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The SMO: Sam Ehlinger will win a Heisman Trophy before he leaves Austin

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NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Bethany Hocker-USA TODAY Sports

Obligatory reminder: The Sunday Morning Optimist does not deal in logic or reason. It does not care about facts or figures. It is an emotional overreaction to the preceding game.

I had to take a little break after that one.

After traveling 1100 miles to see Texas take on West Virginia exactly one week after traveling 1000 miles to see Texas lose at Oklahoma State, I entered DKR on Saturday dreading what might happen next.

I don’t want to get too much into the specifics of the game. We all watched it. The offense played phenomenally well and the defense looked like utter garbage.

I have so much respect for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after that game. Going for two — with a potential playoff berth hanging in the balance — is such ‘hang your nuts out’ call. And they went for two — and converted — twice. West Virginia walked out for that two-point conversion knowing they were better than the Texas defense and proved it.

I am now 3-7 in my last 10 Texas games. Each requiring a plane flight. I’m going to need to take a break for a while.


It sucks to lose — but what sucks even more is that the horrific defensive performance on display overshadowed monster performances from quarterback Sam Ehlinger, and wide receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Devin Duvernay.

Let’s start with Ehlinger. On the season, Ehlinger has completed 183-of-285 passes for 2171 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also rushed for 329 yards for another nine touchdowns.

25 total touchdowns against two turnovers — both of which came in the Maryland opener Labor Day weekend. That’s absolutely incredible. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is arguably one of the best quarterbacks in college football — and Ehlinger was the best quarterback on the field last Saturday.

He’s something special. Not only is he good, he has that swagger and energy that Texas quarterbacks have never had before. You can’t quite describe it — but I’ve seen it with guys like Baker Mayfield and Johnny Manziel (whose energy was strong but also lacked control).

Here is where you can see it:

A quick aside: Bumping Mo Bamba by Sheck Wes (if more than half of those words don’t mean anything to you, I understand) at Texas football games is now my new favorite tradition. It’s the Eyes of Texas for those of us who can successfully navigate our iPhone software updates.

And this:

Ehlinger had all the leadership tools — now he has a lot of the on-the-field tools as well. Putting those two things together successfully — and with the help of good coaching — is when great players become legendary players.

LJH — what more can you say about this guy? On two separate occasions in the West Virginia game, LJH turned water into wine. Both plays — on what initially looked like ill-advised balls — showed just how talented LJH is when he plays at max-capacity.

Humphrey finished the game with nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown. He now leads the team with 55 catches for 788 yards and five touchdowns. And, as Wescott pointed out, 11 of Humphrey’s 14 third down catches have gone for first downs. He and Ehlinger are a lethal pairing.

LJH’s special teams play on Saturday was fantastic as well. His instinct as a kick returner offsets any concerns about his speed. You just feel better when he is back there returning kicks.

He’s going to be playing on Sundays. The only question is: How soon?


Defensively, it was ugly.

As a neutral, third-party observer mentioned to me (it was his first UT game), Texas has a fantastic offense and a defensive front-seven that is marginally more talented than your run-of-the-mill D-III squad.

The Texas offense has not turned the ball over in the last eight quarters, but the Texas defense hasn’t forced any turnovers either. In all of Texas’ big wins, the Longhorns dominated the turnover margin. That’s just not happening right now — and it’s turning potential wins into losses.

You’ve read everywhere about how defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is struggling, but with this unit — I’m afraid patience is key. Orlando needs time to get talented guys who fit his system on the roster.

Right now, I’m not sure anyone on this front seven — outside of Gary Johnson — would be anything but preferred walk-ons at a school like Alabama.

In that spirit, I think Texas should let Anthony Cook start in place of Davante Davis the rest of the season. Cook — who played relatively well in his second major outing of the season — is the future of this defensive backfield.

Texas is still playing for the Big 12 title, so they aren’t going to make this move. But if Texas is eliminated from conference championship contention, I think the game-plan should revolve around the new guys. There is a lot of young talent in Austin that will get better quickly with game experience.


But, like I said, the Horn’s Big 12 title hopes are still alive.

Texas is not eliminated from the Big 12 Championship game yet, but it no longer controls its own destiny.

Three teams remain in the hunt alongside the Longhorns (4-2) — Oklahoma (5-1), West Virginia (5-1) and Iowa State (4-2).

If Texas wins out and Oklahoma beats West Virginia, the Mountaineers will face OU again one week later for the title -- as WV holds the tiebreaker over Texas following last week’s brutal loss. If West Virginia beats Oklahoma and Texas wins out, the Horns will get a second shot against the Mountaineers in Dallas.

Assuming Texas and Oklahoma both win out (lofty assumption), a Red River Rivalry rematch game is still a possibility if West Virginia falls to either TCU or Oklahoma State in the next two weeks.

A Big 12 Championship no longer means a playoff invitation for Texas, but the opportunity to play in a NY6 bowl game will help monumentally on the recruiting front.


Perspective is key.

This team is a lot better offensively than it was a year ago. Defensively, it’s had its lapses, but there is a talent deficiency on that side of the ball that the previous staff is responsible for — just read this brutal breakdown on what has become of the 2016 class.

There is something to be said about coaching continuity. Texas fans are very quick to grab their pitchforks — but right now Texas fans are going to need to be patient. Let’s see what this staff can do with their own guys. I’m excited about the possibility.


By the way, I am publishing a semi-weekly (Biweekly? Which is it?) e-newsletter delivered to your email inbox (and published —albeit in a different format — on BON) every Tuesday and Friday morning. I’m aggregating news from all different sources on Texas sports, Big 12 sports and national college football news.

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