Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele were OK on Saturday night.
Both made some throws. Missed some others.
To hope for one of them to become the next Vince Young or Colt McCoy? Not realistic.
Doesn’t mean that one can’t become the leader that this Texas offense sorely needs.
Neither lit up the scoreboard at the annual Orange-White game but a spring football scrimmage on a Saturday night in front of an estimated 35,000 won’t be taken too seriously when the real bullets start flying in the 2018 opener at Maryland.
These eyes see Ehlinger as the leader in the clubhouse entering the fall, but Buechele isn’t too far behind. Here’s the problem. Neither has established himself as the alpha dog for an offense that never put a together a string of consistently good performances in Tom Herman’s first year as head coach.
The record will show that White beat Orange 23-13, whatever that means. The real focus will be whether Herman will finally be able to point to one of his two signal callers this fall and say without an ounce of hesitation, “That’s my guy.”
If that doesn’t happen, the Horns won’t improve upon that 7-6 they put up on 2017. Musical quarterbacks rarely work at this level of the game.
Ehlinger completed 13 of 22 passes for 151 yards and ran four times for 29 yards in a black can’t-touch-this vest and showed that the chemistry he had with Lil’Jordan Humphrey last fall has grown over into the spring. Humphrey, arguably the best player on the team, caught seven balls for 100 yards and expanded his role to goal-line back with a pair of short touchdown runs.
Buechele looked pretty spry after offseason hip surgery. He was good on 12 of 21 attempts for 130 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Collin Johnson. Both scrimmaged behind the first-team offensive line for a spell and had their moment, though Boo Jr. missed out on a chance for a huge day when he overcooked a pair of long throws to speedy wideout John Burt.
Of the two, Ehlinger got the nod in production though it was close. He played turnover-free ball but dropped an errant shotgun snap that a teammate recovered. One long pass to Humphrey would have gone for huge yards but he short-armed it, allowing cornerback Kris Boyd to recover for the breakup.
“I think his decision-making when he’s in the pocket has improved quite a bit,” said senior tight end Andrew Beck. “He’s developing into a really, really smart football player. We just have to help him because he’s an incredible athlete as it is.”
The maturity is coming. Herman can no longer say Ehlinger’s speed bumps are a product of being a first-year player. He’s a sophomore now with two spring camps under his belt. After his high-risk, high-reward UT debut season, his head coach was quite clear in his expectations for Year 2.
“Protect the ball better, son,” Herman said.
The USC game provided a great snapshot of potential and heartbreak, all in one evening. Ehlinger threw for 298 yards and nearly beat the Trojans with that late TD pass to Armanti Foreman, but USC rallied and the Texas QB hurt his team’s cause with a goal-line fumble in overtime. Later in the year against Oklahoma State, an ill-advised last-second jump-ball throw fell into the arms of a Cowboy when a throwaway would have resulted in a chip-shot field to force overtime.
“Reserve the right to kick at all times,” Herman told him after the game, according to Beck.
It’s Herman’s hope that one of these players step to the forefront, but while he’s evaluating, he wants them to gamble more in the offseson because those games and practices don’t count toward a win-loss total. In other words, he doesn’t want them playing not to make mistakes but rather practice intelligent aggressiveness before the real games start.
“Building confidence in your abilities in the spring is important and both those quarterbacks, we’ve got them so well trained that you almost have to continue to prod them, when you’re watching film, ‘Why didn’t you try to rip that one in there?,'” Herman said.
If Herman has his way, he won’t have to go through the painstaking process of naming a starter in a close race. He would prefer that the eye test determine the winner.
Right now it’s too close to call. We’ve heard that one before, and that’s not a good thing.