DALLAS — Legacy is a tricky word. There is a subjectivity about it that can skew the meaning of the discussion, and in Sam Ehlinger’s case, just like any Texas quarterback, it will usually come down to how he fared against Oklahoma.
After Saturday’s 53-45 quadruple overtime loss, the Texas quarterback will finish up at 1-4 as a starter versus the Sooners — 1-3 in the regular season and 0-1 in the conference title game — and that’s assuming these teams don’t meet up at Jerry World on Dec. 12 for the conference championship or that Ehlinger declines to return for a fifth season.
“Absolutely crushed,” coach Tom Herman said when asked about the team’s inability to get Ehlinger a win in his last go at OU. “That we as a family didn’t do enough, collectively. For him to finish his career against these guys the way that he deserved to and are being a part of a family. And I feel like we all let him down.”
Ehlinger’s desire to win and the guts in that 22-year-old body cannot be questioned, but this is a results-based business and when it comes to that red-circled date in October in Dallas, the most vital of stats don’t speak in his favor.
“I would have liked to beat them all five times but obviously, that didn’t happen,” Ehlinger said. “I can’t change that.”
He showed up too late Saturday to the biggest football party of the year and his teammates did him no favors for most of the day.
Ehlinger finished with 399 yards of total offense and six total touchdowns, but when viewed with how it all went down, the numbers were nearly as empty as the State Fair midway. Through three quarters, he was only 15 of 27 for 145 yards with 13 yards rushing.
His struggles in the first three-and-a-half quarters — along with the defense and a special teams display that was chicken-fried dumpster fire — put the Horns in the hottest of seats for most of the day.
In reality, Ehlinger was outplayed in the second half and in overtime by newcomer Spencer Rattler, who was benched in the second quarter and came back to become the first redshirt freshman to beat UT since Sam Bradford out dueled Colt McCoy in 2007.
I would have gone for two-point conversion to win it all after Texas’ second overtime TD and I suspect Ehlinger agrees even if he took the high road in post-game interviews.
What could have been. And if I’m Tom Herman, I’m wondering how will I figure it out long term at quarterback once Ehlinger is gone in three months.
This was it for Ehlinger suiting up against the Sooners. Nothing we witnessed before 24,000 at the Cotton Bowl would lead anyone to believe that a title game rematch will happen, especially on Texas’ side where the problems are too numerous to mention.
It seems like forever ago when Texas entered the season as a preseason No. 14 team expected to battle Oklahoma for the Big 12 title because of Ehlinger and the bevy of weapons he would have at his disposal in the backfield, at wideout and up front. He’s a stand-up guy who nearly brought the program back to national prominence — that Sugar Bowl win over Georgia turned out to be a false positive in the worst sense of the term. But his Texas career will be more about what could have been than what was.
While he still has plenty of football left here, the 22-15 record as a starter and the .200 batting average against the Sooners doesn’t qualify him for all-time great status.
As for the series, we still talk about Peter Gardere because he went 4-0 against OU. McCoy went 3-1 against the Sooners.
Ehlinger’s legacy took a critical hit Saturday if we’re talking about him being an all-time great here. He will go down as a fine quarterback and his longevity will lead to plenty of records, but if we’re talking about all-time rankings, he’s beaten the Sooners once in five tries.
Sheer numbers and the Sugar Bowl win over Georgia might sneak him into the top-10 all-time, behind Vince Young, Bobby Layne, James Street, Colt McCoy, Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Duke Carlisle and Marty Akins. He has plenty of competition in those last two spots from guys like James Brown, Donnie Little, Todd Dodge and Robert Brewer.
Had he put OU into an 0-3 Big 12 abyss and taken the Horns to a Big 12 title win or even another title game appearance, Ehlinger’s star would have shone brighter.
His will be looked upon as a good career that wasn’t great, and given Texas’ struggles before he got there, that’s not altogether a bad thing.