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Bohls: Sarkisian picks Card as Texas' quarterback, but may still shuffle the deck

  • Steve Sarkisian named redshirt freshman Hudson Card as his starter but only for Week One.
  • Junior Casey Thompson will get his opportunity to play against Louisiana in a backup role.
  • It's critical that Sarkisian made the right choice to get his tenure off on the right foot.

Sark’s going with the kid.

Meet Hudson Card, the future of Texas football.

Yes, tailback Bijan Robinson is a legitimate Heisman candidate and currently the face of the program. But in truth he may just be a placeholder for Card until, say, the redshirt freshman from Lake Travis beats Oklahoma or leads the Longhorns to a Big 12 championship.

Regardless, the drama ended Saturday when it leaked out that Card had won the starting quarterback battle over fourth-year junior Casey Thompson in what insiders call “a very close” battle.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian made it official Monday at his first in-person press conference in Austin, but he added an asterisk.

Hudson Card is not the starter for the season. He might be, but he didn’t get that full endorsement. In short, he’s the starter until he’s not. In fact, it’s entirely possible Card is QB1 and Thompson is QB1A. But it says here Card will blow up and become a great quarterback, just maybe not in 2021. He's got star qualities.

Redshirt freshman Hudson Card, right, won the quarterback battle over Casey Thompson, left, but both will play in Saturday's season opener against Louisiana, UT coach Steve Sarkisian says.

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Sark was clear that Card is only the starting quarterback for the opener Saturday against Louisiana. Nothing beyond that. “And,” Sark said, “we’ll evaluate from there.”

Which again is smart.

Promise him nothing but an opportunity. Make him prove it.

If Card struggles, pull him. If Card performs well, get Thompson some meaningful snaps, which should mean a couple of series or more in the second quarter when the competition is hot.

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Had Mack Brown gotten Garrett Gilbert more snaps during the regular season in 2009 and not squeezed every play out of Colt McCoy, the understudy might have been better prepared to sub for the injured McCoy after the fifth play of the 2009 national championship game.

Hudson Card has only thrown three passes in two college games, but has his chance to shine after being named Texas' starter. “I think the extraordinary plays happen when they present themselves,” Sark said Monday. “I don't think you have to try to make them happen. I think when you try to be extraordinary, that's when bad plays actually occur. And I think trusting the scheme, trusting your teammates around you, believing in your reads and in your preparation allows you to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.”

“I know Casey's going to play,” Sark said. “When and how much, I’m not exactly certain. I think there's got to be a feel to the game. Hudson's earned the right to be the starter. But somewhere in this game, Casey's going to get his opportunities as well.”

As he should.

Nothing wrong with feeling good about the backup quarterback.

Let’s make it clear there is no more important position in team sports than the quarterback. Sarkisian said that very thing during his press conference. “I always say that,” he said, “and I believe that.”

You could argue the horse is more important than the jockey at the Derby and pretty damn important overall in the sport. But his point is valid.

Sark didn’t make his decision lightly. He’ll be measured by that the rest of his tenure.

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For sure, it’s a bold decision when Sark’s got an older quarterback who’s going into his fourth year of his college career but still can’t win the job. Sark’s on record as saying he doesn’t stay awake nights, worrying if the backup quarterback or any player might become unhappy and transfer. Team first.

It says here he chose Card over Thompson because Card has the better arm and a bigger overall upside. Remember, this is a quarterback whom other schools like Georgia coveted.

“Offensively, you know the things he does well is he's a very athletic guy,” Sark said of Card. “He's a really good short to intermediate passer. He's got a great deep ball. I think he's got a good understanding of our protections. I think he's a very good pocket passer, and he throws well on the run.”

In general, it’d be wise to have a veteran quarterback every year if possible. Think the Chris Beard approach. Until Spencer Rattler showed up out of high school of all places, Lincoln Riley made do just fine with Heisman types for five seasons through walk-on or transfer.

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In fact, picking the younger quarterback has a whole lot of upside. Four years of eligibility (although Thompson has three, thanks to a redshirt season and a COVID-free year) enhances Card’s status. 

Card certainly seems to have the goods as did Gilbert, that other Lake Travis Cav who ended up being a late bloomer at SMU and on the NFL payroll. He’s athletic enough to play wide receiver in high school for a time. He’s got a very strong arm. He throws really well on the run. He makes good decisions.

I’m thinking Sark is thinking anything but using Card as a game manager. It’s not really in Sark’s DNA to play it safe. If he were truly conservative, he would have gone with the older head, but he’s gambling to a certain extent, even if it’s just for Week One.

“I think the extraordinary plays happen when they present themselves,” Sark said of his general philosophy. “I don't think you have to try to make them happen. I think when you try to be extraordinary, that's when bad plays actually occur. And I think trusting the scheme, trusting your teammates around you, believing in your reads and in your preparation allows you to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.”

That is not to minimize Thompson’s strengths.

Starting with the second half of the Alamo Bowl and in his meeting with the media, he’s shown nothing but confidence and poise. He spoke earlier this month as if it was his team, and he was its leader.

Maybe he still will be somewhere down the line. Maybe even Week Two.

Sarkisian stressed that Texas will need both of them to get through this season as all coaches attest. But that can hardly be of much consolation to Thompson, who now has the realization that he didn't beat out a redshirt freshman who has thrown all of three passes in two college games.

Who knows if Thompson might consider joining the transfer portal and leave. No one would blame him. He’s been on campus three years and still doesn’t know if he’ll ever see the field in a meaningful way.

Perhaps he’d see a greener pasture and try to squeeze out a couple of seasons like so many other quarterback transfers.

For now, Sark is rolling the dice and playing the Card he’s dealt.