acres as yet another quarterback competition unfolds. But regardless of who wins out, running back Bijan Robinson is confident Texas has the right guy back there.
“I think we have exactly what we need at quarterback,” Robinson said at Big 12 Media Days. “They’re competing right now, but they’re competing because both of them are very talented guys ... I’m next to them every day and I see the improvement that they’re both making.’