West Virginia head coach Neal Brown and defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley had nothing but good things to say toward Texas’ Steve Sarkisian during their respective news conferences on Tuesday.
With Sarkisian’s resume serving as support, he’s earned the respect of the Mountaineers’ coaching staff.
Sarkisian is a two-time national champion as a coach, taking the title with USC in 2003 and Alabama in 2020. He was the offensive coordinator for two stints with the Crimson Tide, among other schools, and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, as well as being the head coach for Washington, USC and now, Texas.
“Sark is as good of a play caller as there is in college football,” Brown said. “I have a lot of respect for that brand, that team. I look forward to Saturday night down in Austin.”
Throughout his 22 years of coaching, Sarkisian has stuck to a similar gameplan while calling his offenses, attempting to establish the run while mixing in deep passes.
Sarkisian’s tendencies have sometimes led to his team facing longer third down conversion attempts, but still have lots of success. He follows this by exhibiting a tactical offense in the red zone. The Longhorns want touchdowns, not field goals.
But, of course, sometimes the script gets tossed. Things change.
This is what other coaches, including Lesley and Brown, say sets Sarkisian apart from the others. When different players enter his scheme, Sarkisian’s tendencies adapt with the skills of his personnel.
“His ability to get who he has into a position to play is as good as anybody’s,” Lesley said. “Every coach has tendencies, but I think every good coach and every good play caller has their tendencies asked on what their team is capable of.
“I think everybody has a tendency of what they do, no matter what their players are. Then, that’s not fair to the player, because that might be asking him to do something he cannot do. I think that’s what sticks out with me with coach Sarkisian. His tendencies change.”
Entering Saturday night’s matchup with the Mountaineers, Sarkisian is currently faced with another choice with how to handle his quarterback situation.
Sarkisian said all of his quarterbacks practiced on Monday during his media availability, but the decision of who will be starting, whether it will be Hudson Card, Quinn Ewers, or neither, is up in the air.
No matter who trots onto the field for Texas’ first offensive possession, Brown said it will not matter to his defense. His team’s strategy will remain the same.
“Both of those guys are similar,” Brown said. “We played against Card last year some, but he wasn’t full speed, so I don’t know if that’s an accurate depiction of him or not. There are probably more similarities than differences. How we prepare is not going to be much different depending on who plays.”
Ewers, a first-year quarterback following a transfer from Ohio State, was the Longhorns’ starter for the first two games this season. He sustained a sprained clavicle in his throwing shoulder during the second quarter of Texas’ second game against Alabama.
Card, who played the majority of the season at quarterback for Texas last year, took over and nearly led the Longhorns to victory before falling 20-19. Card then paced Texas to a win over Texas-San Antonio before dropping an overtime contest to rival Texas Tech last week.
Card threw for 123 yards and a score in last season’s 31-23 loss to West Virginia.
“Texas loses their QB in the second quarter of the second game against a pretty good team, and the game still could’ve went either way,” Lesley said. “That tells me all I need to know about the offense and what they’re capable of doing.”
Through two-and-a-half games, Card has thrown for 620 yards, three touchdowns and one interception while boasting a 66% completion percentage. He has also ran for 56 yards on 13 attempts.
Prior to his injury, Ewers completed 25-of-38 passes for 359 yards. He recorded two touchdowns and an interception.
Lesley said he expects Ewers to return to the lineup, and his defense understands how talented both quarterbacks are.
“I don’t go too deep down the rabbit hole on stats and why they are what they are unless something is glaring,” Lesley said. “(Ewers) has played hard and made plays. They both obviously have that ability. The things we’ve got to focus on is what they’re capable of doing.”