The Sam Ehlinger Era began Saturday.
Who knows how long it will last.
It might even be a one-week era for the Westlake freshman — which is pretty short as eras go — if Shane Buechele returns from his bruised shoulder to resume his starting position next Saturday at Southern Cal.
For that matter, it might even be Jerrod Heard as the quarterback-turned-wide-receiver-returned to-quarterback who gets the nod. But probably not.
As Heard said, “I’m a running back who can throw a little bit. My role is different than Shane’s and Sam’s.”
Of course, it may be all hands on deck from here on out.
Tom Herman captured his first win at Texas with a complete and convincing 56-0 drubbing of overmatched San Jose State with a pair of backup quarterbacks who combined for 217 yards passing and 87 yards on the ground. Even better, they played clean football without a turnover.
Heard, an electric runner, ran for a pair of scores. Ehlinger, who is a strong, physical runner and not shy about doing so, scrambled for 48 yards but also completed 15 of 27 throws for 222 yards and a touchdown.
Yeah, a 1-yard touchdown.
“I appreciated coach (Tim) Beck giving me that one,” Ehlinger cracked about his 1-yard flip pass to Armanti Foreman in the fourth quarter.
Others will come. Ehlinger will throw plenty more. So will Buechele, who I’m guessing will get the start next week because he’s as competitive as Ehlinger and has the benefit of 13 starts, more maturity and games against elite teams like Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
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Texas may not exactly be ready for USC but it at least knows it will venture into La La Land with a multitude of quarterbacks. The Longhorns may lead the nation in quarterbacks. Or at least players who take direct snaps from the center because it seems like everybody but left tackle Connor Williams has taken a snap this season. Tailback Chris Warren III took a couple as well on Saturday, and so has wideout Lil’ Jordan Humphrey.
It could be a quarterback quandary. For USC, as much as Texas. The Trojans don’t know whom to prepare. I’m betting Herman just has more faith in Buechele, his 5-8 career record notwithstanding, than Ehlinger, who started out with three consecutive incompletions.
The Longhorns (1-1) had good enough quarterback play as Buechele sat out in a game so lopsided that even Urban Meyer had to be impressed. Well, maybe.
Herman wasn’t ready to anoint Ehlinger or demote Buechele.
“I think it would be premature of me to say that today,” he said. “We’ve got to see how healthy Shane can be. He played pretty good against a really good team in Maryland. We know we’ve got a capable one in Sam.”
Capable. And confident. But Herman’s not yet convinced he can go into the Coliseum and upset the No. 6-ranked Trojans. He may need all three quarterbacks, however, especially considering USC kinda knows its starter. Yeah, Sam Darnold’s only the Heisman favorite and the likely first pick of next year’s NFL draft. He ain’t bad.
For Texas, it was a badly needed victory for a program that got embarrassed by Maryland in the opener.
Yes, we know it was San Jose State, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2012. But the Texas defense pitched its first shutout in three years, the run game crackled, and Ehlinger and Heard both looked solid even though Ehlinger had some wild misfires as well.
Joked linebacker Malik Jefferson, mischievously, “Sam was so nervous. You saw some of the balls he threw. But he still had that poise.”
Poise, Ehlinger’s got plenty of. And surprisingly he said the nerves wore off after a couple of series, and he credited Buechele — his Friday night hotel roommate — for helping steady those nerves.
Texas still looks like a very average football team until it shows it isn’t, but quarterback isn’t the problem.
Ehlinger ran the ball well on draws and scrambles. He threw the ball well over the middle, something Texas has consistently avoided with Buechele. He had at least three passes dropped but also overthrew some open receivers. He did throw an impressive sideline dart to Lorenzo Joe for the catch of the day.
The question is where does Texas go from here?
Will Buechele be healed enough or does he need another week to mend? Is Ehlinger ready for that level of competition? Heard’s one terrific runner, but does he have the passing chops to do damage?
Those answers may be asked for weeks to come. But it’s nice to know Texas has some talent at quarterback. And depth as well.