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Casey at the bat: Veteran Casey Thompson gets the starting nod as Texas regroups vs. Rice

Rice (0-2) to present some offensive, defensive challenges. Sark: ‘I want to see us play a disciplined, physical brand of football.’

Casey Thompson pulled an All-American move when the Texas quarterback learned he wouldn’t start the season opener.

“I turned my phone off,” he said.

Thompson called his family, watched some TV, watched some football games and relaxed. 

“And then,” Thompson said. “I woke up on Monday morning and said, ‘I’m going to make this a positive.’”

Thompson, now in his fourth season, knows all too well how things change quickly around here. After serving as Hudson Card’s backup the first two games, Thompson will start Saturday night against Rice at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

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

The Longhorns (1-1) might be out of the polls, but they’re not out of optimism. Texas has a ton of football left, including an entire slate of Big 12 games that will start Sept. 25 against Texas Tech. 

After three years backing up Sam Ehlinger, Texas quarterback Casey Thompson will get his first career start Saturday night against Rice. He has replaced Hudson Card, who went 1-1 to start the season.

Rice (0-2) is the perfect elixir for what ails a team still licking its Arkansas wounds. Schematically, the Owls do just enough things on both sides of the ball to challenge an opponent’s football IQ. 

“What I want to see from our team,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday, “I want to see us play a disciplined, physical brand of football that doesn’t make the unnecessary or unforced errors but also maximizes and capitalizes on the opportunities when they present themselves to us.”

Sark would like to see Thompson light it up, too.

Don’t mistake the quarterback switch as a referendum on Card. That’s clearly not the case. This coaching staff — and this head coach — have sky-high hopes for the redshirt freshman from Lake Travis. 

“Obviously, when I went in the game against Arkansas, I wasn't thinking like, ‘Hey, what's going to happen next week? What's going to happen two weeks from now?’” Casey Thompson said this week.

But Sarkisian said Monday that Card looked “antsy” under Arkansas’ enormous defensive pressure. That’s on Texas' offensive line. Sarkisian sidestepped a question about whether there’d be any personnel changes in that department.

The receivers couldn’t get open in Fayetteville. When Card broke containment, he couldn’t connect with anybody with separation. He finished the game completing 8 of 15 passes for 61 yards and no touchdowns.

From the archives:QB Casey Thompson commits to Texas. 'This class will be special.'

Why Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is counting on quarterback Casey Thompson

Sarkisian might be making this move to shore up one position while he works on the others. He’s more mobile and simply has more experience than Card. But it’s clear that if Sarkisian must switch quarterbacks again, this season is headed off the rails. 

Thompson’s a veteran who served as Sam Ehlinger’s understudy and went wild against Colorado last season in the Alamo Bowl. He led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter last week against Arkansas. 

Casey Thompson entered the Arkansas game near the end of the third quarter and rushed for two touchdowns, including this one.

“Obviously, when I went in the game against Arkansas, I wasn't thinking like, ‘Hey, what's going to happen next week? What's going to happen two weeks from now?’” Thompson said. “I literally just focused on, ‘OK, it’s first down; what’s the call; what's the defense? OK, now I need to execute this way.’ So I'll take in one play at a time.”

Thompson has broad support in the locker room, too.

“He’s been the guy since he’s been here, the backup guy, so he knows what it takes,” linebacker DeMarvion Overshown said. “I’m sure he’s ready. I know he’s ready, and Coach Sark is preparing him for that.”

Overall, the Horns know they need to improve. As Sarkisian said, the players shouldn’t throw everything out. They simply need to do it better.

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

That means blocking better, tackling better, making field goals, catching the snap before punt attempts, the whole bit. 

“To be a good man, to be a great man, you have to pick up the slack after a loss,” defensive tackle Moro Ojomo said. “You have to be accountable, and you have to look yourself in the mirror. What we did wasn't good enough. And it wasn’t what we needed to do.”

Injurywise, Texas tight end Jared Wiley (shoulder) will return, but receiver Troy Omeire (knee) is still week-to-week and cornerback Jahdae Barron (knee sprain) is out for three weeks, Sarkisian said.

Troy Omeire could emerge as a top receiving threat for the Longhorns, but he has yet to play this season as he tries to come back from a knee injury. He's considered week-to-week, coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Casey Thompson not looking to 'reinvent the wheel' against Rice

Texas shouldn’t need the Four Horsemen against Rice. The Horns simply need their offense. Right now, that means Texas needs Thompson. As for how Card handled the week, Sarkisian said, “Let’s be real. I’m sure there’s a level of frustration for him. He wants to be the starting QB, too.”

If Thompson was frustrated by sitting the past two weeks, he kept it well-hidden. 

“I think he’s been very consistent, which I appreciate about him,” Sarkisian said. “He’s come to work. He’s put in the work in the meeting room. He’s put in the work on the field. He’s asked good questions. I think that he trusts his process and preparation, which is a great space to be in.”

Photos:A look at Texas QB Casey Thompson

Thompson said “you have to be tactical” about the feedback you receive. 

“Some people say you should do this; other people say you should do that,” Thompson said. “Some people say wait; some people say you’re too good. But at the end of the day, like I tell my family, I appreciate all the love, support and the advice that I get from people who reached out to me. But at the end of the day, I’m going to do what I feel like is best for me.”

If these Longhorns pull it together and reach the Big 12 title game — heck, or even win it — this entire season’s historical storyline will be how Thompson stood pat when it was widely thought he might transfer. He put the team first. 

Now he's the starter. He’d prefer not to hold that clipboard again.

“There's going to be ups and downs, and you kind of just have to be calm and poised,” Thompson said. “So I think this week, we don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need to panic. 

“I think Coach Sark talked about this; we don’t need to make a knee-jerk reaction,” he added. “We just need to go back to work and focus on fine-tuning the details on offense, defense and special teams and just playing winning football.”

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

Texas vs. Rice

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Royal-Memorial Stadium

TV: LHN

Radio: 104.9 FM, 105.3 FM (Spanish), 1260 AM, 1490 AM

First starts

Casey Thompson is making his first career start for Texas. How some recent UT quarterbacks fared in theirs:

Tyrone Swoopes (Sept. 6, 2014): Thrust into the starting role after David Ash retired from football earlier in the week, Swoopes went 20-for-31 for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 41-7 home loss to BYU and Taysom Hill.

Jerrod Heard (Sept. 12, 2015): The freshman had 216 yards of total offense, going 4-for-7 for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a passer and leading the team in rushing with 91 yards in a 42-28 win over Rice.

Shane Buechele (Sept. 4, 2016): He became the first UT true freshman to start at QB since Bobby Layne in 1944 and threw for 280 yards, two TDs and a pick in the dramatic 50-47 upset of No. 10 Notre Dame.

Sam Ehlinger (Sept. 2, 2017): A week after the season-opening loss to Maryland, first-year Horns coach Tom Herman handed the starting job to the freshman from Westlake, who threw for 222 yards and a TD in a 56-0 shutout of San Jose State.

Hudson Card (Sept. 4, 2021): The Lake Travis graduate kicked off the Steve Sarkisian era at Texas with a 38-18 win over Louisiana, hitting 14 of 21 for 224 yards and three total touchdowns. Two weeks later, Sarkisian replaced him with Thompson.

The last five

The last five Texas-Rice games:

2008: Texas 52-10. Was a 600-yard day of offense for the No. 7 Horns.

2010: Texas 34-17. First season opener on the road since 1995.

2011: Texas 34-9. Garrett Glibert, Mike Davis powered the season-opening win.

2015: Texas 42-28. Was Jerrod Heard's first career start (216 total yards, two TDs).

2019: Texas 48-13. All cylinders clicked at NRG Stadium. Cameron Dicker's 57-yard field goal (a career best) was UT's longest since 1985.