- Dave Wilson is an editor for ESPN.com since 2010. He previously worked at The Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union-Tribune and Las Vegas Sun.
Any intrigue about the Texas quarterback race was quickly put to rest on Saturday, as Quinn Ewers appeared comfortable and in command, according to coach Steve Sarkisian.
“I thought Quinn was really efficient today,” Sarkisian said after Saturday’s game in which Ewers completed 16 of 23 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, a leaping one-handed grab by Georgia transfer A.D. Mitchell. “I think it’s pretty clear to say that Quinn’s our starting quarterback and we feel very good about that.”
The remainder of the highlights came from redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy, who was playing in his first game action at Texas after being injured most of last season and missing the first five practices this spring. He finished 9-of-13 for 165 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Johntay Cook. Arch Manning, who drew a large ovation from the crowd upon entering the game, was 5-of-13 for 30 yards, and often didn’t have much time to throw.
Ewers, who had an up-and-down first season in Austin, said he took a new approach to preparation this offseason after feeling like he didn’t live up to his potential last season when he threw for 2,177 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He looked on the verge of a breakout against Alabama before suffering an injury that sidelined him for three games before he returned with four touchdowns in a 49-0 win over Oklahoma. But he also struggled at times, like against TCU when he had 11 off-target passes in a 17-10 loss and passed for 171 yards and an interception. Ewers’ 64.3 QBR ranked 53rd nationally.
“I wasn’t where I wanted to be last year,” he said. “I feel like I let most of the fans down, and I don’t want to be in that same situation this year.”
Sarkisian said earlier this spring that Ewers had gotten in better shape. He also cut off his trademark mullet and cleaned up his beard, with Sarkisian noting that it also had the added benefit of people taking him more seriously.
Ewers said he’s going into this summer with the best mindset he’s ever taken into an offseason.
“Obviously, something had to change if I wanted to end up where I want to be in the future,” he said. “I’m starting right here. I’m eating a lot better. I’m doing all the small things a lot harder, and I’m excited.”
The Longhorns’ wide receivers were a highlight for Sarkisian, who suddenly has a loaded room to help bolster an offense that lacked deep-ball consistency last season, something Sarkisian has emphasized this spring.
Mitchell’s one-handed touchdown catch excited Ewers and Sarkisian, and they’re excited about what the offense can be with their new additions to go alongside established starters like Xavier Worthy, Jordan Whittington and tight end JT Sanders, who had 613 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman last year.
“A.D. Mitchell is an explosive athlete and we haven’t gotten him all 15 practices this spring but got him going today,” Sarkisian said. “That explosiveness that he has, in combination with Xavier with Jordan, with JT? That’s a problem.”
Cook, the freshman who caught the deep ball from Murphy, has also been impressive this spring, as has DeAndre Moore, another new face. The combination of all those outlets gives Sarkisian hope that he can fix the Longhorns’ passing game and give Ewers more to work with.
“You’re like the kid who gets a bunch of new toys at Christmas and then you still have those other toys that you love playing with,” Sarkisian said. “So now, our job is to make sure that we craft an offense that allows all of those guys to play to their potential and to do the things that they do really well.”
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