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Texas, Sam Ehlinger spread the wealth at receiver against UTEP

With no true star receivers, expect Texas and Sam Ehlinger to spread the ball around to a number of capable options as the offense establishes its identity.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Duvernay isn’t donning burnt orange and white anymore for the Texas Longhorns. Neither is Collin Johnson.

Even considering Johnson’s injuries, the duo collected nearly 2,000 receiving yard’s last season; the bulk of which were credited to Duvernay, who time and time again proved to be quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s safety blanket en route to 1,386 yards — the second-best effort in school history.

Entering the 2020 season, the entire two-deep at receiver hardly had more career production than Duvernay did in 2019 alone, totaling just 110 career receptions for 1,436 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Talented? Of course, but more importantly, the Texas receivers were largely unproven.

A single showing against a severely overmatched UTEP team isn’t exactly going to rewrite that narrative, but at the very least, the 59-3 Texas win provided a first-hand look at the way in which offensive coordinator Mike Yucich and Ehlinger may look to alleviate the absence of a bona fide star receiver — by spreading the wealth.

By halftime, nine different Longhorns, including tight ends Cade Brewer and Brayden Liebrock, running back Bijan Robinson, and walk-on receiver Kai Money, had hauled in 24 receptions, collecting 429 total yards and five touchdowns.

“I think spreading the wealth is probably going to be a common theme throughout the season,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said following the win over UTEP. “We don’t have a guy like Devin Duvernay right now, but we’ve got a few guys that are plenty good enough to make a difference in a game.”

Noticeably missing from the first-half recipients list were running backs Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson, who combined for 52 receptions last season, and Brennan Eagles, who was third on the team in 2019 with 522 yards, but couldn’t find any rhythm with Ehlinger in the first half.

Following the break and following a quarterback change, Eagles became the 10th Texas receiver to haul in a catch and the sixth to score a touchdown, snagging one from Casey Thompson for a 35-yard score.

On the ensuing drive, Marcus Washington, who hauled in a 26-yard pitch-and-catch from Ehlinger in the first half, skied for his first career receiving touchdown, becoming the seventh Longhorn to haul in a touchdown catch against UTEP.

“I don’t think you ever go in and say, ‘Hey, we want seven receivers to catch touchdown passes, we want 10 different guys to catch passes.’ In the flow of the game and guys rotating in and out, this year, maybe more than any since we’ve been here, we’ve got a bunch of guys that deserve to play at wide receiver,” Herman told the media on Monday. “I do think you’re going to see more guys with a catch or two in most games.”

“Credit to coach Yurcich and the offensive staff for making that a big emphasis early in the game and wanting very consciously to get those guys involved and get their feet wet,” Herman later added about seven Longhorns catching touchdown passes. “I think it’s a really good sign. I don’t know that we’ve got the one or two dominant players that we’ve had in years past, and that’s okay. We’ll adjust to where we’ve got six or seven really, really good players.”

Joshua Moore and Tarik Black look the part of potential early favorite targets for Ehlinger after collecting 11 total receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns, as did Brewer (3 receptions, 40 yards, 1 TD). Jake Smith, who missed the opener with a minor hamstring injury but is expected to return as the Texas starting slot, should be firmly in the mix as well after catching 25 passes in 2019, including six for scores.

Money and Brenden Schooler may not be quite as involved as conference play gets underway, but it’s safe to expect that Eagles, Washington, and once healthy again, Jordan Whittington will remain involved in the receiver rotation — this all in addition to Texas’ tight ends and capable running backs being utilized in the passing game.

So to Herman’s point, 10 different Longhorns catching passes and seven catching touchdowns is far more likely to become the exception as opposed to the rule, but spreading the wealth will almost certainly become a common theme with no Duvernay or Johnson in Austin.