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A fresh start: Steve Sarkisian, Hudson Card kick-start new Texas era vs. No. 23 Louisiana

Texas WR Joshua Moore on Card: ‘I feel we’re going to win a lot of games with him at quarterback’

Hudson Card checks all the boxes for someone looking for a new quarterback at Texas. That someone, to be more specific, is first-year UT coach Steve Sarkisian.

“Hudson’s, a very talented young man,” Sarkisian said in announcing his starting decision Monday. “He’s got great work ethic. He really tries to operate the way we want to operate in.”

All Cards on the table. The Lake Travis graduate will make his first collegiate start Saturday against No. 23 Louisiana. It’ll be the first Texas football game with a full house since 2019, thanks to the governor quashing those pesky pandemic guidelines — on the UT campus, anyway.

Texas quarterback Hudson Card greets fans after the spring game in April. The redshirt freshman beat out veteran backup Casey Thompson for the starting job and will get his first career start Saturday. Only 10 freshman quarterbacks have started a game for Texas.

Wear a mask to Royal-Memorial Stadium. Or don’t. It’s your call. Nobody will be checking your vaccination status at the door, either. Sunscreen and deodorant are advisable, though. Just know the 21st-ranked Longhorns plan to walk straight down Bevo Boulevard, shaking as many hands as possible.

Pre-game prep:How to watch Texas football vs. Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns

Roster breakdown:What did Steve Sarkisian inherit? Here’s a detailed breakdown of the Longhorns’ roster

Going through the game day checklist, let’s examine Card one more time, just to be sure. After all, this will be the redshirt freshman's first real game experience when it counts. Mop-up time is over.

Card is tough. At Lake Travis, he played through a broken wrist one season and gutted through a thrilling 2019 win over Westlake with a turf toe injury. He caught a critical pass on third-and-6 and then threw a perfect alley-oop pass for a 10-yard touchdown to win 26-25.

“We all saw firsthand the things that Hudson can do with his arm, his leadership, his brain and his feet, all together,” Lake Travis coach Hank Carter said. “I do think he’s got a chance to be a fantastic quarterback at Texas.”

He’s earned his teammates’ respect. Card was a wide receiver first at Lake Travis and shifted to quarterback his final two seasons. “I haven’t seen a transition that easy in a minute,” Texas receiver Joshua Moore said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I feel we’re going to win a lot of games with him at quarterback.”

More:Hudson Card is QB1, but Texas has plenty of veterans among its starting 22 vs. Louisiana

He’s humble. “Twitter’s asked him if he wanted a blue check mark,” Card’s longtime private coach Brad Stanfield said. They’ve been working together since Card was in the seventh grade. “It’s just not something that’s important to him.”

Hudson Card was a Lake Travis wide receiver before taking over quarterback duties his final two seasons. New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian wanted him to address some personal offseason improvements, including moving in the pocket and throwing on the move.

He’s the local-kid-done-good story.

“It’s been fun to watch a guy that’s from the Austin area come in and just be excited about being at the University of Texas and work his butt of,” UT tackle Derek Kerstetter said.

Card was not made available to reporters during the week after Monday’s decision was announced. He started working more with the first-team offense after the Horns’ first scrimmage Aug. 14.

“This is a great team, it’s going to be a good game and a fun one,” Card said on his new YouTube channel. “I’m just going to try to take in the experience as much as I can. I’m sure it’s going to be a surreal one for me, especially my first one. I’m excited and looking forward to it.”

At this point, Card isn’t known for stirring motivational speeches. Sarkisian has asked him to be more vocal with teammates. The leadership process of encouraging or cajoling older players doesn’t happen overnight.

“I don’t know that you’re just going to see him breaking down the huddle with the entire team around him,” Sarkisian said. “That type of respect over time will come naturally and is a little more organic.”

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

The only person who might not agree with all this is Casey Thompson. The junior served as Sam Ehlinger’s understudy the past two years and was poised to take over this season. But that was under then-coach Tom Herman.

Thompson’s four second-half touchdown passes in the Alamo Bowl were a distant, dusty memory by the time training camp started under Sarkisian. The upperclassman couldn’t win the starting job as predicted, and thus, here comes the redshirt freshman.

Casey Thompson redshirted in 2018 and played in seven games over the past two years as Sam Ehlinger's backup, including a four-touchdown performance in last season's Alamo Bowl win when Ehlinger was lost to an injury for the second half.

Card will start against the Ragin’ Cajuns, but Thompson will play, Sarkisian said.

Asked if he’d leave Thompson in the game longer if the quarterback gets hot, Sarkisian said, “It’ll just be a gut feeling, flow of the game.”

“There’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Sarkisian added. “Is that a possible scenario? Yes. They’re all possible at this point. I think these guys are in full support of Hudson. And when Casey gets in there, they’ll be in full support of him.”

Said running back Bijan Robinson: “Both guys work hard, both guys have a lot of talent. When we go on Saturday, I know they’re both going to play, but they’re going to both do well for the team and execute for everybody’s who’s watching.”

The last time Texas had such a quarterback quandary was in 2017. Herman started sophomore Shane Buechele over Ehlinger, then a freshman, in the coach’s debut game against Maryland.

New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and former UT quarterback Vince Young watch a practice last month. Sarkisian, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, experienced great success with his last two Crimson Tide quarterbacks, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.

Buechele wasn’t the reason Texas suffered a rather embarrassing 51-41 loss. But Herman switched to Ehlinger the next week against San Jose State, a 56-0 win. Then the Westlake graduate cemented his status as Texas’ long-term answer in week three at USC. 

From that point, Ehlinger didn’t stop until he became a sixth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. 

Frankly, it’s not fair to compare Card with Ehlinger. Sure, they’re both from the west side of town. But they are two different athletes, to be sure.

“His stature is different from Sam,” Carter said of Card. “Sam is a quarterback in a linebacker’s body. He will put his shoulders down and get the first down when he needs to. Once he breaks the pocket, he runs like a wide receiver. He’s tough to bring down. He was a really good basketball player, and you can see that when he takes off running.”

Sarkisian asked Card to work on three things during the offseason, Stanfield said. 

The first was accuracy within Sarkisian’s system; the coach likes the quarterback to hit receivers on the move, for example. The coaches wanted Card to “own his feet” and step up into the pocket. And finally, Sarkisian wanted Card to use better arm angles while on the move. 

Stanfield, a well-respected quarterbacks coach himself, believes Card will thrive in this opportunity. The two met initially through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Card, like Ehlinger, has a strong faith.

“He knows his gifts and talents, but this is what he’s been trained for, to make sure in pressure situations that he trusts his training,” Stanfield said. “At the end of the day, take care of the football, slow down, try to find your rhythm and own the play.”

The Longhorns don’t have much runway for Card to sputter and stall. They need him to gain altitude almost immediately. Louisiana was 10-1 last season and returns 20 out of 22 starters, including quarterback Levi Lewis. After this comes a trip to Arkansas, a state with a football program that has anti-Texas sentiment embedded in its DNA.

Sark’s burnt-orange honeymoon would come to a crashing halt with an 0-2 start.

But Texas isn’t solely reliant on Card’s success. Robinson is a dynamic running threat behind this veteran offensive line. The defensive line promises to be one of the Big 12’s best. This is a team that needs its running game and defense to carry some water early.

“Start fast, finish strong. That’s pretty common nomenclature,” Sarkisian said. “But the reality is every game takes on a life and personality of its own.”

For a coach who once thought the deck was stacked against him, Sarkisian believes this is one Card he’s playing right. He’s going all in with this quarterback, all in with the Longhorns.

As Sark said, “I feel like this is right where I’m supposed to be at this time in my life.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

No. 21 Texas vs. No. 23 Louisiana

When: 3:30 p.m.

Where: Royal-Memorial Stadium

TV: Fox

Radio: 104.9 FM, 105.3 FM, 1260 AM, 1490 AM

Opening splashes

Only 10 freshman quarterbacks have started a game for Texas — just four since 1980 — and eight of them won their first games. The top five performances by a freshman in his debut game, in terms of passing yards:

1. Shea Morenz, 1993: Passed for 347 yards and a TD but was sacked three times and threw four interceptions in a season-opening 36-14 loss at No. 11 Colorado.

2. Shane Buechele, 2016: Threw for 280 yards, two TDs and a pick, but it was Tyrone Swoopes' three rushing TDs, including the winner in double OT, that everyone remembers from the 50-47 season-opening upset of No. 10 Notre Dame.

3. Rick McIvor, 1979: Passed for 270 yards — a school record for a freshman at the time — and a TD, leading the Horns to a 13-0 win over Baylor.

4. Major Applewhite, 1999: Vaulted into the starting lineup when QB Richard Walton went down with an injury, Applewhite threw for 239 yards, one TD and two interceptions in a 48-7 loss at No. 5 Kansas State.

5. Sam Ehlinger, 2017: Replaced Buechele after the season-opening loss to Maryland and led Texas to a 56-0 win over San Jose State, throwing for 222 yards and a TD.

Note: Morenz and Applewhite were redshirt freshmen.