Inside Texas' Steve Sarkisian magic touch developing QBs

Inside Texas’ Steve Sarkisian magic touch developing QBs

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

When I sat down with Steve Sarkisian at Big 12 Media Days in July, I asked him what most wanted to know at the time: Who would be his starting quarterback in Week 1? Would it be Quinn Ewers or Hudson Card?

“We got two good players,” the Texas Longhorns coach said. “We’ll get to a decision here at some point, but I won’t be surprised if we don’t need both these guys at some point in the season to help us win a championship.”

When I pressed him on it, mentioning that this would be the second straight season in which he had a QB derby — Card battled with Casey Thompson in 2021 — he explained how he handled such situations.

Steve Sarkisian at Big 12 Media Days

RJ Young is joined by Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian, who explained his approach to coaching this year’s team.

“Well, what we tried to do is not just essentially put them in a silo saying this is where you are as a player in our system, both of you could be successful playing in our system,” Sarkisian said. “But here’s what you need to work on Player A. And here’s how we’re going to work on it. Whether you’re the starter or not, we’re going to keep working on these aspects of your game.

“Here is Player B, he’s in a different silo, he’s got a different skill set, he’s got different things that he needs to work on. Ultimately, me as a coach, whether it’s Player A or Player B, I need to call the things that put those two guys, whichever one is on the field and position, to be successful.”

We know now, in October, that Sarkisian was right. Ewers and Card have both played — unfortunately, due to Ewers’ Week 2 injury — and both have been successful. Now, with Ewers potentially returning for Saturday’s game against Oklahoma, you can see the benefit of the coach’s methods.

Sarkisian needed both, and that’s what makes him one of the great developers of quarterbacks in the sport.

In football — at the college and professional level — the quickest way to become a head coach is to first become a good quarterback coach and offensive coordinator.

I tend to call these men “QB whisperers” for their ability to develop outstanding quarterbacks wherever they’ve been. Lincoln Riley earned this moniker first at East Carolina with Shane Carden, who threw for more than 4,000 yards and maintained the second-highest completion percentage in the sport in 2013.

Riley went on to coach two Heisman winners at Oklahoma — Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield — and now has another contender for the award at USC in Caleb Williams.

Another QB whisperer is Ryan Day, the Ohio State head coach since 2019 and on the Buckeyes’ staff since 2017. In that time, every quarterback he’s started has gone on to be drafted in the first round, and CJ Stroud seems a shoo-in to keep that record perfect.

Sarkisian walked into the head-coaching gig at Texas after building his own reputation as a QB whisperer. It started as USC quarterbacks coach when Carson Palmer won the Heisman. Since then, he has coached one more Heisman winner (Matt Leinart) and seen six of his pupils — including Palmer, Leinart, Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones — become first-round NFL draft picks.

Of those quarterbacks, the one that I’m still struck by is Jones. He not only came to Bama the same year Tagovailoa did, but ran the option at the Bolles School, a small school in Jacksonville, Fla., threw for just over 1,500 yards as a senior and ranked 399th in the 2017 recruiting class — hardly the stuff that would lead you to believe he’d be a national champion quarterback, let alone an NFL first-rounder.

If Arch Manning knew nothing else of Sarkisian, that would be enough and is perhaps one reason the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 class thing to commit to Texas.

Now, with Ewers, Sarkisian appears to be on track to continue developing at least one first-round pick at quarterback at every stop he’s made. He’s the most talented quarterback to come out of Texas since Kyler Murray and one of the most talented high school prospects of the recruiting rankings era.

Ewers transferred to Texas from Ohio State after it was clear that Stroud was the Buckeyes’ QB of the future, and most believed he would begin the season as the Longhorns’ starter behind center.

But throughout the process, Sarkisian continued to say both Card and Ewers were in competition for the job, even emphasizing that he coached them differently because they have different sets of skills — each with their own benefits.

While injuries are a part of the sport, most believed Ewers would play every down that mattered — until he didn’t.

In a close ballgame with No. 1-ranked Alabama, Ewers suffered a shoulder sprain that led to his not only being forced to miss the rest of a game the Tide escaped with a 20-19 win, but ushered in another opportunity for Card to play meaningful football on the Forty Acres.

Quinn Ewers goes down awkwardly

Quinn Ewers goes down awkwardly

Texas Longhorns QB Quinn Ewers injured his shoulder in Week 2 against Alabama.

Card has acquitted himself well, as his completion percentage is nearly identical to Ewers’ (69.2% for Card to 69.4% for Ewers), thrown for more yardage on average (184.6 to 179.5) and the same number of interceptions (one), even though Card has thrown 71 more passes.

Heading to the latest edition of the Red River Rivalry on Saturday, the hope is for Ewers to return for a game in which his accuracy will be a plus for the Longhorns. He was outstanding against Alabama before his injury, and if he can pick up where he left off, Texas will be in good shape.

But these games in which Card was forced into action have only further confirmed what many already knew: Steve Sarkisian can coach quarterbacks, and yet again he’s got one of the most talented ones in the country running his offense.

Perhaps the Longhorns are not the national title contenders I thought they might be, but they’re certainly capable of running up the score. Because whoever plays quarterback for Sarkisian, rest assured that he can play.

Read more:

– As elite teams reveal flaws, opportunity arises for Ohio State, USC, others

– College football rankings: Ohio State nabs our No. 1 spot

– Michigan shows what Iowa lacks: The ability to score when needed

– Heisman watch: Blake Corum, Adrian Martinez on the rise

– 10 incredible stats from Week 5

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.“Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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