With Texas Longhorns freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger in concussion protocol on Monday and his availability in question for Saturday’s game against the Baylor Bears, sophomore Shane Buechele may have to resume his starting role.
Buechele hasn’t seen extended playing time in nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury in a 17-7 win against Iowa State. In that game, Buechele completed 19-of-26 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, while adding 13 carries for 42 yards.
The good news is that while he’s still wearing a brace, he’s moving and throwing the football better than he has been.
“Yeah, Shane is as good as probably he's going to be all season,” head coach Tom Herman said on Monday. “He's still wearing a brace on the ankle to protect it more than anything right now, but it feels good.”
The Texas head coach said that Buechele’s velocity has recently returned — he was having trouble pushing off his right ankle after suffering the injury. When Buechele has to escape the pocket or keep the ball on a read-option play, Herman said it’s “not a gallop like it was.”
If Ehlinger isn’t available, the ‘Horns will also have to prepare emergency quarterback Jerrod Heard for more action — the junior hasn’t been used in his largely run-based situational package since the San Jose State game. However, if Buechele were to leave the game against Baylor, Heard would have to step into the quarterback role.
The hope of the coaching staff is that the worst-case scenario won’t become a reality and Buechele’s improved health and continued engagement will pay off for the team.
“I couldn't be more proud of the way he's handled it, and I tell him every week, I tell him thank you for being there for his brother, for being there for his team, not just for Sam, but for the entire team as a leader,” Herman said. “He's handled it magnificently, and I'm sure he'll handle this next phase of it magnificently as well.”
Getting through a game healthy is one of the biggest concerns with Buechele — he’s only started two games this season and was hurt in both. In the first game, it was a bruised shoulder that kept him out of the next two games. Against Iowa State, it was the sprained ankle.
And then there’s the concern about his pocket presence, as Buechele has struggled in that area and would be playing behind an offensive line with might only feature one starter remaining from the Maryland game.
With the offensive line reeling from injuries and the running game missing last season’s Doak Walker Award winner, it’s unlikely that Buechele will resemble the quarterback he was during his best moments last season.
But he will be close to full health. When the game starts, at least.