Shane Buechele could have left for greener pastures.
He lost his starting job to a younger teammate in August and was looking at holding a clipboard for the final two years of his college career.
Yet he stayed.
“Because of my teammates,” Buechele said after Saturday night’s 24-10 win over Iowa State. He played the entire second half in relief of an injured Sam Ehlinger and was perfect on all 10 pass attempts, including a touchdown. “I love those guys and felt I needed to be there for them. They’re here for me, too. They’re definitely the reason why.”
Buechele has been ready each time his number has been called. On Saturday night, he came in prepared and professional. He took the reins from Ehlinger and guided his team to a destiny-reaffirming win that pulled Texas to within one win of a Big 12 title game appearance.
Ehlinger has an AC joint contusion, and depending on the results of an MRI on Sunday could be sidelined for Friday’s regular-season finale at Kansas. Either way, the Horns are in good hands.
If this was Major League Baseball, Buechele would be up for the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award. He’s been at the ready ever since he lost the job to Ehlinger, and while some players would have pouted and started looking around for a place to transfer, Buechele handled his second-string status with pride and professionalism. It not only won him the respect of the coaching staff and the entire locker room, but provided an example of selflessness and team spirit for the young Longhorns to follow.
I asked Tom Herman about just that: Buechele’s mature approach as a backup.
“Oh, I’ve experienced it,” Herman said. “When a guy loses a job, he checks out and that says the world of (Buechele’s) professionalism. He’s the definition of a great teammate. He prepares every day and and nobody questions. … In fact, go the other way. Everybody’s extremely confident in how well he prepares.”
It wasn’t a shock to see Ehlinger, arguably the fiercest competitor on the roster, literally chasing Herman down the sideline after the second-half kickoff, imploring him to allow him to play.
“‘Coach, I can go,'” Herman said Ehlinger had told him. “‘I can run. I can take a hit. Anything over about 10 or 15 yards, I’m just really weak because of the pain.'”
Herman made the right call with a 17-7 lead. He went to his experienced backup, the owner of 29 career touchdown passes against 16 interceptions and and a passer rating of 131.4. It’s a real luxury in this day and age of alpha dogs who pack their bags the minute they find out they’re not the guy.
“He told me I was starting and we went into what we were thinking for the second half,” Buechele said. “There was no long pause or anything.”
The veteran of 19 starts balled after he got the call. Ten throws, 10 completions for 89 yards and a dagger touchdown throw to YAC machine Lil’Jordan Humphrey to put the Horns up 24-3. That’s called quality relief.
“Shane came in and played unbelievably,” tight end Andrew Beck said. “That kind of speaks to who he is. He always stays ready and always takes his practice reps really seriously because his number could get called at any moment.”
“There was no dropoff,” said teammate Tre Watson.
Buechele has already figured out what Ehlinger learned over the offseason. The most important job is to keep the train on the tracks, and it’s fine not to hit a home run on every play.
As a result, the Horns are one win away from playing for a conference title, thanks in large part to their top reliever.