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Sam Ehlinger quietly on pace for record-setting junior season

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There’s a lot of football left, but Sam Ehlinger is well on his way to orchestrating the most impressive season of any quarterback in Longhorns history.

Texas v Rice Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Nobody would have been surprised if Sam Ehlinger came back to earth a bit as a junior.

Of the small army of talents who have quarterbacked the Texas Longhorns since the program first fielded a football team in the late 1890s, only Colt McCoy has contributed more touchdowns in a single season than Ehlinger’s seemingly otherworldly effort of 41 in 2018. Given that 16 of those scores came courtesy of his legs, which was good enough to snap Vince Young’s single-season school quarterback rushing record, Ehlinger joined the likes of college football greats in Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield as the only quarterbacks to ever total 25 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing scores in a single season.

Ehlinger is, of course, the only of the bunch who didn’t take home Heisman hardware, and considering the elite quarterbacks around the country, whether it be Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or LSU’s Joe Burrow, competition for the trophy will be especially stiff this season, as well.

If Ehlinger’s name is going to remain legitimate among that crop as the season progresses, he’ll need to orchestrate an even more praiseworthy season than the one he enjoyed as a sophomore, which was already among the most notable in school history.

With a quarter of the regular season in the rearview, it appears Ehlinger is up to the task.

Ehlinger kicked off his junior campaign with a good, not great showing in a 45-14 win over Louisiana Tech, totaling 276 yards and four scores through the air before being relegated to the sidelines towards the end of the third quarter so that sophomore Casey Thompson could see some action behind center. The following weekend, doing the bulk of his work in the second half of an offensive shootout with the LSU Tigers, Ehlinger amassed 401 more yards through the air, good for a new career-best effort, and added another four scoring strikes; this, in addition to his 60 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Though the loss to LSU loomed much larger than any individual accolades, Ehlinger did enjoy one, with his 677 yards through the air through two weeks serving as the most by any gunslinger in school history.

Ehlinger picked up right where he left off the following weekend.

Though the effort came against an underwhelming Rice secondary, Ehlinger was surgical through the air, completing 85 percent (23-of-27) of his attempts while tallying another 279 yards and three scores as Texas cruised to a comfortable 38-0 cushion, which once again allowed Ehlinger — and several other starters — to enjoy an early exit before the final period.

Along the way, Ehlinger surpassed Vince Young to take control of sixth place on Texas’ all-time career passing yards leaderboard, while also overtaking Young for fifth all-time in school history with his 45th career touchdown pass, a 53-yard strike to true freshman Jake Smith.

Suddenly, Ehlinger’s 956 passing yards and 11 touchdowns are not only a 233-yard and five-touchdown improvement over his sophomore efforts at this same juncture — nevermind that he’s yet to toss an interception — but they respectively rank eighth and tied for third nationally. Ehlinger’s 73.2 percent completion rate, nearly a 10 percent uptick from his 2018 average of 64.7 percent, is also among the nation’s very best, ranking No. 11 through three weeks.

Not to mention, despite the tremendous success throwing the ball, Ehlinger is right on track with his 2018 rushing efforts thus far with 121 yards and one score behind what’s currently a career-high average of 3.8 yards per carry.

If Ehlinger can maintain this magnificent pace, he’d cap the regular season with 3,824 passing yards, which is just 35 yards shy of McCoy’s single-season passing record of 3,859 set in 2008, and Ehlinger’s 44 touchdowns through the air would almost singlehandedly snap McCoy’s record of 45 total touchdowns in 2008 — Ehlinger’s rushing efforts would take care of the rest.

And this pace isn’t factoring in any potential postseason action, such as the Big 12 Championship or a bowl game.

One would assume that such an showing, should Ehlinger be able to achieve it, would warrant a trip to New York City for the Heisman ceremony, which both Vince Young and Colt McCoy enjoyed, though neither returned to Austin with the hardware. One would also assume that Ehlinger stringing together such a monster season statistically would allow a Texas quarterback to finally finish on the right side of Heisman history.

But, even if not, Ehlinger would, at the very least, boast with what’s currently on pace to finish as the most impressive single-season showing by any quarterback in school history.