While head coach Tom Herman and the Texas Longhorns avoided a full-fledged quarterback controversy eight days ago in Ames by keeping freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger on the bench against the Iowa St. Cyclones, the ankle injury suffered by sophomore starter Shane Buechele is significant.
As a result, multiple outlets reported on Friday that Ehlinger is expected to start against the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday. Horns247 broke the news. An hour before kick off on Saturday, the school confirmed the news.
Buechele, who already missed two games this season with a bruised throwing shoulder, was limited in practice on Thursday, leaving questions about his availability and overall health.
On Monday, Herman said that Buechele would receive a PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) injection in an attempt to aid his recovery, which has also included wearing a walking boot when he isn’t practicing.
“We think that he'll be — he won't be a hundred percent, but a quarterback with an ankle probably doesn't need to be a hundred percent to be serviceable,” Herman said.
The problem is that, while Herman’s offense can work without an above-average rushing threat at quarterback, the current state of the running game is increasing the pressure on the position to make plays on the ground.
Hence Buechele carrying the ball 13 times and nearly leading the team in rushing against Iowa State.
So, serviceable apparently isn’t good enough, especially because Buechele’s shoulder didn’t look healthy eight days ago based on his overall velocity and lack of deep throws. As the counterpoint, however, an Iowa State scheme that often dropped eight defenders into coverage and doubled deep threats like sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson made throws down the field nearly impossible.
The bigger question has been whether an injured Buechele is better than a heathy Ehlinger. During a Thursday media availability, Herman paused when asked what Buechele is doing better than Ehlinger in practice.
“He's getting the ball out quicker and more accurately in the throwing game,” Herman said. “He's seeing things before they happen a tiny bit better.”
Getting the ball out on time is an extremely important quality given the well-documented issues along the offensive line, but the fact that Ehlinger is now anticipating plays develop nearly as well as Buechele is a significant development.
With the older quarterback limited in practice, Buechele and Ehlinger split time with the ones during Kansas State prep. Meanwhile, Herman’s late-week comment seemed to indicate there isn’t much separation between the two, a belief seemingly confirmed by Friday’s news.
For every football team, protecting the football is paramount, and Buechele hasn’t separated himself in that area, either. Like Ehlinger, he’s thrown two interceptions, but doesn’t have the excuse of those mistakes coming on the road against a highly-ranked opponent. Like Ehlinger, he’s had ball security issues. Not much separation there, either.
As a runner, Ehlinger has now shown a sizable advantage because he’s quicker and, well, has better size than Buechele. With Buechele often showing poor pocket presence and even making some mistakes on read-option plays against the ‘Clones, there is clear separation in that area.
Especially with Buechele limited in practice 48 hours before an important game.
All things considered, it’s clearly time to play the healthy quarterback who can actually help the running game — Herman said he has “great” confidence in Ehlinger, who proved against USC that he can compete at a high level in a big game.
“All of us in this program believe in him and believe that he can win us football games,” Herman said.
Now there will be another data point to add to that discussion.