Texas coach Steve Sarkisian indicated Thursday that he was close to naming a starting quarterback. On Friday morning, just after reporters finished a post-practice interview session, Sarkisian texted his sports information director.
“Quinn Ewers will be the starting quarterback,” a team spokesman told reporters in the interview room.
Instantly, the Fourth Estate fell dead silent. Are you kidding? Is this for real? He looked back at the assembled masses and said, “Yes.”
Suddenly, a sleepy Friday inside the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center was turned upside down. Sarkisian first texted it out, then word spread like wildfire that Ewers, the redshirt freshman transfer from Ohio State, had won the starting job over sophomore Hudson Card.
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Just to make things official, Texas released a statement shortly afterward as reporters scrambled to their laptops. The verbal announcement was one of convenience, really. And the official statement wasn’t as concise as the tweet issued by Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy but just as effective — “Let’s ride 3.”
Tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders said he didn’t think it mattered who started Sept. 3 against Louisiana-Monroe. “I feel like whoever gets a starting job is definitely going to be a leader for our team and take us to the long run,” he said.
After all, both Ewers and Card are throwing to the tight ends. “That’s what I like about both,” Sanders joked.
Why did Sarkisian make this decision now?
Sarkisian wasn’t made available to reporters Friday, and he isn’t scheduled to speak to reporters again until early next week, possibly Monday. Let the speculation run rampant as to why he named the starter after Friday’s light practice.
Once the two players knew or Sarkisian told the team, word would leak out anyway. Instead of all the anonymous whispering, the coach controlled the narrative.
Maybe Sarkisian wants to see how Ewers handles himself with the first-team offense during Saturday’s second closed team scrimmage? Perhaps Sarkisian believes there’s more upside with Ewers over Card. After all, if both quarterbacks are effectively equal, then the coaching handbook says you pick the younger player.
But clearly something changed as the week progressed. Last Monday, Sarkisian described the quarterback competition as close.
“Yeah, I would say it’s tight,” he said to start the week. “I will say both guys are working very hard. They’ve both got great attitudes.”
Sarkisian then detailed how he spoke to Ewers and Card individually about how they’re handling everything and praised both.
Then on Thursday, Sarkisian was asked again if he was close to naming a starter.
“I think I have a pretty good idea, but I want to give these guys an opportunity to compete, so that’s what we'll do,” he said.
Sarkisian has been clear on one aspect: what happens next. Once the coach names the starter, Sarkisian believes that person is considered a first-teamer and the backup goes to the second team. No more sharing practice repetitions, as Ewers and Card have done thus far.
“What you try to do is when they play ... put them in position to do the things that they do well, and Quinn’s no different,” Sarkisian said. “When he’s playing, we’re trying to call the things that I know he does well while we’re still working on some of those other areas that we know he can improve upon as we grow.”
Will 2021 history repeat itself?
Last year, veteran Casey Thompson was locked in a battle with Card, then just a freshman, for the starting job. This was Sarkisian’s first major decision as the first-year Texas coach.
Most observers figured Thompson would get the starting nod. But Sarkisian went with Card, who made it through almost seven quarters before giving way to Thompson in the fourth quarter of the 40-21 disaster at Arkansas. Thompson wound up suffering a thumb injury during the season, and the Horns struggled to finish 5-7.
Ewers first committed to Texas back on Aug. 14, 2020. It was major news at the time as Ewers was the nation’s No. 1-ranked player in the recruiting class of 2021. But he ultimately signed with Ohio State and spent last season with the Buckeyes as a fourth-stringer.
Once Ewers hit the transfer portal in December, Texas fans went wild in the hope that he would give the Horns another look. He did and signed with Texas in time to enroll for the spring semester. However, once Ewers committed, Thompson transferred to Nebraska; he was just named the Huskers’ opening-day starter in Lincoln.
Texas has only one quarterback commitment for the class of 2023: Arch Manning, out of New Orleans.
Card doesn't seem to be the type who would up and leave. He grew up wanting to wear burnt orange. The Lake Travis product is also an excellent student — a four-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. For Card, getting a degree from Texas is every bit as important as playing for Texas.
“Ultimately, Sark’s the master, and he knows how to handle these situations,” Card said in April. “So I’m just trusting in him, and ultimately it’ll be his decision on whatever he wants to do.”
Ewers’ confidence apparent in April
Ewers has done only one interview at Texas, an eight-minute session with reporters April 14. Both Ewers and Card were made available in the interview room then, but neither has spoken during training camp. That’s not out of the norm at Texas. Win the competition first, then talk to reporters.
Back in April, Ewers, the Southlake Carroll product, made it clear he felt that he was home.
“So I grew up always watching the Longhorns play, wanted to be in that burnt orange,” Ewers said then. “There was a little obstacle in between, but I ended up here. I’m very thankful for all the opportunities God has given me, and I'm just excited to be back in the home state.”
As for why he left Ohio State, Ewers said, “Coach Sark once told me, ‘That’s why the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield is so big.’ You kind of put the past behind you and just focus on what's ahead. And I'm super excited about what's ahead, for sure.”
Ewers’ only game action in 2021 was some garbage-time handoffs in scarlet and gray. He hasn’t played a full game since his junior season in Southlake, when he missed six games due to injury but threw for 2,442 yards with 28 touchdowns while completing 66% of his throws.
During spring practice, Ewers was asked when was the last time he took a hit from a defensive player. “Like a full hit?” he said. “That’s a good question. Probably in high school, honestly. Probably.”
On Sept. 10, Texas will host top-ranked Alabama, a team being billed as one of coach Nick Saban’s best. Linebacker Will Anderson Jr. won the Nagurski Trophy last season for being the nation’s best defender.
This might be the exact same setup as 2021, only reversed. Sarkisian is choosing the younger, hyped player over the veteran. Once again, the week two matchup will be the measuring stick.
And once again, Sarkisian — once a quarterback himself — will be judged on how this all plays out.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas names Quinn Ewers starting quarterback ahead of Hudson Card