Aggies and Longhorns face QB conundrum

Courtesy of Casey Thompson's Twitter

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Texas and Texas A&M entered the 2021 season with the same problem: Replace a multiple-year starter at quarterback. And like a long-time spouse, a good portion of both fan bases though life would be better on the other side. Those assumptions are being proven false through two weeks of the season. The grass isn’t always greener or burnt orange or maroon. 

Let’s start with Texas A&M. Head coach Jimbo Fisher inherited Kellen Mond. The San Antonio native, and IMG Academy product, left College Station as the all-time leader in total offense, passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, and attempts. He started 44 games in his four-year career and finished 3-0 in bowl games. 

Mond was considered a game manager without the upside of Haynes King, who started the first two games of the 2021 season for Texas A&M. King threw three interceptions in the Week 1 win over Kent State and then exited the game against Colorado in Week 2 with an ankle injury that will sideline him until at least mid-October, according to a report by CBS Sports. 

He was replaced by Zach Calzada, a sophomore who didn’t play in 2020 and only threw one pass attempt in the opener against Kent State. Calzada did lead Texas A&M on a game-winning drive at Colorado when he found Isaiah Spiller on an 18-yard touchdown completion late in the fourth quarter. It was the only touchdown drive for the Aggies in the 10-7 win. He’ll now be asked to lead the offense for the next few games, including SEC matchups with Arkansas and Alabama. 

Texas is dealing with a different problem at the same position. Opening week starter Hudson Card wasn’t injured in the 40-21 loss at Arkansas, but his poor play prompted Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian to bring in Casey Thompson in the fourth quarter. 

Thompson, who played excellently in the Alamo Bowl game win over Colorado for an injured Sam Ehlinger, promptly led the Longhorns on two scoring drives that were punctuated by a pair of rushing touchdowns. His athleticism gives Texas a different dimension at quarterback, and one it needs with a struggling offensive line. Sarkisian announced at a press conference on Monday that Thompson will start this weekend against Rice. 

The expectations at both schools are high. Texas A&M finished 9-1 in a pandemic-shortened season in 2020 behind the leadership and consistency of Mond. The Aggies’ only loss was against national champion Alabama, and the season ended with a 41-27 Orange Bowl win over North Carolina.

Pundits took notice and Texas A&M entered the season as one a handful of teams expected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Those hopes were almost derailed in Boulder, Colorado over the weekend. Calzada was 18-of-38 for 183 yards and that one touchdown in the win. More importantly, he didn’t throw an interception. Opposing teams are going to stack the box against A&M’s high-powered rushing attack in order to put pressure on Calzada. 

Expectations are always high in Austin whether it is warranted or not. For a better part of 15 years, those expectations were too much for the Longhorns. A new coach always provides renewed energy, and it looked like Sarkisian found the recipe in a 20-point win in Week 1 over a ranked Louisiana squad full of experience. That recipe was dashed the following week when the Longhorns were bullied by a future SEC opponent in Arkansas. 

Card was 8-of-15 for 61 yards in three quarters of action. Thompson was 5-of-8 for 57 yards, and he added 44 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Card possesses the higher as a passer. Thompson provides a better option when the blocking breaks down, and the blocking broke down plenty against the Razorbacks. 

Texas and Texas A&M appear to have the same problem. Neither team knows who the long-term solution at quarterback is. Sarkisian and Fisher experienced their best seasons as head coaches and assistants when the quarterback play is an advantage. That doesn’t look true right now. None of the options at either school look ready to replace the production or leadership of Mond or Ehlinger. And that is bad news for the high hopes held by both fan bases. 

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