Texas football jumped out to a 21-0 lead 18 minutes into its game against Houston on Saturday. It seemed as if they had avoided the notorious Red River hangover, but sure enough, the Cougars came charging back.
Despite securing the 31-24 victory and moving to 6-1(3-1) on the season, the Longhorns left TDECU Stadium much worse than they entered it.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Quinn Ewers took off on a 3rd-and-6 scramble and was hit by Houston lineman David Ugwoegbu. Ewers stayed in the game, throwing two more incompletions on the drive, before heading to the locker room to be evaluated. He did not return.
On Sunday night, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that Ewers suffered a grade 2 AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder. At Steve Sarkisian’s Monday presser, he noted that Ewers would be “week-to-week”. Chip Brown of Horns247 reported Ewers would miss two to four weeks, and given the nature of the injury, that timetable seems reasonable.
With Ewers on the mend, all eyes turn to Texas backups Maalik Murphy and Arch Manning.
Texas Football has a tough choice regarding its backup quarterback
One of the focal points of the offseason was who would win the backup job behind Ewers. Despite strong reports about Manning’s growth throughout the summer, Murphy was named QB2 for the Horns.
I said this throughout the offseason and still hold this sentiment – even if Manning outperformed Murphy in the spring and summer, it made sense to name Murphy as the backup. This is true for two reasons:
- Murphy is an elite talent and a player you want to keep in the QB room for as long as possible. If you tell him a true freshman has already surpassed him on the depth chart, he will bolt to the transfer portal in December.
- Ideally, the backup only plays in mop-up duty for a few games throughout the season. If Ewers had stayed healthy, Texas would not have to put another quarterback into the game when the outcome was undecided.
Now that we know Ewers will miss some time with a shoulder injury, it is time to throw out the depth chart politicking and put in the quarterback that gives you the best chance to win football games. While Texas technically does not control its own destiny, if the Longhorns win their remaining five regular season games, they will likely enter the Big 12 Championship with a “win and in” scenario regarding the College Football Playoff.
After Ewers’ injury on Saturday, Murphy led two fourth-quarter drives, including the 6-play, 53-yard series that led to CJ Baxter’s game-winning touchdown. Murphy was only 1-of-2 throwing the football, as Coach Sark called seven run plays with him in the game. The redshirt freshman has appeared in four games this season, completing 4-of-8 passes for 47 yards.
Murphy is a capable quarterback who will succeed at the collegiate level, whether at Texas or another high-level program. He looked phenomenal in the spring game, completing 9-of-13 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown. That said, I believe Manning is better suited to lead this Texas offense for the next couple of weeks.
Throughout Saturday’s broadcast, the FOX team noted that Murphy was not 100 percent and that he and Manning split second-team reps during practice last week. Murphy was unavailable during his freshman campaign after suffering an ankle injury in December of his senior season at Gardena (CA). He also suffered a wrist injury during his first fall in Austin and has seemingly always had a few nicks and bruises.
Although Coach Sark noted at his Monday presser that Murphy would be the starting quarterback if Texas played a game today, he said that Murphy and Manning will both be prepared to play against BYU this Saturday.
Regarding specific skill sets, Manning’s rushing threat sets him apart from Murphy. He was a very willing runner in high school and showed an ability to scramble and get up the field during the spring scrimmage.
We know Coach Sarkisian will heavily emphasize the rushing attack regardless of who is taking quarterback snaps. If you hand it off 35 or 40 times a game, it makes sense to have a quarterback that defenses have to respect in the running game. Manning’s presence would help hold the backside edge in place, and if he cheats down, the freshman can use his wheels to get to the second level.
It will also be an advantageous option to have during passing downs. Not to open up old wounds, but Dillon Gabriel’s legs were the main reason Oklahoma could outlast Texas. Manning’s rushing threat will force teams to play more zone coverage, giving the young quarterback time to find his windows. You could find some balance with RPO looks supplemented by a deep shot or two each quarter.
No, I do not think Manning is Johnny Manziel 2.0 regarding his scrambling ability, but he is capable enough to threaten a defense. With Ewers on the sidelines, Coach Sarkisian will have to manufacture points. The Texas offense will need as many avenues to pick up yards as possible. Manning’s legs could be that extra threat that proves to be the difference in a tight Big 12 battle.