Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) warms up before the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Slam Sam Ehlinger at your own risk — it’s exactly what Texas wants

Posted June 28th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Sam slams by Baker Mayfield and Terry Bradshaw are very risky because all they will do is extra-motivate the Texas quarterback.
  • Without question, Ehlinger is in the Heisman mix and probably one of the top five quarterbacks in college football.
  • Ehlinger rarely pops off like Baker Mayfield, but that's probably because he's more mature than the Lake Travis ex and doesn't have as big a chip on his shoulder.

Thank you, Baker.

Appreciate it, Terry.

Who’s next? 

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Anyone else from Lake Travis? The Aggies? National critics?

Call this the summer of discontent when it concerns Sam Ehlinger, the coverboy for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine and the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12 this side of a certain Alabama transfer. Tom Herman has to love it.

So far, Baker Mayfield and Terry Bradshaw have come after Ehlinger strong with both barrels blazing. And for no discernible reason other than to trash a damn good quarterback who will be in the Heisman Trophy conversation this fall.

Yeah, he’s that good.

Sorry, Terry. He is.

If you think otherwise, check out the game tapes from 2018 and especially the Sugar Bowl. Twenty-five touchdowns and five interceptions don’t lie. Neither will your eyeballs. And if you still feel he “ain’t that good,” as you recently said at your alma mater, go back to studying the NFL.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates his touchdown during the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game against Georgia on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in New Orleans, Louisiana. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
He is that good. In fact, in my half-century of covering Longhorns football, I can say no other UT quarterback improved more from his freshman to his sophomore season than Sam Ehlinger. None. Nobody.

Not even Vince Young, who took his dramatic jump from his sophomore to his junior season in 2005. But Vince was largely just being Vince the whole time. He was never the polished passer or the video room fanatic, and that had a lot to do with his short stay in the NFL. He was just the most athletic quarterback to ever play at Texas.

Mayfield, of course, weighed in a week ago when he said that he doesn’t like Ehlinger and doesn’t think Ehlinger likes him and that Texas still sucks and Sam couldn’t beat Lake Travis and, well, you know the drill. Baker being bombastic Baker.

In truth, both Mayfield and Bradshaw were both playing to their bases — one in Norman, the other at Louisiana Tech, which just happens to open the season in Austin in August. So you can discount their opinions to a degree. They both have a dog in the fight.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) runs off the field holding the MVP trophy after beating Georgia 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game in New Orleans, LA.Tuesday, January 1, 2019. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
On that note, hopefully you can take to heart this opinion that Ehlinger’s one of the top five quarterbacks in all of college football because I’d like to think my objectivity has been well-established by now. I voted for Ricky Williams and for Colt McColt for the Heisman in 1998 and in 2008, but I also gave a second-place vote to another Longhorns quarterback once upon a time. You may have heard about it.

I think these recent Sam slams have more to do with the Texas-OU and Westlake-Lake Travis rivalries and the Longhorns’ 2019 schedule than accurate assessments of Ehlinger’s abilities. He’s a runner on the order of Tim Tebow. He’s become a very accurate thrower. His intangibles are off the chart. Slamming Sammy is dangerous. Slamming Sam might even be a decent nickname as physical as he is.

I do not think Ehlinger is the favorite to win the Heisman. He trails Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert and maybe even OU’s Jalen Hurts. But I’d place him in the next category alongside Georgia’s Jake Fromm, whom he outplayed in New Orleans.

Ehlinger may be the most competitive of the current quarterbacks. Or at least in the mix for that award.

And my guess is Sam is seething right now. In a good way.

He’s always been a driven competitor, but these barbs from beyond can only fuel him to have the absolute best 2019 season he could have. Not that he wasn’t already incentivized to do. But a little extra boost never hurts.

And that’s a good thing for Herman.

In many respects, Ehlinger loves these kinds of slights almost as much as those slinging them in his direction. It’s pure motivation. Mayfield and Bradshaw both did Herman a solid.

We’ve seen little signs of Sam’s cockiness before, his self-assuredness and inner arrogance if you will. The qualities that all great quarterbacks must have.

Ehlinger couldn’t resist an “OK, cool. Hook ‘em” tweet back in the fall, then lamely told us in the press he didn’t know what it meant.

He directed Texas to an October win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, then had a small dust-up with Kyler Murray and, thus provoked, told the Sooner to “take the L, man” or words to that effect.

Then he took apart Georgia from the vaunted SEC in the Sugar Bowl and told an adoring crowd that Texas is back. It’s not. Not yet, but Herman has to love that his quarterback says so. He may really be Orange Jesus.

Ehlinger rarely pops off like a Mayfield, and that’s probably because he’s more mature than the Cleveland Browns quarterback. And Sam never quite had to face the same dismissals that Mayfield did as a two-time walk-on at Texas Tech and Oklahoma that nobody wanted. Mayfield deserves a ton of credit for winning the Heisman, taking the Sooners to the playoffs, emerging as the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft and energizing the Browns to the point that Cleveland is a realistic favorite to make the playoffs.

Ehlinger’s got big upside as well, so much that I don’t know if Texas has ever relied on a quarterback quite so much as it will this season. Sure, he runs too much for his own good and puts himself at risk because his backup is a redshirt freshman and the next backup is a true freshman. Neither has taken a college snap.

Deep down, Mayfield probably respects Ehlinger greatly in private. And Bradshaw probably is just trying to infuse his Bulldogs with confidence and fire up their fans.

And Ehlinger? He’s probably good with all of it. But Bradshaw may actually be right when he said he ain’t THAT good. 

He may be great.

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