Any hopes that early enrollee quarterback Sam Ehlinger had of wresting the starting quarterback job away from Shane Buechele took a significant hit on Saturday during the first Orange-White game under head coach Tom Herman.
The 52-51 win by the Orange over the White came as Herman tweaked the scoring system from previous years:
Buechele started the game out with a bang by connecting on his first three attempts, including a 14-yard strike to fellow sophomore Collin Johnson. The California product and inseparable companion of Buechele continues to look poised for a breakout sophomore season after catching three touchdowns in 2016.
In 2017, that number could certainly triple — Johnson is 6’6 and listed at 215 pounds.
Buechele’s second spring game in Austin wrapped up with an impressive display, completing 22-39 passes for 369 yards and two passing touchdowns, along with a rushing touchdown on the goal line. Buechele was intercepted once by Chris Brown.
As far as coaching points, film will provide a better perspective on how well the defense ran to the football, but Herman certainly won’t be happy with three fumbles offensively since ball security was the primary point of emphasis for the offense.
After struggling with placekicker play for a couple of years is that become much easier to ignore those issues.
In fact, junior college transfer Josh Rowland was a pleasant surprise, hitting three-of-four field goal attempts with the lone miss coming from 49 yards.
Three more lessons
The first-team defense destroyed the second-team offense
Ehlinger didn’t have much of a chance for much of the scrimmage — there’s plenty of depth in the wide receivers corps, but the difference between the starters and back ups on defense is significant.
The fact that longtime senior starter Jason Hall and junior Davante Davis were out for the game didn’t help.
On offense, the back-up offensive linemen just aren’t ready to play at a high level, which caused Ehlinger to spend most of his afternoon trying to buy time in a format where his physicality as a runner doesn’t matter in a setting where the whistle blows so quickly.
For the most part, the first-team defense swarmed and there wasn’t much for Ehlinger to do other than take sacks. However, Ehlinger was able to hit the windows that were there and threw a fantastic ball to sophomore Lil’Jordan Humprey to beat Kris Boyd in the second half. He finished the day completing just 8-31 attempts for 162 yards and one touchdown pass.
Collin Johnson looks set for a big year
One of several match-up problems for opponents outside, Johnson keeps getting better at using his height, wing span, and body positioning to make it easy for Buechele to put the ball where only his friend can make a play on it.
Right now, the back-up cornerbacks aren’t ready to contribute at a high level, allowing Johnson to take advantage in a big way. He’s too physical and too big to leave him single-covered without safety help when he’s one on one.
Shading towards the boundary will no doubt be a point of emphasis for safeties coach Craig Naivar in wrapping up the spring game because the result on Saturday was six for the offense on several occasions.
Going to set the over/under at the number of touchdowns for Collin at seven.
The defense is humming under Todd Orlando
Well, the first-team defense looks ready for the season, at least, despite some attrition, as the multiple looks provided by Orlando kept the offensive line guessing.
The blitzes and stunts employed by the defensive front proved effective, while the ability for individual talent to flash in the scrimmage was readily apparent — whether the defense will be fractionally or substantially better next season is still unknown.
There is definitely cause for optimism, however.