What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, the week of the OU game, I wrote about the tradition of the Red River Rivalry and virtually avoided writing anything about the actual Texas football team. Texas was 2-2 and coming off of back-to-back terrible losses to California and Oklahoma State. There was no hope for success and the team wasn’t worth talking about, so I chose to avoid it completely.
Fast forward a year and the Longhorns are coming off of yet another dramatic double-overtime game, but this time came out on the winning end against Kansas State. But it’s not only the victory to improve the team’s record to 3-2 that will make the headlines. It’s the fact that Texas has the quarterback they’ve been looking for, and his name is Sam Ehlinger.
I’m not proclaiming Ehlinger to be a hero my any means, but I am proclaiming him to be the starting quarterback over Shane Buechele. He’s clearly earned it.
If you missed it, head coach Tom Herman has been adamant about Buechele not losing his job only because of an injury. And to be fair, Buechele hasn’t been the main reason for the Longhorns’ failures on offense, but Ehlinger is just a better fit.
Notice I said the words “better fit” instead of “better quarterback.” The difference is Herman requires his quarterback to be mobile, based on his past coaching stops and the quarterbacks he’s had success with. Buechele can move, but not very well. What we saw Ehlinger do against Kansas State is exactly what Herman needs to finally get the offense moving in a positive direction and establish an identity.
It’s not the fact that he can scramble out of a sure sack to escape trouble. It’s not even the fact that he can lower his shoulder and completely run over a defensive back. But it’s the fact that Ehlinger is a threat to run the ball, and run the ball well, that will open up holes for this Texas offense.
That’s why Ehlinger has to be the starter going forward. I know he’s going to make mistakes. And quite honestly, I would expect a couple of horrendous games from the true freshman if he is in fact named the starter the rest of the season. But he’s not going to be able to grow unless he’s in those situations.
My final point on the subject is if Ehlinger is not the starter against OU in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, I’ll have some serious questions about what exactly Herman is trying to accomplish here in both the short-term and long-term.
Now, speaking of OU, Texas will have a bigger challenge than they even anticipated when they step foot in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. No one in their right mind expected Oklahoma to lose at home to Iowa State over the weekend. I felt pretty good about Texas beating Oklahoma, but now I have my doubts because of that result.
Oklahoma simply doesn’t lose two games in a row. In fact, the last time the Sooners lost two games in a row in the regular season (not counting bowl games) was 1999. But in that season, the second loss came to Texas.
History isn’t on Texas’ side now, but the Longhorns clearly have some momentum going for them. Oklahoma is going to be angry, and they are going to play angry. I thought Texas would be able to catch them off guard, but now that’s not the case.
The Longhorns will only win this game if they play the level of defense they did against USC, and if the offensive line holds up well like they did against Kansas State.
And let’s not forget about the gunslinger himself. Ehlinger has lived for this moment. We will see on Saturday if the moment is too big for him. I seriously doubt that will be the case, though.
If the Longhorns lose the game, it would surprise me if it were because Ehlinger played a terrible game. The most likely outcome is the Texas offensive line gets mauled, and never gives Ehlinger a chance to do anything.
I’m still holding out hope that this Texas team may have figured out how to win over the last couple games. But this will be their biggest test so far in the conference season.
Tom Herman has a chance to get his first signature win at Texas. If he chooses to start anyone at quarterback not named Sam, he’ll be making a big mistake.
E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.