Aside from an arguably ill-advised mustache sported in the season opener, Texas Longhorns junior quarterback Shane Buechele has largely been out of the spotlight as sophomore Sam Ehlinger has started all three games.
In the process, Ehlinger became the first quarterback since Colt McCoy in 2008 to go consecutive games with two or more touchdown passes and a touchdown run in each contest. As a result, there’s a rare lack of controversy surrounding the position outside of the fringe elements of the fanbase.
Buechele had the best chance of appearing in the Maryland game. Texas got off to a slow start, with Ehlinger experiencing difficulties throughout the game making the right decisions on when to throw to the perimeter and accuracy problems when he did.
However, going to a faster tempo in the second quarter got Ehlinger settled in and led the Horns back, even securing a lead late in the third quarter. By the time that Ehlinger threw his second interception in the fourth quarter, there was no chance for Buechele to enter the game — it was over.
Predictably, head coach Tom Herman faced questions from the media two days later about why the junior didn’t see any playing time against the Terrapins and what his plan was moving forward.
“I don’t think now’s the time to do that, I really don’t,” Herman said. “You start, you’re going to wind up in the same situation that you were in last year. We made a decision.”
That decision was made public 12 days before the Maryland game, an unusual occurrence in Austin, but one that fit with what appears to be Herman’s standard operating procedure — Buechele was named the starter over Ehlinger in similar terms on the Monday 12 days before the 2017 season opener.
After Herman and his staff stuck with Ehlinger following the Maryland loss, Texas got out to a 21-0 lead against Tulsa, but the sophomore remained in the game for the third quarter. By the time the game ended, the Horns hadn’t been able to create any separation and needed two late drives to secure the victory.
The fourth quarter against USC represented the best time for Buechele to see action within the framework of the staff’s desire to stick with Ehlinger. In that situation, though, the coaches remained pretty conservative, keeping most of the starting offense on the field late in the game to avoid any mistakes, Herman said on Monday.
When offensive coordinator Tim Beck was asked about Buechele not playing against the Trojans, he had a slightly different response.
“Why?” Beck said. “He’s getting reps in practice, and he’s a third-year guy, second year in the system. I’m really proud of Shane, the way he works and helps Sam during the game. He’s like another coach, and I’m really proud of him.”
Despite the consistent praise for Buechele, Beck doesn’t see the possibility of playing time as a reward for his effort in practice and his support of Ehlinger and the entire team during games.
“I don’t think he would view it as that. I think he wants to play when the opportunity is for him to play. As I’ve told both of those guys, we’re going to need both,” Beck said.
One possibility is that Buechele could still appear in four games later this season and not lose a year of eligibility, but Beck denied that the coaches have discussed a redshirt with the junior, who could potentially become a graduate transfer after the season.
The constant in all of this beyond Ehlinger remaining the only quarterback to take a snap this season is the praise that Herman and Beck shower on Buechele at every opportunity.
“I mean, he’s awesome,” Herman said. “That guy will be ready, there is no doubt in my mind. He will not be rusty, he’s bouncing around, coaching the heck out of Sam on the sideline, talking to Coach Beck and myself on the headset during the series, right after the series on what he saw.”
After three games, however, it seems clear that if Ehlinger stays healthy and keeps playing at the same level, Buechele will spend the rest of the season coaching Ehlinger on the sideline and communicating with the coaches on the headset.