With less than five days until the Texas Longhorns face off against the Missouri Tigers in the Texas Bowl, head coach Tom Herman said that sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele is nearly locked in as the starter during a Friday media availability.
Buechele and freshman Sam Ehlinger had been splitting reps in practice relatively evenly as recently as last week, but Ehlinger’s turnovers late in the season, particularly the costly interception against Texas Tech, cost him the job. In contrast, Herman said Buechele hasn’t done anything to lose it.
However, expect Ehlinger to also see playing time — in the last two games of the season, the back-up quarterback saw action on the third series.
At left tackle, junior Elijah Rodriguez will see his first action of the season and start in place of senior Tristan Nickelson and sophomore Denzel Okafor. Both players received starts there due to the knee injury suffered by departed All-American left tackle Connor Williams early in the season.
Rodriguez missed all 12 games of the regular season after undergoing surgery for a high ankle sprain in preseason camp. When the ‘Horns played the Red Raiders to close the season, Rodriguez was medically cleared, but not ready to play.
If Rodriguez can seize control of the position, that would be a best-case scenario for Texas heading into the 2018 season — Okafor could move back to the right side or work at his more natural position of guard, depending on whether freshman Derek Kerstetter can hold onto his role as the starter at right tackle.
Even with that potential development, Herman said that the plan is still to add a graduate transfer offensive tackle or another junior college prospect at the position. The latter pursuit got more difficult with the news on Thursday evening that Arizona Western College’s Jahmir Johnson is no longer considering the Longhorns.
On the defensive side, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson continues to receive around-the-clock treatment for his turf toe injury, but is “very doubtful” to play against Missouri. In fact, Herman said that it hurts for Jefferson to walk despite the long layoff since the Texas Tech game.