In accounting for 487 yards of total offense, Texas Longhorns freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger seemingly took control of the position and the team in leading the ‘Horns to a thrilling 40-34 victory in double overtime against the Kansas State Wildcats, a long-time nemesis.
After the defense got a huge stop courtesy of two holding calls and Kansas State kicker Matthew McCrane missed a long field goal as a result, Ehlinger put Texas in a position to win by hitting sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson for a 12-yard gain and then trucking a Wildcat defender on his way to a nine-yard run.
Three blockers — freshman right tackle Derek Kerstetter, junior right guard Jake McMillon, and senior tight end Kendal Moore — helped usher junior running back Chris Warren III four yards into the end zone for the walk-off win.
Teamwork for the win.
In the first overtime, Ehlinger hit junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard down the seam for a 25-yard touchdown on the first play, but Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton, who replaced starter Jesse Ertz, was able to keep the Wildcats in the game.
Not only did the Longhorns start the game with Ehlinger as the quarterback, but there were also some more changes along the offensive line. Sophomore center Zach Shackelford sprained his surgically-repaired ankle and was replaced in the lineup by junior Terrell Cuney. And on the left side, sophomore Denzel Okafor replaced senior Tristan Nickelson at tackle.
At quarterback, Ehlinger was hardly perfect, throwing an interception on his first pass, fumbling a zone read, and missing redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps early on a key fourth-down play near the Kansas State goal line.
The ‘Horns didn’t come away with any points after sophomore running back Kyle Porter’s run on first down was initially ruled a touchdown. Ehlinger’s pass to senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard on a fade wasn’t quite high enough, either.
However, the freshman showed some special qualities in the first half — the offense just felt different with him in the game. And looks different moving forward with Ehlinger as the likely starter.
And the freshman was also able to orchestrate three key first-half drives. The first two responded to potentially momentum-changing touchdowns by Kansas State and the third ended the first half by securing the lead for the ‘Horns.
Ehlinger also showed a high level of awareness in spotting open running lanes on drop backs and his trademark toughness between the tackles on called plays. Overall, Ehlinger ran nine times for 59 yards in the first half, with a long run of 24 yards. For the game, he racked up 107 yards on 20 carries.
Through the air, he completed 30-of-50 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns, along with an interception thrown on the first play of the game.
Defensively, the ‘Horns started well and largely stopped the running game of the Wildcats, but it was big plays through the air that hurt Texas in the first half.
On a 3rd and 11 from the Texas three-yard line early in the second quarter, Kansas State picked up a pass-interference penalty on junior cornerback Holton Hill on a double move for a key penalty.
The Wildcats promptly took advantage by hitting an 82-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dalton Schoen over the middle. In a confusing coverage choice, B-backer Naashon Hughes lined up over Schoen and didn’t re-direct or carry the wide receiver vertically.
When junior cornerback PJ Locke III, who was lined up at safety on the play, didn’t identify the coverage bust in front of him, he was too late to react to the route by Schoen. After that, it was off to the races.
Schoen struck again in the red zone when he beat Locke inside for a 12-yard touchdown after Kansas State was pushed back after a touchdown was called back for a hold.
Anyone else have Jordy Nelson nightmares watching Schoen?
While the passing game of Kansas State was remarkably effective, in part because the Wildcats noticed a tendency of Longhorns cornerback to bite on double moves, the running game never got going in the first half. On 14 carries, Kansas State produced only 16 yards.
In the second half, however, Alex Delton entered the game at quarterback as a replacement for an injured Jesse Ertz and provided a huge boost to the running game. All of a sudden, the Wildcats started finding big seams, with Delton gaining 79 yards on 12 carries.
For coordinator Tim Beck’s offense, Ehlinger was the most effective runner, but freshman running back Toneil Carter also looked dangerous, taking six carries for 32 yards and consistently winning the edge against a Kansas State defense that couldn’t match his athleticism.
Frustratingly, Carter often came out of the game immediately after his carries. Why not run the same play until the opponent proves that it can stop it? In the second half, he didn’t receive any carries at all.
Overall, Beck was mostly able to put the offense in positions to succeed, aided greatly by Ehlinger’s ability to make off-schedule plays with his legs. His pocket presence, in particular, was exceptional compared to Shane Buechele, the sophomore who sat on Saturday in part due to an ankle injury he suffered against Iowa State.
On special teams, the issues continued for junior kicker Josh Rowland, who has now hit on only 4-of-9 attempts this season. He missed from 27 yards when he could have tied the game late and then missed a 45-yard field goal that would have won the game in regulation. Every attempt feels like an adventure with the Kicker now.
So there is probably some continued trauma in the future as it regards the kicking game, but the ‘Horns showed some remarkable toughness and mental fortitude in beating a program that has often out-played it in recent years. And the offense appeared to develop its identity and find a quarterback
There’s plenty of growth to feel good about and plenty of room for improvement.
With Oklahoma losing to Iowa State in a shocking upset on Saturday in Norman, the outlook for next week is improved with this win, especially after the patchwork offensive line did enough to win.
This one feels good.