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Texas coach Steve Sarkisian will start QB Casey Thompson, but there are other issues, too

Sark on Thompson’s relief role at Arkansas: ‘Casey competed really well. He was ready to go, I give him a lot of credit.’

If picking a starting quarterback is the biggest decision any first-year coach makes, switching quarterbacks in Week 3 must be equally monumental.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian announced Monday that Casey Thompson will start this week against Rice over Hudson Card. This decision comes after Card and the entire offense struggled in Saturday’s 40-21 loss to Arkansas.

Asked if he gave any thought to what message this sends to the locker room, Sarkisian said, “No.”

“I think that at the end of the day, I’m the head coach,” he said at his regular Monday press conference inside Bellmont Hall. “I’m the leader of these men, I stand up in front of this team, I'm very clear with my message. I don’t think that anybody on our team would ever think that I’m doing anything that isn’t in the best interest of our football team. And that's the approach that we have. 

“So I’m not as concerned about that, as long as I do a really good job of conveying the message of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

So why are the now-unranked Longhorns (1-1) changing quarterbacks? Mostly, it’s about finding an offensive spark before Big 12 play starts against Texas Tech on Sept. 25. Kickoff for that game will be 11 a.m.

Arkansas 40, No. 15 Texas 21: Hogs dominate Horns as Sark now has quarterback questions

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson rushed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the 40-21 loss at Arkansas, prompting head coach Steve Sarkisian to make the switch at starter for this week's Rice game. Thompson, the former backup, will start. Hudson Card, however, also will still play.

Card has worked with the first-team offense since mid-August. Sarkisian clearly liked his upside as the Lake Travis product throws a beautiful ball. But playing in a hostile environment at Arkansas, the redshirt freshman “was a little antsy in the pocket,” Sarkisian said. 

Card completed just 8 of 15 passes for 61 yards, did not throw a touchdown or interception and lost a fumble. “We weren’t great protecting him early on in the game,” the coach acknowledged. “But I thought he was a little antsy, and we missed some opportunities.”

Bohls: Welcome to Austin, Sark, where Texas isn't quite ready for the SEC ... or the Hogs

Thompson, a junior who was Sam Ehlinger’s backup the last two seasons, was inserted into the game with 1:50 remaining in the third. Texas trailed 26-7 and, for all intents and purposes, the game was over. 

Still, Thompson never gave up and flashed his mobility and quick decision-making ability. He led two touchdown drives and scored both himself by running from five and two yards out. Thompson was 5-for-8 passing for 57 yards. 

“Casey competed really well,” Sarkisian said. “He was ready to go, I give him a lot of credit. That’s a hard thing to do. When you sit around basically for three quarters, and then it’s time for you to go and jump right into the fray.”

Sarkisian said both Thompson and Card will play Saturday. But few will take anything meaningful out of what happens against the 0-2 Owls, unless the train goes flying completely off the tracks.

This is all about creating momentum for Big 12 play.

“You know I support both guys,” running back Bijan Robinson said. “I’ve been riding with both guys since the beginning of the season. Both of them play great. But with Casey, I know he has a little more experience than Hudson and can make some reads or make some calls that he might have seen before as he’s been here.”

Robinson said Thompson looked confident against the Razorbacks. “Nothing really rattled him, nothing really fazed him. Looked like he's been there before.”

Would Card have played better if the offensive line protected him? Arkansas registered three sacks as Card was forced out of the pocket numerous times. The student body was so riled up, fans stormed the field, earning the school a $100,000 fine from the SEC office.

The fallout: After Arkansas disaster, Steve Sarkisian learns nothing comes easy at Texas

Texas quarterback Hudson Card struggled in his second career start. Playing on the road in front of a hostile sellout crowd, the redshirt freshman was pressured all night, was sacked three times and looked "antsy" in the pocket, head coach Steve Sarkisian said.

At this level, that’s exactly what a defensive coordinator would want to do against an inexperienced quarterback. Push him out of the pocket and make him beat you on the move. Card couldn’t do it. He missed on deep throws to Jordan Whittington, Xavier Worthy and Joshua Moore, all of whom had some separation — or as much as you need.

Texas hasn’t stocked the offensive line with greenhorns. Four of UT’s five linemen have double-digit career starts. Center Jake Majors is the lone exception; he’s started four career games. These are veterans who should’ve better handled a three-man front.

“Yeah, we are, and we take it personally,” right tackle Derek Kerstetter said. “We’ve just got to focus on this week and just get after it and just treat each play like it’s a game rep and just get better each and every play.”

Texas quarterback Casey Thompson scrambles out of the pocket during the second half last Saturday in Fayetteville. This week will be his first career start.

Asked about personnel changes along the line, Sarkisian said, “I think the guys we have playing need to play more together.”

Broadening his scope, Sarkisian said, “The natural knee-jerk reaction is the sky is falling, we got to change everything. We’ve got a system. And we’ve got coaches that have withstood the test of time, and we’ll rely on that. The players will continue to buy into that. And in the end, we'll reap the benefits of that.”

There was so much talk about the Texas offense, the defense got off easy in the Centennial Room. Defensive tackle Moro Ojomo said he didn’t know how many missed tackles the Horns had. “It was piss poor, I know that,” he said.

Arkansas had 333 rushing yards, the most Texas has allowed since the dreadful 2016 defense, statistically one of the school’s all-time worst.

“My dad texted me this the other day that Bill Gates says failure is almost the best way to learn,” Ojomo said. “Early in the season, we haven’t gone into conference play, we played a formidable opponent, and, you know, things didn’t go the right way. But we get another opportunity to get better.”

That’s how Sarkisian sees it, too. 

“My message was I’m glad it happened now and not five weeks from now when we're in Big 12 play,” the coach said.

Photos:Texas Longhorns vs. Arkansas Razorbacks football

Sarkisian’s also keeping the faith in Cameron Dicker, the kicker. Doing double duty as the punter, Dicker dropped a snap and had a punt blocked. He also missed a 52-yard field goal. He is 1-for-3 on the season so far in that department.

"We’re going to need him,” Sarkisian said. “He’s going to make big kicks for us. I’m excited for that opportunity when its shows itself.”

All in all, Sarkisian was confident and even-keeled in his first post-loss Monday press conference flogging. After wins, they’re easy. Otherwise, it’s 30 minutes of misery.

“There’s plenty of things to fix,” Sarkisain said. “I’m leaning on the experience of our staff, which you know we’ve got a great staff. I love those guys. They’re tremendous coaches. They’re great leaders. And I think our players will follow ’em.”

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

Saturday's game

Rice at Texas, 7 p.m., LHN, 104.9