AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — With Quinn Ewers in front of him and hotshot freshman Arch Manning closing from behind, Maalik Murphy could have easily bolted from Texas for somewhere else to play quarterback.
Few would have questioned such a move in an era of routine player transfers.
Murphy chose instead to stay in Austin and wait for a chance like he is getting Saturday. With Ewers recovering from a sprained throwing shoulder, Murphy will get his first career start when the No. 7 Longhorns (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) host BYU (5-2, 2-2).
“There’s going to be some excitement in his bones. Let's make sure we play well around him,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said Thursday.
Earlier in the week, Sarkisian praised Murphy as a “natural passer.”
“He throws a very beautiful ball,” Sarkisian said earlier in the week. “There’s not a throw he can’t make.”
Texas fans saw that in the spring game. Manning, an early enrollee, got a big cheer when he took the field. But it was Murphy who got everyone's attention by going 9-of-13 passing for 165 yards and a touchdown.
“I've always told him his time will come,” Texas offensive tackle Kelvin Banks said this week.
Murphy has played in four games this season, mostly in mop-up duty. He took over the offense in the third quarter against Houston after Ewers was hurt. Murphy threw only two passes, but directed the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Ewers has passed for 1,915 yards ands 13 touchdowns this season. He did not seem bothered by the last hit he took on a run against Houston, but he left the game two plays later. He later left the stadium with his arm in a sling. Sarkisian has called his status “week-to-week.”
Manning, the nephew of former NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, has not played this season. He will also get snaps with the first team in practice and will have to be ready to play if called upon, Sarkisian said.
“I haven’t made a decision if I’m going to get Arch in there just to get him in there,” Sarkisian said.
BYU will face an opponent's backup quarterback for the third consecutive week in the Cougars' first season in the Big 12. Texas leaves for the Southeastern Conference next season.
“We kind of just treat every quarterback the same,” BYU defensive lineman Jackson Cravens said. “At this level, I feel like most QBs are pretty good, backup or not."
Murphy's best friend this week could be tailback Jonathon Brooks. He has 825 yards rushing and six touchdowns. But Brooks was short of 100 yards against Houston — he had 99 — for the first time in five games. Another big game from him could remove a lot of pressure from Murphy.
Texas has more than Ewers banged up at midseason, notably on defense. Also listed by Sarkisian as week-to-week is sacks col-leader Ethan Burke, who left the game late against Houston. Hard-hitting transfer safety Jalon Catalon has not played since the first half against Oklahoma, and starting cornerback Ryan Watts, missed the last two games.
Cougars receivers Chase Roberts and Darius Lassiter have combined for eight touchdown catches and the Texas secondary has been shaky the last two games. If Roberts and Lassiter can find early connections with Kedon Slovis, the Cougars could trade punches with Texas.
Sarkisian played quarterback at BYU in 1995-96 and put his name alongside some of the program's greatest passers. He is one of six BYU quarterbacks to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season, finished his career with 55 touchdowns and led the Cougars to a 14-1 and No. 5 finish his senior season. Sarkisian faced his old program in 2010 when he was the coach at Washington and beat BYU 23-17.
After failing to ram the ball into the end zone in a key series against Oklahoma, Texas added a new goal-line wrinkle against Houston: running back Savion Red in the wildcat formation. Red scored Texas' second touchdown against Houston and if it worked once, Sarkisian is sure to use it again in short yardage situations.