Bohls: Thompson, Card ready to accept quarterback torch from Ehlinger
- Texas' outlook may hinge on Thompson, an elusive, dual-threat, third-year sophomore who played well.
- Deciding on a quarterback will be Tom Herman’s main priority.
- In short, Thompson was spectacular, lighting up the Buffaloes for four touchdown passes.
SAN ANTONIO — The torch has been passed.
And so were a whole lot of footballs on some very nice throws as Casey Thompson — at least for half of one game — showed Texas' quarterback position in the future just might be in very good hands.
So is the entire team, if one bowl game serves as evidence.
That outlook may hinge on Thompson, an elusive, dual-threat, third-year sophomore who’s been waiting in the wings and demonstrated both a good arm and quick feet in his first meaningful action as a Longhorn. Or Hudson Card, who likely won’t concede the starting spot without a fight.
"I felt very comfortable in the moment," said Thompson, a former all-state high school quarterback out of Oklahoma. "No disrespect to the other guys in the room, we can be great just pushing each other. As for the quarterback battle, I have no say in that. I just control what I can control."
Thompson’s yet to start a game in college, but he just tied Major Applewhite for most touchdown passes in a bowl game with four, all over the course of just 20 minutes in the second half. Who knows what he might do with four quarters.
Of course, Texas’ whole team passed this most recent test, demolishing an average Colorado team 55-23 in the Alamo Bowl on Tuesday night for Tom Herman’s fifth consecutive bowl win, four of them with the Longhorns.
But when has talent ever been the question, even during that decade of drought since Texas last appeared in a national championship game? I mean, this is a team that scored a whopping total of 122 points in its last two games, and even Shaka Smart is envious.
Decision-making has been the issue, whether it’s recruiting the wrong quarterback or making the right gamble or not using screen passes until a bowl game or not going for two against Oklahoma or not having a team ready to play a Maryland or a TCU or not playing the next Ricky Williams enough.
Herman brings a lot of abuse on himself, whether it’s parsing out carries to Bijan Robinson, a monstrous talent who’s ready to explode onto college football, like they are Amazon stock, or stockpiling enough talent on both lines.
But deciding on the right quarterback will be Herman’s main priority.
He handled it just fine Tuesday, letting Thompson and Card share second-half snaps after Sam Ehlinger’s shoulder injury that restricted him to the first half in what was likely his final game in a Longhorns uniform. Heck, even redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback Ben Ballard got in the game, playing the final three minutes.
In short, Thompson was spectacular, lighting up the Buffaloes for four touchdown passes — two of them on acrobatic catches by Joshua Moore — in just over a quarter and scooting through the Colorado secondary on a nifty 22-yard draw. He was calm and ruthlessly efficient. By the time Card arrived on the scene in the fourth quarter, the game was in command, and he was relegated to handing off the ball.
But will they start the offseason dead-even?
“Ask me again when spring ball starts,” Herman said. "I have no idea."
Pressed to elaborate on Thompson’s performance, he said, “I mean, nobody was surprised. Maybe all of you were because he hasn't played a whole lot. But we’ve seen him in practice for three years. ... Casey delivered, Hudson delivered. Everybody around them delivered. That's a really good sign of a cohesive team that knows how to prepare.”
Of course, no one does bowl games better than Herman. Even with eight starters out because of opt-outs or injury or illness, the 20th-ranked-and-climbing Longhorns finished strong with four wins in the last five games to complete a respectable 7-3 season that included three losses by 13 points. Texas responded with a school bowl-record 638 yards of offense.
Even with seven freshmen starting — three of them on the offensive line — Texas was impressive from Moore to defensive tackle Alfred Collins to linebacker and defensive bowl MVP DeMarvion Overshown and beyond.
“We’re really excited about the future,” Herman said, “and these last two games, playing so many young guys, shows the trajectory of our program and what we’re capable of.”
Herman clearly grasps the expectations.
He has to do something with the talent on hand with potentially 13 returning starters, beat Oklahoma and win the Big 12 or the Urban Meyer rumors will return with a vengeance.
That is Herman’s task. It almost always starts at quarterback, and Herman has some reassuring options after pretty much squandering a beautiful Ehlinger career with four losses to OU in five tries and nary a conference title.
Ehlinger threw for more than 11,000 yards and 94 touchdowns, seared his name into the hearts of fans forever and deserved a better fate. But he’ll be long remembered for his spirit, his grit and his intangibles as much as his solid 27-16 record.
He didn’t return Texas to national prominence. Assuming he leaves for the NFL, that task will fall to Thompson and Card.
With Ehlinger restricted to only a first-half performance in his likely swan song because of a shoulder injury, he had his arm in a sling the second half. Meanwhile, Thompson was slinging it all over the Alamodome, throwing crisp passes — including a deep one of 73 yards to Kelvontay Dixon — for his four touchdowns.
Splitting the reps may have been by design. A quarterback can’t win the job with one nice quarter in a bowl game. That’ll take consistency in spring and summer drills, the trust of their teammates, the look they have in their eyes in the huddle and meeting rooms, the ability to understand and execute the game plan.
For all he did Tuesday, the older Thompson will still have to hold off the hot-shot true freshman in the offseason to secure the job. And Ehlinger himself said teammates constantly razz Card about being the “golden one,” a naturally gifted quarterback from Lake Travis who was “throwing spirals out of the womb.”
There’s always a possibility Ehlinger could pull a reverse and announce he's returning for a fifth season, but the expectation is he has played his last game for Texas.
But it’s OK to say goodbye, Sam. Your work is done.
And Thompson’s and Card’s — and Herman’s — is just beginning.