AUSTIN, Texas – The Steve Sarkisian era at Texas is only two games old but has already dealt the Longhorns a harsh dose of humility and prompted a quick quarterback change.
The Longhorns (1-1) went from No. 15 to unranked following a blowout loss at Arkansas. A big bounce back against Rice (0-2) on Saturday night is expected, but what it will mean long-term for fixing the problems exposed last week likely can't be measured until the Big 12 schedule starts.
Sarkisian's “All Gas No Brakes” slogan doesn't include instructions how to navigate hazardous curves in the road. The coach faced a huge one this week when he opted to bench second-year freshman Hudson Card to start Casey Thompson at quarterback against the Owls.
The hope is the fourth-year player can provide some calm leadership after Sarkisian and Card's teammates described the freshman as “antsy" and rattled” in his first road game.
Thompson relieved Card late against Arkansas and led two touchdown drives after the game was already out of hand.
“I think it’s fair to Casey to give him this opportunity,” Sarkisian said. “We’re going to let him go and see what happens.”
Thompson spent the last three seasons as the top backup to Sam Ehlinger, but couldn't beat out Card for the starting job. He now has a chance to seize it and keep it. Card likely will still play Saturday if Texas, a heavy favorite, builds a big lead.
“I don’t feel like I lost the job," Thompson said. “It just wasn’t my opportunity at the time. They just chose to go with another guy.”
Thompson considered transferring in 2018 when he wasn't playing. Not this time.
“I’m already in this thing, I’ve waited so long. There was no way I could just quit and let up at this point,” Thompson said.
Thompson said Sarkisian told him he doesn't have to be “superhuman” Saturday night, but to “just keep being smart and executing plays.”
Texas had more problems than quarterback that it must try to fix against Rice. The offensive and defensive lines were blown off the ball all night at Arkansas.
Rice, meanwhile, kept things interesting in its opener against Arkansas, and even led the Razorbacks in the third quarter before losing 38-17. The Owls and Longhorns are old Southwest Conference rivals who still regularly play each other. However, Rice hasn't beaten Texas since 1994 and hasn't won in Austin since 1965.
“It should be encouraging to our guys from watching what we did against Arkansas,” Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said.
When Thompson plays, Texas scores. Since the second half of last season's Alamo Bowl, Thompson has led Texas to points on nine of 10 possessions, including seven touchdowns.
Texas running back Bijan Robinson was the Big 12 offensive player of the week after the first game with 176 total yards and two touchdowns. He was held under 4 yards per carry against Arkansas and was swamped by waves of tacklers in the backfield. Even with the change at quarterback, Robinson is the offensive engine for the Longhorns. If he can't find space, Texas will struggle again.
The Longhorns' defensive front had no sacks last week, got pushed around for 333 yards rushing and lost just about every physical battle in the trenches.
“We didn't do our job as a front seven,” said Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, the Longhorns' leading tackler this season. “It hurt a lot. You could see it on the guy's faces ... We are definitely taking it personal.”
Texas kick returner D'Shawn Jamison is a dangerous weapon for the Longhorns. He has three career touchdown returns, including one in 2019 against Rice. The Owls haven't returned a punt that wasn't blocked for a touchdown in 22 years. Texas kicker Cameron Dicker has missed two of three field goal attempts this season.
Joshua Moore was the leading returning receiver for Texas with 30 catches for 472 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. He has only three catches for 17 yards in the first two games and has yet to find the end zone as Texas has struggled to throw deep the first two games.
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