Golden: Aggies, Longhorns have real quarterback issues with conference play coming up
College football and Mexican food are a match made in heaven.
During a late Wednesday lunch at Matt's El Rancho with Kirk Bohls and former American-Statesman UT beat writer Suzanne Halliburton, the college gridiron played the background over enchiladas, tacos, iced tea and Matt's famous Bob Armstrong queso. The main topic? The quarterback situations happening at the two biggest of our state football institutions.
Texas and Texas A&M don't really have to think about one another for a little while longer, but their quarterback issues are both very real and very present. Texas' Hudson Card got demoted while A&M's Haynes King is on the shelf indefinitely with a broken wheel. Neither Vince Young nor Johnny Manziel will be walking through the door this weekend when the Longhorns host Rice and the Aggies host New Mexico.
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian gave Card the hook after the redshirt freshman struggled in that nightmare road trip to Arkansas, causing many of us to wonder what this summer was all about since the coach spoke so glowingly of the Lake Travis product after naming him the starter the week before the opener.
And just like that, he’s a backup and Casey Thompson, a junior, is the starter. Musical quarterbacks rarely makes for sweet music for any offense and Sark, who chose upside over experience this summer, doesn’t appear to be in a huge hurry to settle on that decision with Big 12 play starting next week against Texas Tech followed by a brutal Metroplex double-double of TCU and Oklahoma.
Thompson leading the Horns on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives against the Arkansas starters had to make giving him his first college start an easier call. It also echoed just how starved Longhorn Nation is to make it back to being serious contenders, not only for Big 12 titles but in the special places to which Vince and Colt McCoy led them back in the day.
On Monday, I asked Sarkisian what amount of fluidity, if any, we were facing with this latest decision.
“Ideally, everybody wants to have a starter,” Sarkisian said. “Everybody wants to know what it is. We’ve got two good guys that play well. They play hard, they prepare and I think the team believes in both of them. That was evident in Week 1 against Louisiana and Week 2 against Arkansas."
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Then, later: “We’ll put ourselves in position to make sure that both those guys are in a position to excel. I don’t know how long it’s going to go and part of it is unfortunate because you like to know exactly what you are.”
Thankfully, the Horns get a nice bounce-back opportunity against the Owls, who were coincidentally up 17-7 over the same team that just ran the Longhorns out of Fayetteville, and in the same stadium, no less. The Owls were then trucked 38-3 against Houston last week, making them ripe for the picking against a Texas team that’s looking for some feel-good before conference play starts.
The patient approach paid off for Thompson, who has a chance to solidify his status against a 26-point underdog. Of not getting the starting nod for the opener, he said, “My mindset was if I’m not going to be named Week 1 and it’s not going to be given to me, then I’m going to have to go take it myself. I have to show my teammates that I’m going to continue to work hard and be the best I can be every day.”
Just like the first two games, expect both quarterbacks to see action on Saturday, which is shaping up to be a second coming out-party for Thompson, who wowed us with four second-half touchdown passes in the Alamo Bowl.
Hopefully this won’t stunt Card’s development or hurt his confidence. If anything, it’s proof that the battle for the starting job was as close as Sarkisian indicated.
Card missed on some routine throws, partly due to the fact that he was operating behind an offensive line that played as soft as tissue paper. The good news is he left the Arkansas game healthy unlike King, A&M's redshirt freshman who underwent surgery Sunday for a fractured leg injury that happened in the first half of Saturday's 10-7 escape at Colorado.
The sight of King on crutches on the sideline was a gut punch to Aggie fans who are harboring hopes of crashing the CFP party. Backup Zach Calzada kept the program in the national top 10 with a money throw to running back Isaiah Spiller on a wheel route with 2:41 left, but there is huge cause for concern because King is out indefinitely and unlike the battle in Austin, King was the clear choice as the starter.
The Aggies have talent at the skill positions and will lean on a very talented defense to keep things afloat, though I’m skeptical they can make a serious run at the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, the omnipotent army they host on Oct. 9.
So when will King be back?
“When you heal, you heal,” A&M coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters after the game. “We will never play him before that.”
The dreamer in me hopes for a day when the Horns and Aggies meet up at full strength and that both quarterbacks — and both programs — will be at the top of their respective games.
Until then, they’re at different phases of their development. The Aggies are now players nationally and still remain viable contenders for a New Year’s Six bowl game, though Calzada doesn’t really have the look of a guy who's ready to pull off some Manziel magic against the Crimson Tide.
The Horns are working on their fourth coach in nine seasons and hope Card or Thompson will be that transcendent presence behind center to get them back on a national stage in January. For now, Thompson gets the nod. Expect him to light up Rice and take care of Texas Tech and expect us to glean absolutely nothing from those two wins because Texas is simply good enough to win those games.
Then the fun starts and the good conversations will continue.
Pass the dip, please.