AUSTIN, Texas – Garrett Gilbert has earned a second chance to be the starting quarterback at Texas.
The junior who threw 17 interceptions as Texas went 5-7 last season was announced Monday as the starter for the Longhorns’ season opener Saturday night at home against Rice.
Gilbert won a four-way battle for the job in new coordinator Bryan Harsin’s offense. The Longhorns threw the position open after Texas had one of its worst offensive seasons in 20 years in 2010 and Gilbert wound up throwing for just 10 touchdowns.
The question now is just how strong of a hold does he have on the job and how quickly would Texas go to No. 2 Case McCoy if Gilbert struggles?
“He’s the starting quarterback at Texas. If he moves the ball and scores, he’ll keep it,” coach Make Brown said. “He wouldn’t be our starting quarterback if we didn’t have faith in Garrett.”
Texas’ depth chart had been kept secret through training camp, but Gilbert said he was told a week ago he had moved to No. 1 after the team’s second scrimmage.
Harsin tried to make the competition as intense as possible between Gilbert, McCoy and freshmen David Ash and Connor Wood. The Longhorns charted every pass of every drill, third down conversion and touchdown drive during camp, and Harsin said Gilbert had the best understanding of the plays, defensive reads and audibles.
After Gilbert struggled in the first scrimmage, he was busted out of the top spot and told to work his way back up as the others were given snaps with the first team, Harsin said.
“He competed,” Harsin said. “He built himself back into the position he is now.”
Gilbert called the competition fun and said the four quarterbacks have a good relationship.
“All summer, during spring, I was just worried about trying to improve … The quarterback controversy or whatever, I knew that would settle itself,” he said. “I’m not concerned about making mistakes. I’m just concerned about playing football, even if that means handing the ball off every play.”
Gilbert’s teammates said they have watched him grow into a better leader.
“He has that spark in his eye and wants to do great,” guard David Snow said. “He’s improved dramatically.”
Whether Gilbert proves to be a rah-rah leader or quiet one is immaterial, Harsin said.
“Alpha male or not, ultimately what the 10 other guys care about is ‘Are you going to get me in the end zone?’ ” Harsin said.
The choice of Gilbert as starter is likely to be met with some derision from Texas fans, who watched the Longhorns lose five of seven home games last season and heaped much of their criticism on the former high school All-American from nearby Lake Travis.
Gilbert often looked frustrated and unable to take control of an offense that sputtered badly, particularly in home losses to Iowa State and UCLA, and a road defeat at Kansas State when Gilbert threw five interceptions.
Gilbert said he can’t worry about what fans think of him. He said he held his head high in the offseason and didn’t shy away from the public. He also said he didn’t hear any criticism.
“I guess I don’t have a noticeable face,” joked Gilbert, who at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, stands out in most crowds. “I was able to stay fairly incognito.”
Gilbert, who stays in touch with former Longhorns star quarterback Colt McCoy (Case’s older brother), said the best advice he’s received was not to dwell on the past and concentrate on the competition. McCoy had to beat out Jevan Snead to win the starting role in 2006 and finished his career with 45 victories, an NCAA record for starting quarterbacks.
“It’s not something you can worry about anymore,” Gilbert said. “As far as the quarterback job was concerned, it was all about me.”
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