If conventional wisdom tells us that when a team has two good quarterbacks it doesn’t have any, what happens if a team has four?
The million dollar question surrounding the Longhorns fall camp is obviously, “Who will be their starting quarterback?”
Coaches are taking their time answering the question and are hesitant to indicate any separation between the field generals, even with the season opener just eight days away. Although it’s not official yet, junior Garrett Gilbert will likely be the starter. Gilbert, last year’s starting quarterback, has steadily improved this offseason, as evidenced by his performance in last Friday’s scrimmage.
“I thought he had a clean scrimmage,” said co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. “He took care of the ball really well. He made some really good decisions in the red zone. He had some formations here and there that he straightened out.”
That scrimmage saw two quarterbacks throw touchdown passes. Gilbert found senior tailback Cody Johnson in the end zone on a short toss while Case McCoy hit freshman Jaxon Shipley off his back foot for a score. McCoy, a sophomore, is in a similar situation as his older brother when he first arrived on the 40 Acres. Colt McCoy was once an unheralded redshirt freshman who was expected to backup Jevan Snead, a more highly touted quarterback, before he won the job and eventually won a NCAA-record 45 games. Five years later, Case is giving Gilbert a run for his money.
“As a coach, you want to have to make the most difficult decision on who’s going to be the starter because you’re splitting hairs and that means you’ve got a pretty good team,” said Bryan Harsin, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Another guy who’s making the decision difficult is David Ash. The true freshman from Belton put up gaudy numbers in high school (3,400 yards, 41 touchdowns) and enrolled early so he could participate in spring workouts. Ash was also a first-team all-district punter as a high school senior but he won’t be involved in the kicking game unless he makes it on the two-deep.
With the way Ash has impressed coaches this offseason, that’s a legitimate possibility.
“[David Ash]’s done a great job,” Applewhite said. “He’s a physical specimen. He’s a big kid. He’s very strong and has a natural feel to him about the position. He’s done really well.”
The fourth and final candidate to win the starting quarterback job is redshirt freshman Connor Wood, who seems to be on the outside looking in. There have been rumors throughout the offseason that Wood was thinking about transferring. It may not be an awful choice considering the history Texas quarterbacks have after they transfer. Snead and G.J. Kinne struggled to see the field while playing for the Longhorns but went on to have incredibly successful college careers elsewhere. Snead threw for more than 5,000 yards while going 18-8 as a starter for Mississippi. Kinne led Tulsa to a 10-3 record last year and has accumulated 6,382 yards and 51 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Even with the way McCoy, Ash and Wood have played this offseason, it’s disturbing that Gilbert hasn’t clinched the starting job considering that his trio of challengers have combined for one pass attempt – an incompletion by Case McCoy in the fourth quarter against Rice last season. Gilbert, after all, is the one who lofted two touchdown passes to Jordan Shipley in a national title game two years ago. He’s the one who brought Texas within a field goal in that contest despite facing a defense that featured three future first-round picks. However, he’s also the one who started all 12 games last season, won just five of them, and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Now, he’s got a clean slate.
“You’ve got to help him understand that there’s 10 other guys on the field,” Applewhite said. “Some of the mistakes he may have made during the season were compounded by the situation we found ourselves in. We have to explain to him that, ‘We’re not going to put you behind the 8-ball as much.’ It’s going to be more team-oriented. It won’t be as quarterback-driven like it was with Colt or with Vince.”
College football has changed a lot during the last few years. The quarterback position has never been more important.
Regardless of how this quarterback battle ends, the Longhorns will need much better play from behind center than they had last season if they want to avoid another disappointing year.