For the second week in a row, Texas Longhorns fans didn’t know who would be the starting quarterback when the offense took the field.
Late in the game, then the ‘Horns jogged out on offense with less than five minutes on the clock and a shot to upset No. 4 USC Trojans, freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger showed why the coaches were comfortable putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
The offense was frustrating in the first half, as the offensive line struggled and caused Ehlinger to struggle. Texas was unable to get the running game going either, meaning the Trojans defensive backs were free to play the pass, rather than support the run.
At the end of the first half, the Longhorns managed just four first downs and 90 total yards, 89 coming through the air. There seemed to be no rhythm in the passing game either, and Ehlinger was never comfortable in the pocket and overthrew open receivers.
Then, as the second half went on, the Texas offense began to shift its mentality and its strategy to push USC to the brink, leading the Trojans by three points with 45 seconds remaining in the game.
The offensive line, in spite of losing All-American tackle Connor Williams, managed to shift the pocket in the second half, giving Ehlinger time to find his favorite targets. These adjustments led to explosive production from the freshman signal caller, passing for 209 yards and two scores in the second half.
Ehlinger’s mentality also shifted as the game progressed, and fans got to see why he was a highly-coveted quarterback coming out of the 2017 recruiting cycle.
The dual threat was able to find eight different receivers in the second half, and established 6’6 sophomore Collin Johnson as his favorite target. Ehlinger stood in the pocket, rolled away from pressure when needed, and made smart decisions when protection broke down.
Perhaps most importantly, the quarterback began to look confident in the pocket and commanding the offense. This was never more on display than on the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter when Ehlinger avoided pressure, rolled right and threw a strike to Armanti Foreman, putting the ball where only his receiver could come away with it.
After Saturday’s performance and in spite of head coach Tom Herman’s words, the quarterback competition is in full effect. And it’s not hard to make a strong case for Ehlinger.
Texas heads into a bye this week now, giving sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele another week to rest an injured throwing shoulder, as well as allowing fans to speculate who will be behind center when Texas takes on Iowa State.