Sarkisian: Texas, rid of ‘warts,’ on path to success

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    Chris LowESPN Senior Writer

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    • College football reporter
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
    • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday he’s closing in on naming a starting quarterback and believes the Longhorns are better equipped as a team than they were a year ago to face whatever trials come their way in 2022.

Texas, in Sarkisian’s first season as coach, finished 5-7 and lost six straight games, marking the Longhorns’ longest losing streak since 1956.

“The kids knew not everybody in that locker room was all-in last year,” Sarkisian told ESPN. “I think they could feel it, and they wanted to weed out some of the warts, some of the bad apples. I think they got a sense of reality about some of the things we were talking about and trying to instill last offseason. I don’t know how much they gave credence to it, and then those same things reared their ugly head in-season.

“They came back in January with this mindset of, ‘We’ve got to take these things to heart because they will show up again.’ They’ve made that investment and bought into every aspect of it, and you can feel it amongst our team.”

Similar to a year ago, the Longhorns again have a quarterback battle this preseason. Redshirt sophomore Hudson Card and redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers, a former five-star prospect who spent the 2021 season at Ohio State, are vying for the starting job. A year ago, it was Casey Thompson and Card battling for the job. Card earned the start in the first two games, but Thompson replaced him late in the 40-21 loss to Arkansas in Week 2 and remained the starter the rest of the way. Thompson has since transferred to Nebraska.

“Last year was difficult in having two players that were new to the [offensive] system, and that’s always hard, especially when one of them isn’t a returning starter who had really been in the fire,” Sarkisian said. “This year, even though they’re new, Hudson’s got a little experience, and Quinn is coming in from another program. The reality is Quinn should really be a freshman in college. He reclassified after preseason camp had started. It was kind of a wash of a season for him.”

Sarkisian is heartened by the relationship between his two quarterbacks despite the intense competition and the fact that they “aren’t consumed with what the other guy is doing.”

Sarkisian said both players have made some plays this preseason, while “both of them have growing pains, but that’s camp.”

He added that he believes he “has an idea” who’s going to be the starter and doesn’t want to wait too much longer before telling the team. Texas opens its season on Sept. 3 at home against Louisiana-Monroe and then faces No. 1 Alabama the following week at home.

One thing Sarkisian doesn’t want to do is get into a situation this season where he’s rotating quarterbacks.

“I think it’s hard for a quarterback to get into rhythm that way, and I think you play differently knowing, ‘Hey, I don’t know how many throws I’m going to get,’ and you take too many chances,” Sarkisian said. “I just don’t think the decision-making is very good.”

A year ago, Sarkisian said Card unfairly bore the brunt of the Arkansas loss when the Hogs jumped out to a 16-0 halftime lead and led 33-7 late in the third quarter when Thompson entered the game.

“The reality is that we didn’t play very well as a team, and I’m not sure we ever recovered from that loss,” said Sarkisian, who stuck with Thompson as the starter because the Longhorns had more success finishing drives those first three games when he was on the field.

“But it never got comfortable. It was back and forth throughout the year, and we never found our rhythm. I’m a big believer that position is the most important position in sports for a reason, because that person instills belief in everybody else in the organization, the offense, the defense, the coaching staff, the fans, everybody. … And we never got that last year. We just never got that mojo the right way.”

During the Longhorns’ six-game losing streak, they lost three of those games by eight or fewer points to nationally ranked teams. There was also a fourth loss in overtime to Kansas, with the Jayhawks winning in Austin for the first time.

“The [quarterback situation] is a much bigger deal to people outside the program,” said Texas junior running back Bijan Robinson, who rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and also caught four touchdown passes. “It’s on us around the quarterback to make him comfortable, make plays for him and be there for him the whole season and not just parts of the season. The thing we’ve got to do this season is finish games, and that’s not just on the quarterback.”

As the losses mounted a year ago, Sarkisian was careful to remind himself how important it was for him “in the midst of a lot of storms going on” to maintain a level of consistency with the team, media, donors and fans.

“We were going to stay the course with what we believe in and how we’re going to do it over time, not panic, and we were going to pop out on the other side where there’s that ray of sunshine,” Sarkisian said.

A big part of that sunshine can be found in a 2023 recruiting class ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN, one that includes the country’s top quarterback prospect in Arch Manning. It’s the kind of recruiting momentum that hasn’t been lost on Texas’ current players.

“You see the players jumping onboard, and it’s important for us this year to keep that momentum going on the field and put this program back where it’s supposed to be,” Robinson said. “You can see it, and you can feel it.”

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