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Inside the numbers: Sam Ehlinger’s development key to Texas success

The sophomore quarterback moved the offense efficiently to stay on the field.

TCU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Heading into the game against TCU Horned Frogs, the biggest question was whether or not the Texas Longhorns could keep up with their opponent in their conference opener. After beating the Horned Frogs in convincing fashion, the question now becomes how good can this Texas team truly be?

As Texas tries to prove that is has, in fact, turned a corner and is on its way back to prominence, several trends have emerged over the last three wins for the Longhorns.

Sam Ehlinger: 22-32, 255 yards, 2 touchdowns

Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger continues the offseason development that earned him the nod as the starting quarterback. Against TCU, Ehlinger once again moved the ball efficiently and put his team in a position to win. His 84 yards in the third quarter is a big reason why Texas was able to score 14 points and build a two-score lead.

The secret of that big quarter may be the connection with his best friend and roommate Lil’Jordan Humphrey. After targeting the slot man just once in the first half, Ehlinger looked to Humphrey five times in the third quarter, connecting twice for 34 yards. He also continued the trend of utilizing Collin Johnson, and capped the quarter with a 31-yard touchdown to the big receiver.

Ehlinger has now amassed 2,893 passing yards in his career, passing his former coach Todd Dodge, and his 10th 200-yard performance ties him for No. 9 all-time with David Ash. Add to that total his one rushing touchdown, and Ehlinger became just the third Texas quarterback to have two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games. The other two? Vince Young and Colt McCoy.

4 penalties for 25 yards

In recent years, drive-killing penalties have been a point of frustration for Texas fans and players as they try to find ways to win. The Longhorns managed to play a relatively clean game penalty-wise, keeping themselves from falling into too many holes or keeping their opponent’s drives alive. A year after finishing No. 111 in penalty yards per game, 66.85 yards per game, the Longhorns put up their lowest penalty total since week eight of the 2016 season. A year ago, Texas had just three games with fewer than 60 penalty yards, and just four games fewer than 30 yards in the last five seasons.

In the two that happened under head coach Tom Herman, Texas won both contests and outscored opponents 71-50.

Time of possession: 34:03

Texas held onto the ball for eight more minutes than the Horned Frogs, which can possibly give some indication as to why the Texas defense managed to maintain a high level of play to close out the game. TCU started the fourth quarter with the ball and strung together a six-minute drive, going 14 plays for 59 yards and looking poised to score. However, TCU kicker Jonathan Song missed the field goal and gave the ball back to Texas. The Longhorns responded with a lengthy drive of their own, covering 76 yards in 10 plays and taking 5:58 off of the clock. The differentiator between the Texas and TCU drives was the finish — Texas capped it with a 38-yard touchdown pass to take a 31-16 lead, leaving TCU just 3:12 to score 15 points.

Holding onto the ball and keeping the defense fresh has been a key to Texas’ success this year. In the loss to the Terrapins, the Longhorns lost the time of possession battle by more than five minutes. In its three wins, Texas is winning the battle for time of possession by an average of more than nine minutes.

3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery

Texas fans were a bit spoiled last year, as Todd Orlando’s defense dialed up 26 turnovers, finishing the season No. 22 in the country in turnover margin. This year’s clip has been a bit slower, with just three in the first three games, but their total of seven through four games puts Texas on pace for 21 turnovers this season.

Freshman safety Caden Sterns pulled in two interceptions in the contest, bringing his season total to three. He now sits behind Quandre Diggs and Chris Carter for the single-season freshman record, and his first four career games sit ahead of all-time great safety Earl Thomas, who failed to record an interception through his first four starts. Sophomore defensive end Marqez Bimmage got in on the action, forcing the fifth fumble of the season for the Longhorns and the first of his career.

With the win, Texas moves to 3-1 for first time since 2014 after beating top-25 teams in consecutive weeks for the first time since 2008, when Texas beat No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri, and No. 7 Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks. Texas can continue this turnaround with a win over Kansas State in Manhattan, where Texas has lost five straight.