Texas fans expecting to see an evolved Sam Ehlinger in Saturday’s game with Maryland came away disappointed, as the sophomore Austin native was largely the same player he was as a true freshman.
Ehlinger completed 21-of-39 passes for 263 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, flashing much of the good he showed in 2017 (escapability and power in the running game, and a willingness to push the ball down the field in the passing game) juxtaposed against the same drawbacks that left the job in question in the first place. He was often inaccurate on short, simple passes and doomed the Longhorns with poor decisions and execution late in the game.
With the ‘Horns trailing 34-29 in the fourth quarter, Ehlinger ended two of Texas’s potential game-winning drives with interceptions, one over the middle near midfield with 6:38 remaining in the fourth quarter and the second on a 3rd-and-10 heave to Lil'Jordan Humphrey with Texas at the Maryland 33 and 1:29 still to play.
Another puzzling aspect of Texas’s offensive performance was the sparse use of Ehlinger in the running game. Texas’s leading rusher a year ago, Ehlinger ran just seven times for 30 yards, and a couple of those rushes were scrambles.
Tom Herman was asked if he would go with junior Shane Buechele against Tulsa on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, LHN), but Herman said Ehlinger was the guy.
“I don’t think now’s the time to do that, I really don’t,” Herman said, via Burnt Orange Nation. “You start, you’re going to wind up in the same situation that you were in last year. We made a decision.”
Texas never started the same quarterback for more than three consecutive games in 2017, so continuity for continuity’s sake is obviously a priority for Herman moving forward. Herman allowed the quarterback battle to continue through the spring and summer, as Ehlinger was not officially named the starter until Aug. 20. However, UT’s commitment to Ehlinger was evident early in the Maryland loss, as Buechele did not see action early despite Ehlinger starting the game 2-of-7. It could also explain the sparse use of Ehlinger in the running game, as Texas coaches look to preserve him for the entire season.
The late turnovers on Saturday were reminiscent of similar late turnovers and/or puzzling decisions in Texas losses a year ago — the fumble in double overtime vs. USC, the 4th-and-10 throwaway to clinch a 29-24 loss to Oklahoma, the (as we later learned, concussed) end zone interception to clinch an overtime loss to Oklahoma State and the third down, across-his-body interception that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Texas Tech.
Texas is 1-5 in one-score games under Herman, and Ehlinger has been at the helm for all six games. Fix that one nagging, important flaw, Herman believes, and Texas will have its man at quarterback.
“We told him, while we watched video yesterday, that, yeah, on third down, you don’t need to take that chance,” Herman said of the final interception to Humphrey. “Throw it away. Give us a chance on fourth down.”