Originally found on Fox Sports:
Nov. 6, 2023 7:42 p.m. ET
AUSTIN, Texas — Everybody wants to know when Quinn Ewers will be back.
The injured Texas quarterback has missed the last two games due to a sprained shoulder. Coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that he’s “day to day,” which seems like progress given the last update he gave a week ago was that Ewers was “week to week.” He said Ewers threw a little in practice late last week and did so again on Monday.
Will he play Saturday when No. 7 Texas travels to TCU?
“We’ll continue to see how he feels,” Sarkisian said. “Ultimately, this is a ‘How does he feel? What does it feel like? Where is he at? [situation].’ I can give my assessment on the capability to operate our offense, but ultimately, how does he feel? And so we’ll navigate that this week.”
The final three weeks of this regular season are high stakes for the Longhorns. If they beat TCU, then Iowa State on the road, followed by Texas Tech at home, they will go to the Big 12 championship game. Win that, and there will likely be a College Football Playoff berth waiting. In order to achieve those goals, it would be ideal to have a healthy starting quarterback.
But Sarkisian is confident in backup Maalik Murphy, who has started the past two weeks in wins over BYU and Kansas State. He threw two interceptions and had two other balls that were near-picks in a 33-30 overtime win over the Wildcats on Saturday, and finished the day 19-of-37 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
He started off looking impressively comfortable in the offense, however. In the first quarter, he was 7-of-11 for 152 yards and a touchdown. On the third possession, he showed off his cannon of an arm with a perfectly thrown 47-yard toss to Adonai Mitchell. Texas led 10-0 after the first quarter and 17-7 at halftime before Kansas State mounted a comeback.
Sarkisian said Saturday and reiterated Monday that the biggest thing he’s working on with Murphy after two starts is knowing when to throw the ball away. Not every play is going to be the play.
“One of the hardest plays a quarterback ever has to make is throwing the ball away because you think competitively, there’s always a throw I can make,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a big challenge to coach. It’s a big challenge for the player to understand the value in that. Hopefully, he learns from that.”
What Sarkisian liked about Murphy on Saturday was that he bounced back after throwing those interceptions. In the fourth quarter with the game tied 27-27, he led a drive that resulted in a field goal. But he made critical throws to Mitchell on a second-and-20, to tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders on fourth down, and later nearly had a touchdown pass to wide receiver Xavier Worthy on a third down. The last one could have been a holding penalty or pass interference, but it was ruled incomplete.
“It was the right read and things were there for him to make that play,” Sarkisian explained. “But he should feel like we have the utmost faith in him because we do.”
Murphy was dejected after the game, which was noticeable for a guy who’s full of personality and confidence. He said the turnovers were “uncharacteristic” and thanked his teammates for “staying with me, not getting down on me and not losing faith in what we had going on offense,” Murphy said.
If Ewers needs more time to recover, waiting in the wings of course is Arch Manning, who fans are anxious to see get on the field. Reps at practice right now is a “balancing act,” Sarkisian said, with Ewers throwing again and the two backups needing that preparation. But he has seen progress from Manning, a true freshman and former No. 1 overall recruit in the 2023 class.
Sarkisian said he’s been learning “more and more about his skill set,” and is impressed with his “conviction and ability to throw the ball down the field with a great deal of accuracy.”
“I think the second part about his game that I’m really encouraged about is he is very athletic,” Sarkisian continued. “He’s a strong, powerful guy. He’s got good speed about him. So his game gives a little different versatility and twist to his style of pay.”
Whether that means the Longhorns will put the ball in his hands against the Horned Frogs or not remains to be seen. Murphy loves a good quarterback battle and is no stranger to them. He also knows he can’t get too excited or look ahead. If he’s going to keep playing while Ewers can’t, he has to remain composed.
“I wouldn’t have anybody out there if I didn’t think they were good enough to help us win,” Sarkisian said. “And Maalik is good enough to help us win. Because when he’s hot, he’s great. The key is not every throw is gonna go for that big, explosive touchdown play. Sometimes it’s OK to check it down, sometimes it’s OK to throw it away, it’s OK to punt.”
Saturday could be another test to see if Murphy has learned from those mistakes.
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter at @LakenLitman.
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