Texas Football: Analyzing what Quinn Ewers has to prove in Alamo Bowl

Quinn Ewers, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Quinn Ewers, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

There won’t be a single more important player for head coach Steve Sarkisian and No. 20 ranked Texas football in the Alamo Bowl than redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers. If Texas wants a shot to beat the No. 12 ranked Washington Huskies on Dec. 29 in the Alamo Bowl, Ewers will need to come up with one of his better games of the season.

Ewers had an up and down regular season that seemingly hit a high point early on against the Alabama Crimson Tide at home on Sep. 10. Unfortunately, though, a shoulder injury derailed the early momentum that Ewers and the Longhorns found against the Crimson Tide.

And it looked like Ewers was going to continue his upward trek upon his return from injury on Oct. 8 in the Red River Rivalry game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Ewers looked great against the Sooners, throwing for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns.

But Ewers ran into some freshman difficulties in the back half of the regular season. Really since the loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys on the road on Oct. 22, Ewers looked off. Since Week 8 against Oklahoma State, Ewers threw for 988 yards, five touchdowns, and four picks, with a passer efficiency rating of just 108.6.

The good news is that Ewers made some necessary adjustments and played better in the last two games of the regular season against the Baylor Bears and Kansas Jayhawks. After grading out in the bottom 10th percentile of Power Five quarterbacks in the three games between the loss to Oklahoma State and the win over the Kansas State Wildcats, Ewers graded out around the middle of the Big 12 among starting quarterbacks in the last two games.

Ewers will need to continue to find his game, though, given the tough matchup in the Alamo Bowl. Texas will face a quarterback in senior Michael Penix Jr. that finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting this year and led the FBS in passing yards (4,354).

Since Texas will be without the services of star junior running back Bijan Robinson and senior running back Roschon Johnson in the postseason, there will be more pressure on Ewers to set the tone for this offense. Texas was able to rely on Bijan to spark the offense and set the tone throughout the regular season.

The onus will now be on the likes of Ewers and redshirt freshman running back Jonathon Brooks to set the tone for the offense in the postseason.

Here’s a deep dive into some of the strides we need to see Ewers make to have a successful Alamo Bowl for the Longhorns.

Find the deep ball

Let’s go ahead and get the obvious out of the way. If Ewers wants to maximize his ability to drive the Texas offense, he has to find the deep ball. Ewers just has too much arm talent to be missing on the deep ball, namely to sophomore wideout Xavier Worthy so often.

It’s pretty obscene that two players as talented as Ewers and Worthy can’t find the deep ball connection. In fact, no wideout in the Power Five was targeted, and missed, as many times on the deep ball as Worthy.

Worthy was hit on just nine of the 39 deep balls during the regular season. And most of those targets came while Ewers was throwing him the ball.

A lot of these misses were due to Ewers either overthrowing Worthy or seemingly a lack of effort or the inability to adjust while the ball was in the air. There were also a half-dozen contested 50/50 balls that Worthy wasn’t able to come down with. Considering he was targeted 10 times on contested deep balls, coming up with catches on 40 percent of them isn’t actually all that bad.

But the fact of the matter is that a 6-foot-1 and 160-pound wideout such as Worthy probably isn’t going to come down with every contested ball. A lot of those contested balls will wind up looking like an early target that Ewers threw to Worthy in the opener against ULM (at 1:15 in the YouTube video linked below from Nash Talks Texas).

You can also see a good example of some overthrows from Ewers to Worthy at the following points in the video (3:02 vs. ULM, 18:05 vs. Oklahoma State, and 20:25 vs. Kansas State).

And those are just a few examples of the more than dozen times that Ewers overthrew the deep ball (most of which were targeted to Worthy) during the regular season.

To make matters worse, a lot of these deep throws from Ewers to Worthy were double and triple-covered. Yet, it didn’t seem like Ewers batted an eyelash at the thought of chucking the ball deep to Worthy and just seeing what happened.

So, what is the way to fix the deep ball issues for the Longhorns?

I think the most obvious way to fix the deep ball issues is for Sark and the Longhorns to stop forcing the issue so often on the deep ball. This might sound like a solution that is way too simple and avoids the point. But I think the way for Texas to get Ewers the rhythm and confidence he needs to find the deep ball is by getting him some easier throws early in games.

Setting the tone with some rhythm plays can help build up Ewers so that he has the necessary confidence and feel in the pocket to get the deep ball where it needs to go.

All too often during the regular season, we found Texas chucking the ball deep on standard downs when you have some seriously talented running backs in the backfield and some weapons to get the ball out in space too.

Texas was taking the difficult route by throwing deep balls when opposing defenses had help over the top instead of taking the path of least resistance and getting an easy place to get one of these talented skill guys in space.

It’s encouraging that we’ve heard about the improved chemistry in bowl practice on the deep ball connection from Ewers to Worthy (per multiple practice reports, including from Horns247). This is the first time in at least a couple of months this fall that we’ve heard positive things coming out of practice on a consistent basis regarding the deep ball connection between these two.

Stay composed in the pocket

Ewers is a freshman and he’s going to make some freshman mistakes. We need to remember that.

There were times this season when it looked like Ewers was losing some of his fundamentals if things weren’t going his way early in game. Ewers even mentioned at one point in mid-November that “I’ve gotten too lazy with my feet”.

He also said that he needs to “get better” at maintaining his footwork “whether it’s setting up in a certain gap or dropping straight back”.

Two games that were the clearest examples of Ewers getting phased early and often in the pocket were Texas’ losses to TCU and Oklahoma State.

Against TCU, a combination of his wideouts dropping catchable balls and a lack of timing and composure in the pocket doomed Ewers and the Longhorns against a well-preprared Frogs defense. Ewers getting shaken in the pocket early in this game wound up getting him unsettled and messed with his footwork and composure in the pocket as the contest progressed.

There were similar issues that Ewers faced against Oklahoma State in terms of getting rattled and rushing throws that didn’t need to happen.

The good news here is that Ewers looked more composed in the pocket in the last couple of games when Sark had him playing the role of a game manager. Whereas, against Oklahoma State and TCU, Ewers had the weight of the team on his shoulders as he attempted more than 85 passes in those two outings combined.

The test that Ewers is going to face against Washington in the Alamo Bowl, could see him take on a workload closer to that of the Oklahoma State and TCU games than he had with limited attempts in the last two games of the regular season. Being able to adapt to the bigger workload while maintaining the composure and consistency he did in the pocket in the last couple of games won’t be easy.

On the other hand, the time to show growth can really come to fruition during the postseason. For the first time in his career, Ewers will have multiple weeks in the midst of a season as the starting quarterback to prepare for a defense during practice.

Patience in the pocket and more consistent fundamental footwork will result in less untimely mistakes

Some of the boneheaded mistakes that we saw out of Ewers during the regular season such as just dropping the football when being put under pressure as he did against the Baylor Bears or forcing the ball on an underthrow into double coverage against TCU can’t show up against Washington.

This Washington offense is just too good and they will make the Longhorns pay if Ewers gives them the extra possessions.

Or worse, Texas could just give points away as it did against Baylor at a critical point in the second half. It just worked out that Bijan Robinson came alive down the stretch to seal the double-digit win over Baylor.

Minimizing these untimely mistakes will come down mostly to Ewers staying calmer in the pocket. And the good news in this regard is that he hasn’t made all that many bad mistakes so far this season. It’s just a lot of the mistakes he has made tend to stick out thanks to the fashion in which some of them took place.

Timing, timing, timing

This is ultimately a byproduct of the last point we talked about. Ewers rushing throws is an issue that goes hand in hand with the lack of composure he showed at times in the pocket in the back half of the regular season.

Ewers was often just not on the same page as a lot of his wideouts down the stretch this season. This was a combination of poor play-calling at times and Ewers facing different defensive concepts that were able to get him out of sorts.

This play against Oklahoma State where Ewers tried to force an intermediate throw into a tight window to Worthy was a great example of poor play-calling and bad timing coming together for a nearly disastrous result.

Notice how Ewers doesn’t look off any safety and doesn’t even read the open receiver he had on the boundary in one-on-one coverage.

Ewers’ timing issues during the back half of the regular season was largely a byproduct of defenses getting more pressure on Ewers in the pocket while also throwing some disguised coverages at him from three-high safety looks. TCU, Oklahoma State, and the Iowa State Cyclones all played some form of three safety defenses that frustrated Ewers.

Notice the above play where Ewers had redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington open between the numbers but still forced it to the boundary against Oklahoma State, resulting in his second of three picks he would toss in that game.

It also seemed like the game was moving too fast for Ewers at times in the back half of the regular season. He would rush through his reads and not let plays fully develop when he was dropping back in the pocket. Oklahoma State was able to rattle Ewers early and often by generating pressure from multiple angles.

On passing plays where Ewers isn’t put under pressure, he needs to see the field better to avoid forcing throws in tight windows unnecesarrily. He rushed too many throws or just throw the ball into outer space all too often during the regular season when there were some open guys he could’ve found had he gone through the proper progressions.

Ewers has more time to throw on a lot of snaps where he’s not put under pressure. It’s worth noting that the average time to throw for Ewers during the regular season was just 2.45 seconds, which is the fastest time of any Big 12 starting quarterback. There really isn’t a reason to rush these throws when the play isn’t there.

This is a concept that looked to settle in a bit better for Ewers in the last two games of the regular season.

Ewers did a much better job of confidently going through his read on those important short and intermediate throws against Kansas and Baylor. He was much more decisive and was able to see the field better than he did in the losses to Oklahoma State and TCU.

While the result of the play below for Whittington against Baylor didn’t wind up positive, the read and throw from Ewers was spectacular. He saw the entire field and timed the throw to Whittington well to let him make a play after the catch.

What is considered a successful Alamo Bowl for Ewers?

First and foremost, if the play-calling is more favorable for Ewers in the Alamo Bowl, we should see him force throws dangerous low-percentage throws much less often. Sark needs to put Ewers in more manageable situations to build up his confidence early in games, which will help him succeed more on those big-time throws he’ll need to make in crunch time.

Secondly, Ewers needs to be prepared for the aggressive version of a 4-2-5 defense that Washington likes to play. Washington is going to send a lot of different aggressive blitz packages at Ewers in the bowl game.

If Ewers can keep his composure in the pocket and get the ball out on time, he should fair pretty well against a beatable Washington secondary. Washington plays pretty tight man coverage, usually with two high safeties in support.

This type of secondary is something that Ewers has succeeded against before. Ewers played pretty well in the two other multiple defenses that play with four-down fronts that he faced this season (Oklahoma and Kansas).

Next. Breaking down 3 new portal targets for Texas this week. dark

Beyond the obvious of him showing more composure in the pocket and better footwork, I would consider the Alamo Bowl a success for Ewers if he is able to hit the deep ball at least once or twice while posting more passing touchdowns than interceptions.

I know that sounds simple, but considering that Ewers is likely going to have at least 30 passing attempts in the Alamo Bowl, hitting the deep ball a couple of times while registering more touchdowns than turnovers would be a first for him this season.