They say if you have two quarterbacks then you don’t actually have a quarterback.
That’s been the case for the Texas Longhorns throughout the entire first third of the season, as sophomore Shane Buechele and true freshman Sam Ehlinger have split four starts, thanks in large part to the former nursing various ailments.
It now not only seems possible, but quite likely that the two quarterback conundrum has a solidified answer to what’s essentially been a never-ending question throughout the past 10 months — who should start at quarterback?
Ehlinger with 380 yards on 30 of 50 passing. Only mistake was the game opening INT. He ran for 107. The decision is easy going ahead, right?— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) October 8, 2017
489 total yards and two TD's for QB Sam Ehlinger tonight. Think #Texas has their starting QB...— Andrew King (@Andrew_TFB) October 8, 2017
To this point, Ehlinger has technically been the Longhorns backup quarterback, filling in for the seemingly ever-injured Buechele. Because of Buechele’s frequent unavailability, though, Ehlinger has now started three of the last four games for Texas, compiling a 2-1 record, which came just 30 seconds short of 3-0 with a staple road victory over then-No. 4 USC.
Hypothetical records aside, though, now more than ever, there’s reason to believe for this Texas offense, at this point in time, Ehlinger has to be the man behind center.
Through four games and a 2-2 record, the ‘Horns run game has been virtually non-existent, thanks in large part to an injury-plagued offensive line. As Tom Herman often reiterates, Texas can’t simply dip into a waiver wire and bolster its roster, so postitive changes coming in that regard aren’t in the cards at the moment.
Such was the case once again on Saturday night throughout the Longhorns 40-34 double-overtime win over the Kansas State Wildcats.
Although the three scores certainly provided Texas’ ground game with a major facelift on the scoreboard, Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter still combined for just 27 yards on 14 carries. Toneil Carter added 32 yards of his own on six attempts, but the bulk of the ‘Horns productivity on the ground came by way of Ehlinger turning nothing into something.
As protections broke down, which was to be expected considering the attrition along the offensive line, Ehlinger made the most out of numerous plays, moving the chains six times with his legs en route to a 107-yard rushing effort.
Furthermore, several of Ehlinger’s scampers came at times where a play simply seemed doomed, in which he proceeded to reveal nothing short of miraculous displays of toughness and sheer will.
True freshman QB Sam Ehlinger finished with 380 passing yards, 108 rushing yards and this bulldozing run. #Hookempic.twitter.com/Lb65dj2GCm— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) October 8, 2017
Make no mistake about it: Buechele, Ehlinger’s competition for the role of QB1, has some mobility of his own, as he flashed last week with 42 yards in a 17-7 win over Iowa State, but Ehlinger’s competency as a ball-carrier defines his dual-threat label entirely.
Ehlinger’s edge as a rushing threat has been apparent, though. It’s not a secret.
Despite Ehlinger being praised as the better fit in Herman’s system, Buechele began the season as the more appealing option and the proof was in the passing. From a sheer gunslinger’s standpoint, that’s still quite likely the case, considering Herman did mention Buechele as the most accurate quarterback he’s ever been around, but Buechele’s accuracy doesn’t accurately account for the bigger picture.
As noted, Ehlinger is proving to be able to keep drives alive and put points on the scoreboards in situations that Buechele hasn’t been able to this season, but it’s the freshman’s seemingly game-by-game progression as a passer that tilts things in his favor.
Ehlinger did open Saturday’s action with an interception on the first play of the game, but beyond that point, he played as close to perfect as we’ve seen from the quarterback position in Austin in recent years. The freshman finished the night completing 30-of-50 attempts for 380 yards — the most by any Longhorn since Colt McCoy’s 396 yards against Kansas in 2009 — along with two touchdown passes.
ICE. IN. HIS. VEINS! @sehlinger3 tosses to a wide open Heard in OT to give @TexasFootball the 34-27 lead #HookEm pic.twitter.com/vXDKd7txgt— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) October 8, 2017
And while it won’t show up on the stat sheet, several of Ehlinger’s incompletions were drops or decisions to wisely throw towards the sidelines under pressure to avoid a sack or forcing a pass into coverage. Ehlinger’s poise in the pocket — and even when he’s forced out of it — is becoming increasingly apparent with seemingly each rep, and as seen on Saturday, he’s gaining the confidence that was on full display throughout his record-breaking career at Austin Westlake.
When it was all said and done, Ehlinger finished with 487 yards of total offense against K-State, becoming just the third quarterback in the Longhorns history to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for another 100 in a single game.
Of course, such a step forward isn’t to say Ehlinger is, or even will be the pure passer that Buechele is by the end of the season, but his innate ability to extend plays and apparent linear progression as a field general is injecting life into a Texas offense that registered 40 points on Saturday night — a season-high against Power 5 competition.
One of the weirdest aspects of this season for Texas is how Sam Ehlinger seems to have better rapport with Collin Johnson than Buechele.— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) October 8, 2017
With some of the nation’s headlining offenses still to come, such as the ones Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech boast, Texas will not only need to produce points, but simply must keep drives alive and opposing playmakers sidelined throughout the coming weeks.
Not to mention, Saturday’s Red River Showdown will mark the halfway point of the season. Considering Texas will soon have to simply win shootouts or watch as losses pile up, the offense must find some semblance of consistency and do so in a hurry.
Sticking with the quarterback that’s now started more than half of the season and provides the offense with a much-needed added dimension seems to make the most sense, not alternating gunslingers for the fourth time in six weeks.
If that’s the decision Herman comes to this coming week, Sam Ehlinger will lead the Longhorns into the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.