Last week ahead of Texas’ season-opening meeting with Louisiana Tech, Bulldogs head coach Skip Holtz likened Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger to one of the greatest to ever grace a college football field, saying “I think he is to Texas football right now what [Tim] Tebow was to Florida football.”
Such a comparison is, to some, considered blasphemous, and understandably so as Tebow is unquestionably a college football legend, but it’s also one that’s becoming more and more common.
On Tuesday while previewing the first-ever regular-season top 10 showdown between Big 12 and SEC foes, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron shared a similar sentiment, and even went as far as to say Ehlinger is the more polished passer of the two.
“He reminds me a little bit of [Tim] Tebow,” Orgeron said of Ehlinger. “I was at another school and we had to play Tebow. I’m not saying he’s as good as Tebow; I’m not saying he’s not, but he reminds me of that type of player, but he’s a better thrower.”
The Tigers’ head coach is well aware of what Tebow was able to do during his glory days on the field with Florida.
Orgeron led his teams against Tebow twice, once as the Ole Miss head coach in 2007 and later as Tennessee’s associate head coach and defensive line coach in 2009. Each outing ended with Tebow’s Gators celebrating a win, with the first instance, a 30-24 win over the Rebels, coming courtesy of a herculean, 427-yard, four-touchdown performance from Tebow.
After taking complete control of the quarterback position last season, Ehlinger has enjoyed a few legacy-building efforts of his own. Namely, Ehlinger totaled 386 yards and five scores in a thrilling, 48-45 Red River Showdown win over No. 7 Oklahoma, and maybe more notably, Ehlinger bulldozed his way to three rushing scores to guide Texas to a 28-21 Sugar Bowl win over No. 5 Georgia, which essentially set the stage for an offseason abundant with Ehlinger hype and expectations.
In response to the hype and expectations, which includes preseason features from seemingly every sports publication in the country, Heisman odds, placement on countless preseason watch lists, and honors as the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Ehlinger opened his junior campaign with 310 total yards and four passing touchdowns in a route over Louisiana Tech.
In doing so, he looked the part of what Orgeron described as a complete player.
Sam Ehlinger was surgical through the air in Week 1. pic.twitter.com/oB0ZbcVgJx— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 3, 2019
“He’s a very, very good football player. He’s a complete football player,” Orgeron said. “He does a lot of things with his feet, he does a great job with his arm. He makes some great decisions. They have an excellent scheme. They’re very similar to us on offense and he knows where to go with the football.”
But, of course, as was the case with Tebow, virtually any conversation regarding Ehlinger’s impact begins and ends with the challenges he presents with his legs.
To that end, though Tigers’ senior quarterback Joe Burrow is a capable runner in his own right — he rushed for 399 yards and seven scores last season — Orgeron noted that Ehlinger’s ability as a ball-carrier provides a unique challenge for the Bayou Bengals.
“Ehlinger is much more of a running threat than our quarterback is,” Orgeron said. “He’s a different style than Joe. This guy can beat you with his feet, can throw the football, but he’s very dangerous, especially in the red zone. They’re going to give him the ball, just like [Florida] did with Tebow, give him the quarterback power in short yardage, Run him on the zone read.”
In 2018, Texas utilized Ehlinger’s physical rushing nature to the tune of 482 yards and 16 touchdowns, which was good enough to snap Vince Young’s single-season record for the most rushing scores by any quarterback in school history.
But to reach those marks, Ehlinger was also required to carry the pigskin 164 times, which was more than all but 10 quarterbacks in the entire country last season. Bearing Ehlinger’s health in mind, such a substantial workload is quite obviously sub-optimal. But with only one healthy scholarship running back remaining in sophomore Keaontay Ingram, the Longhorns will quite likely need that Sam Ehlinger on Saturday against a swarming LSU defense.
That Sam Ehlinger is why coaches such as Ed Orgeron see the comparisons between Texas’ junior field general and the Gators’ great.