Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) and receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey (84) celebrate as time runs out in a 48-45 win over Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Oct. 6. [Rodolfo Gonzalez for AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: How Texas’ Sam Ehlinger came of age vs. Kyler Murray, OU

Posted October 6th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Texas beat Oklahoma 48-45 to improve to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12.
  • Quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw for 314 yards and ran for 72 yards in the win.
  • Ehlinger has thrown 163 consecutive passes without an interception.
  • Ehlinger out-dueled Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray, who is thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate.

DALLAS — Sam Ehlinger, Longhorns legend.

OK, let’s not put him in the exact class of James Street, Vince Young, Colt McCoy or Peter Gardere — who famously went 4-0 against Oklahoma — but any Texas quarterback that takes out the Sooners just once becomes part of a special group.

Ehlinger, weeks removed from the season-opening loss at Maryland, has found an intelligent, savvy balance to go with his physical gifts, and the result has been an eye-opening Texas turnaround.  His performance Saturday will one day go down as the signature event that spurred a program turnaround under coach Tom Herman.

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Texas 48, Oklahoma 45.

Ten years after Colt outdueled Sam Bradford in a nationally televised matchup of the nation’s two top arms, Ehlinger took down Kyler Murray with an epic performance before 93,200 at the Cotton Bowl.

Don’t look now, but the Horns are 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big 12. They  just became a favorite to win their first conference title since Colt’s senior year and Ehlinger, who has gone from a grip-it-and-rip-it gunslinger to a more calculated pick-your-spots thinker, is a gigantic reason Texas is on the rise.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates with his teammates as he wears the Golden Hat during an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas Texas on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
“The guy prepares like a pro,”  Herman said. “He’s great. The guy has already played well in some big games.”

On the way to the post-game press conference, the sophomore quarterback looked at his teammates Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Charles Omenihu and smiled.

“It feels a lot better to come up in this elevator than it did last year,” he said.

Give the kid credit. Ehlinger was elegant from beginning to end, making the smart throws against an overmatched Oklahoma defense and taking the running lanes when they were presented. He was a quarterback totally in command of an offense that’s suited to his skill set.

We thought Texas was back after that overtime win over Notre Dame to open the 2016 season, but those Irish turned out to be fraudulent. These Sooners are not. While there isn’t a Tommie Harris or Roy Williams on that defense, we’re talking about a national No. 7 with dangerous athletes at all skill positions, especially at quarterback, where Murray was deservedly getting some early Heisman love entering this matchup.

Turns out Murray was the second best quarterback on the field Saturday. Electric playmaker that he is, Kyler committed two turnovers that the Horns converted into 10 points. Ehlinger played clean football from start to finish.

Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) smiles as he runs into the end zone for a score against Oklahoma Sooners linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) and Oklahoma Sooners cornerback Tre Brown (6) in the second quarter during an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas Texas on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
The concern before the game was centered around whether the Horns would be able to score enough points to keep up with the Murray-led OU offensive juggernaut.

Ehlinger answered those questions with a startlingly efficient performance. He completed 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns and played mistake-free ball for the fourth straight game, extending his new school-record streak of passes attempted without being intercepted to 163.  He also picked his spots in the running game with 72 yards and three more touchdowns.

Then there was the clutch gene, which the fan base has been sorely missing at the position since the days of Vince and Colt. Ehlinger went 4 of 5 for 62 yards on third-and-10 or longer. He also was 2 for 2 on fourth downs, a short pass to Tre Watson and a 7-yard scramble, respectively.

And let’s not forget him accounting for 38 yards on the final drive that set up his old high school rival Cameron Dicker’s 40-yard field goal to win it.

“We have so much confidence in him,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “He just keeps his head down and keeps working. You can see how much he has improved since last year.”

It should be noted that the two biggest names in this offensive showcase did meet near the end zone after the game. Their exchange wasn’t exactly friendly. After Ehlinger patted Murray on the helmet, the latter put his finger in Ehlinger’s chest and Texas cornerback Kris Boyd had to play the role of peacemaker as words were exchanged.

“I went to congratulate him after the game,” Ehlinger said. “Tempers were high just because of the situation in the game for both of us.  I was just going to say ‘good game’ and pay my respects. He’s a tremendous player.”

I asked Murray about the conversation. His answer was short and not so sweet.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Murray said.

Let’s hope they meet again. How about Dec. 8 at Jerry World for the Big 12 title? In.

Young and McCoy will tell you: Heavy is the helmet worn by a Texas quarterback in an Oklahoma game.

Just like them, Ehlinger just traded his in for a golden hat.

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