Why Arch Manning is unlikely to start at QB for Texas as Quinn Ewers recovers from shoulder injury

Why Arch Manning is unlikely to start at QB for Texas as Quinn Ewers recovers from shoulder injury

When Arch Manning signed with Texas last year, he was viewed as the savior. The signal-caller who will not only usher Texas into the SEC era but also elevate the Longhorns back to the top of the college football world. So, when redshirt sophomore Quinn Ewers left Saturday’s game against Houston with a sprained AC joint, some may have expected to see the next generation of the Manning dynasty get his time to shine. Instead, however, it was redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy who entered the game in place of the injured Ewers. 

Still, with Ewers diagnosed as “week-to-week” on Monday and the starting spot up for grabs, maybe now is when the grand announcement of Manning’s impending arrival as starter takes place? Well, no. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday that it will likely be Murphy, not Manning, who will get the start vs. BYU on Saturday.

“Arch and Maalik will both get a ton or reps,” Sarkisian said. “If the game was today, Maalik would start and Arch would be ready to come in.”  

So, why not Manning? Well, you see, keeping Manning away from the field in his true freshman season has been Sarkisian’s plan all along. 

Maalik Murphy is the safer option

Murphy has been the unquestioned second-teamer all season. He came in for mop-up duty against Rice and Baylor while Manning has yet to attempt a college pass. 

“[Murphy]’s always had the highlight plays, but then there’s been plays that were not-so-highlight in taking care of the football,” Sarkisian said after the season-opener vs. Rice. “I think he’s done a much better job of doing that. Clearly, I think we saw glimpses of some of the throws that he was able to make in that ballgame last week.

It’s not difficult to read between the lines there. 

Murphy, who stands at 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, provides a unique skill set that transforms the Texas offense into more of a “Cam Newton-style” scheme — especially if Murphy can manage the game like a seasoned-veteran. That’s a much safer option than it would be for Manning to enter the game. If Murphy can successfully manage the offense and, at the same time, provide a unique skill set that will still make it difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for, it shouldn’t come as a shock that he’s the guy. 

Preserving Arch Manning’s redshirt

Calling Murphy the safer option isn’t a slight against Manning by any stretch. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound freshman has a ton of potential and is almost certainly the “quarterback of the future” in Austin, Texas. However, after the 37-10 win over Rice in Week 1, Sarkisian suggested that “Plan A” was, at the time, to redshirt the former No. 1 overall prospect. 

“Quite frankly I had all intentions of playing Arch in that game,” Sarkisian said. “I didn’t think that the fourth quarter would go as fast as it did, and then I didn’t want to put him in there for the last minute and a half and use a game on that.”

The words “use a game on that” are doing a lot of work in that quote. Players can appear in four games and still keep their redshirt, so it’s pretty easy to connect the dots from what Sark said back in September. 

Texas has five games left — home games vs. BYU, Kansas State and Texas Tech, as well as road trips to TCU and Iowa State. The youngster is already on the brink of preserving his redshirt, so why would Sark rip off the bandage now knowing that he can start with Murphy and still use Manning for the majority of what’s left in the regular season? That would make no sense. If Murphy struggles, Texas makes the Big 12 Championship Game and/or potentially the College Football Playoff, Sarkisian can re-asses the situation. Or, in an ideal world, just re-insert Ewers when he’s ready to go.

The plan to preserve Manning’s redshirt now isn’t made within a vacuum, either. 

Ewers is the No. 5 quarterback prospect and the No. 35 overall player in the CBS Sports 2024 NFL prospect rankings. College players get paid a lot of money now in the era of name, image and likeness, but it’s fair to assume that Ewers will give serious consideration to making the jump to the NFL. Assuming that happens, Sarkisian would enter the 2024 season — Texas’ first in the SEC — with a very healthy quarterback situation. The transfer portal, of course, could be attractive to Murphy or Manning (or both). That’s just the way it is nowadays. However, entering a critical offseason with a very competitive quarterback battle would provide a great foundation as Texas makes the jump to its new conference.