clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Sam Ehlinger created a goal chart for the Texas offense after the Tulsa game

The list, currently hanging in the locker room, has 10 different categories.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Texas Bethany Hocker-USA TODAY Sports

“We needed to be more intrinsically focused.”

Following the narrow escape against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the home opener, Texas Longhorns sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger decided that the offense needed a new goal chart, so he created one that now has a place in the locker room ($), he told Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.

“Sam kind of took that on with himself actually,” junior wide receiver Collin Johnson said on Tuesday. “We just started that this year. He just talked to the offense one day and set weekly goals for us and we just try to accomplish them each and every week. And as we do it he said he’d buy us donuts or something; whatever we earn. But he came up with it himself.”

Here’s four of the 10 elements on that chart:

  • Score on the first possession
  • No three-and-outs
  • No turnovers
  • Score at least 80 percent in the red zone

While that’s not enough of the categories to know whether Texas has hit the necessary threshold for Ehlinger to dig into his pocket for some donuts or tacos, there are enough there to make it worthwhile to go back through the last two games and see how the Longhorns offense is doing so far.

Score on the first possession

USC — Yes

Thanks to two big passing plays to Johnson and a 3rd and 10 conversion to senior tight end Andrew Beck on a 15-yard pass, the Horns moved inside the Trojans 10-yard line, but the 12-play drive stalled at the 3-yard line. Freshman kicker Cameron Dicker made his first collegiate field-goal attempt from 20 yards to get Texas on the board.

TCU — No

The Horns produced an even more explosive pass play to Johnson on the first drive against the Horned Frogs with a beautifully thrown 45-yard pass by Ehlinger on the offense’s second play from scrimmage. The drive wasn’t able to produce another first down, however, and Dicker missed the 42-yard field goal. Still, the offense did its job in getting into what should be consistent field-goal range for Dicker.

No three-and-outs

USC — No

On the second drive, a false start by redshirt freshman Sam Cosmi put Texas behind the chains on first down, so even though the Horns gained 11 yards on first and second down, it wasn’t enough to earn a new set of downs when Ehlinger threw an incomplete pass targeting Beck on third down.

However, that was the only three-and-out against the Trojans — no other drive lasted fewer than six plays until the Longhorns had a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter. Even then, Texas burned nearly three minutes of clock with those five plays.

TCU — No

Texas didn’t do as well in this category against TCU, which likely features the best defense that the Longhorns will see all season — there were four three-and-outs in this game, including three straight spanning the end of the first half and into the second half.

Poor field position influenced the first drive, as the offense got pinned near its goal line following the failed fourth-down attempt near midfield on the previous possession. Three runs resulted in the loss of a yard.

The first drive out of halftime stalled when Ehlinger was sacked attempting to throw on first down and the second featured another sack on third down after a short run and a pass that Ehlinger had to throw away under pressure.

The fourth three-and-out was a meaningless drive once the game was out of reach.

No turnovers

USC — No

Sophomore running back Daniel Young fumbled inside the USC red zone to end a promising drive in the third quarter with the Longhorns holding to a 23-14 lead. Given that effort and ball security are the two absolute demands on offense, there’s never a good time to fumble, but doing so in the red zone is particularly harmful.

The good news, though? Ehlinger didn’t have any turnovers.

TCU — Yes

For the fifth time under head coach Tom Herman, the Horns didn’t commit a turnover in this game. However, the failed fourth-down conversion deserves mentioning since it had such a tremendous impact on field position and ultimately led to a touchdown right before halftime. TCU only needed 41 yards to make the end zone on that drive after freshman punter Ryan Bujcevski had to kick from that end zone.

Score at least 80 percent in the red zone

USC — No

Considering that 95 teams averaged at this threshold last season, it’s the easiest thing to accomplish on this list, but Texas missed out due to Young’s fumble — there were only three trips into the red zone overall. In terms of scoring percentage in the red zone, the bigger key is scoring touchdowns and not settling for field goals. Texas did have to settle for that 20-yard field goal on the first possession, but it accomplished two of the other goals in the process.

TCU — No

Texas converted three out of four trips into the red zone against TCU. Two drives resulted in touchdowns, while another drive resulted in a field goal. The missed opportunity was a result of a sack and missed field goal.

After the missed field goal on the first possession, a 12-play drive resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by Tre Watson, the first for the graduate transfer in burnt orange and white. Ehlinger also took advantage of the second interception by freshman safety Caden Sterns to score on the next play on a two-yard zone read keeper.

Both were positive developments for Texas running the ball inside the 5-yard line, a difficult area to pick up yardage on the ground, especially against a good defense like TCU.

In the third quarter, with the Horns down 16-10, a 14-play, 69-yard drive stalled just inside the red zone when Ehlinger was sacked on first down and a clear pass interference penalty near the goal line wasn’t called when Johnson was pulled to the ground. Dicker badly missed his 43-yard attempt.

The field goal came from 34 yards in the second quarter after freshman running back Keaontay Ingram was tackled in the backfield for a loss on 3rd and 1.

Herman has consistently praised Ehlinger for his leadership ability ever since he showed up on campus in January of 2017. Displaying those attributes on and off the field helped Ehlinger earn the respect and trust of his teammates, but it’s still impressive to take control over setting the expectations for the offense.

Beyond the discussion of his leadership ability, which is less important than reaching the goals themselves, the tangible results on the field provide some important insights into an offense that still has plenty of room for improvement. So it will be worth tracking these areas as the Longhorns move forward.

Achieving zero three-and-outs in a game is the highest standard here and a difficult one to achieve even for the top offenses in the country, but Texas will go a long way towards winning a lot of games in the Big 12 conference by scoring first, limiting turnovers, at the least, and especially scoring at a higher rate in the red zone. Certainly, limiting three-and-outs will be crucial, as well.

Texas currently ranks in the top third of the country in turnovers per game, a perspective that becomes more positive when considering that three of the five turnovers came on consecutive drives in wet conditions at the end of the game against Maryland. In other words, the Longhorns have now gone three games with only two turnovers, during which Ehlinger hasn’t thrown an interception, a stretch of over 90 pass attempts.

If Texas can reduce turnovers to less than one per game on average, that’s a winning proposition.

The much bigger concern is scoring inside the red zone — last season, Texas only converted on 78.2 percent of those opportunities, with 10 trips that didn’t result in any points, ranking No. 101 in that category. The touchdown rate, at least, was near the national median.

This year, Texas is only converting 69.2 percent of its trips into the red zone, with four drives in 13 opportunities that didn’t produce points. That ranks No. 122 nationally, tied with the abomination that is Florida State’s mess of an offense. And that’s certainly not good enough.

The same size is still pretty small, but that will surely be a key area of emphasis moving forward. Executing the running game at a high level near the goal line and the passing game just inside the 20-yard line are two important aspects of scoring touchdowns, while achieving some consistency with Dicker the Kicker between 40 and 45 yards would help ensure that the Horns put points on the board.