Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) walks off the field during the Texas Orange-White spring football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, April 21, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: No need to chase Kelly Bryant, the Horns are building with Sam Ehlinger

At quarterback — and yes, this is a realistic thought — the Longhorns are doing just fine

Posted September 27th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Admit it, Texas fans. You want the Longhorns sliding into Kelly Bryant’s DMs, don’t you?
  • Herman on Ehlinger: “But he is progressing well. We've still got a long way to go.”
  • Keep tabs on Shane Buechele. At this point, he shouldn't want to play to preserve eligibility.

For those who don’t follow Clemson football, a nuclear bomb went off on Wednesday.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant started the last 18 games for the Tigers, including last season’s CFP semifinal tilt against Alabama. But last Sunday, coach Dabo Sweeney informed Bryant that he would take a seat. Freshman Trevor Lawrence will start this week against Syracuse.

Bryant has completed 65.9 percent of his passes the last two seasons along with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Now, the quarterback with a 16-2 record as a starter is transferring.

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Assuming Bryant will finish his Clemson degree, the senior can transfer somewhere else this offseason with one year of eligibility left. “I’ve never been a distraction. I’ve never been in trouble with anything. To me, it was kind of a slap in the face,” Bryant told The Greenville (S.C.) News.

Admit it, Texas fans. You want the Longhorns sliding into Bryant’s DMs, don’t you?

Kelly Bryant #2 of the Clemson Tigers is pressured by Da’Shawn Hand #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide in the second half of the AllState Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 1, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

At minimum, you thought about it. That’s OK. Any good personnel director should evaluate what’s on the transfer market. Sometimes you test the waters, see if the feeling is mutual. Coaches send direct messages to recruits and players all the time via Twitter. What compliance officers don’t know won’t hurt them.

Seems like Texas coach Tom Herman is beyond the point of needing a one-year, stop-gap measure at quarterback. If this were the spring of 2017, sure. But not now. The quarterback picture here is getting clearer by the week, and that’s a credit to sophomore Sam Ehlinger.

Ehlinger was 2-4 as a starter last season. The freshman played extensively in wins against West Virginia and Missouri, but Shane Buechele started both. Now, Ehlinger is 5-5 as a starter thanks to this three-game winning streak. After 10 starts, he’s clearly trending in the right direction.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t really look at that statistic,” Ehlinger said of his personal win-loss total. “It’s always looking forward and what can we do to get better and what can we do to beat the opponent.”

The most interesting statistic Ehlinger has going is this streak of 200-yard games. He’s thrown for more than 200 yards in all 10 career starts. Vince Young and Colt McCoy couldn’t even do that. Of course, some Texas fans will shriek, “Sam ain’t no Vince or Colt! C’mon, Davis.” And they’d be right.

At Texas, quarterbacks are judged solely on wins. Young went 30-2 from 2003-05, and McCoy was 45-8 from 2006-09. James Street will forever hold a pristine 20-0 mark from 1967-69. So based on that metric alone, Ehlinger’s got a lot more work ahead of him.

Ehlinger has given teammates a list of goals the offense should accomplish every week. For example, Texas should score on its opening drive. The Horns should win on third downs, etc.

“As we do it, he said he’ll buy us donuts or something, whatever we earn,” receiver Collin Johnson said. “But we’ve got to earn it. He came up with that himself.”

Have the players earned any sumptuous rewards yet? “Nothing yet, but we’re getting closer,” Johnson said.

Said Ehlinger: “There’s nothing that we’ve done that’s been incredible. I think we all understand that. We know what we’re capable of. We see it, and we know we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”

Breaking down Ehlinger’s numbers, his progression is undeniable.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a win over USC Trojans in the NCAA college football game, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, in Austin, Texas Saturday, Sept. 15 , 2018 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Ehlinger has competed 67.7 percent of his passes in the first quarter. The number dips to 53.3 percent in the second quarter and 58.3 percent in the third. He’s completing 61.8 percent in the fourth quarter, though. His only two interceptions of the year came in that disastrous fourth-quarter sequence against Maryland.

Ehlinger has completed 60.6 percent of his throws on third down. He’s 17 for 25 when for 212 yards on third-and-7 or longer and fourth down.

He’s 8 for 11 when the Horns are backed inside their own 20-yard line. And Ehlinger is 6 for 8 when Texas is inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

“I think the more he does progress, the more confident he is in himself and the people around him,” Herman said. “And then it’s kind of a flywheel effect or snowball, if you will. The more confidence he has, the better he plays; the better he plays, the more confidence he has and so on and so forth.

“But he is progressing well. We’ve still got a long way to go.”

By this point, you know who should be Ehlinger’s biggest fan? Backup Shane Buechele.

Let’s assume that Ehlinger makes it through the entire season and plays all 12 regular-season games. If that happens, I’m betting Herman wants to do Buechele a solid and not play him at all, let alone more than four games.

Players have come to realize the power of playing four games or less and then transferring out. Bryant did it. Oklahoma State receiver Jalen McClesky did it this week, too, leaving coach Mike Gundy stunned.

By this point, Buechele should want to keep his redshirt intact, thereby increasing his options for the future. He could stay at Texas and compete for the starting job next season as a redshirt junior. Ehlinger and Buechele will have current freshmen Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson breathing down both of their necks, though.

Texas quarterback Shane Buechele (7) warms up before an NCAA football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Or, Buechele could transfer out this offseason and have two years to play somewhere else. He could stay one more year, get his degree from Texas and then leave as a graduate transfer, giving him one year to play anywhere he wants.

Buechele wants to play now, I’m guessing. Reporters generally don’t get to talk to the backup quarterback until he’s pressed into service.

Texas also has commitments from Roschon Johnson (Port Neches-Groves) for 2019 and Hudson Card (Lake Travis) for 2020. Both are considered dual-threat athletes.

My, oh, my. The quarterback discussion is so much different now than it was when Herman arrived. That’s a real credit to Herman and the staff and to Ehlinger for his development.

No, Texas shouldn’t go crazy in pursuit of Bryant, a guy with a true winning pedigree. At quarterback — and I cannot believe this is even a realistic thought considering this decade — the Longhorns are fine.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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