BEVO BEAT

Sam Ehlinger’s the starter, but Texas definitely needs Shane Buechele, too

Posted October 15th, 2017

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DALLAS — The Texas medical staff now has one of those fancy pop-up tents that are all the rage in the SEC.

When players go down grabbing their knees or ankles, they get ushered into the tent, ostensibly so fans can’t see trainers working on their knees or ankles.

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger disappeared into the tent after getting walloped by Oklahoma’s persistent defense on a 2-yard scramble near the sideline. If he suffered any sort of concussion on the play, Ehlinger wasn’t going to admit it afterward.

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“I wasn’t ever confused about where I was, at all,” the UT freshman said after OU’s 29-24 victory in the Cotton Bowl.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) calls for the fourth quarter against Oklahoma on Saturday. Ricardo B. Brazziel/American-Statesman

That singular play is the primary reason why UT coach Tom Herman won’t cast aside sophomore Shane Buechele. Sure, Ehlinger is clearly UT’s starter going forward. But the Longhorns (3-3, 2-1 Big 12) will likely need both scholarship quarterbacks in the final six games, including Saturday against Oklahoma State.

When you factor in that quarterback is the only position that’s generating consistent offense, it’s even more critical that Herman keep both of them healthy.

“My head hit the ground pretty hard,” Ehlinger said. “And they were just taking precaution. I told them immediately I could go back in. I felt fine.”

Buechele went into the game on second-and-8 from the Texas 48-yard line. With virtually no warm-up time, Buechele ran for 2 yards, completed two passes for 11 yards, ran for 8 more and then got sacked. Ehlinger was back in the game after a Texas timeout.

“Tough kid,” said OU quarterback and Lake Travis product Baker Mayfield said about his Westlake-raised counterpart. “You could tell by the way he carried himself. He bounces back after getting hit. Just how the Austin boys do it, I guess.”

Herman said he thought about sticking with Buechele, but Ehlinger had been medically cleared. Ehlinger said team physician James Bray asked him to count backward by sevens starting at 100.

“I think when guy’s played three and a half quarters and is in the rhythm that he’s in, if he’s cleared, you’re going to put him back in the ballgame,” Herman said.

That drive ended with a turnover on downs. UT got the ball one final time with 49 seconds remaining on its own 4-yard line. Ehlinger couldn’t assemble a 96-yard touchdown drive, and the Sooners captured a 29-24 win.

Buechele still isn’t completely healthy from an ankle injury suffered against Iowa State, Herman said.

Shane Buechele-Texas Longhorns
Texas quarterback Shane Buechele ran twice, threw for 11 yards and got sacked once against Oklahoma. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“No, he’s not 100 percent,” Herman said. “He’s still gimping around a little bit on that ankle. But there’s no deer-in-the-headlights look. It was, ‘Let’s go, I’m ready.’”

From all appearances, the Texas offense cannot afford to lose Ehlinger or Buechele long term. Who else will generate points?

The make-shift offensive line is struggling. Terrell Cuney, who started at center last week for the injured Zach Shackelford, started for the injured Jake McMillon against OU. McMillon suffered a hand injury and wore a huge, oversized club at the Cotton Bowl.

No Texas running back posted double-digit rushing totals against the Sooners. Warren tied Reggie Hemphill-Mapps for the team lead with four receptions and had a team-high 55 receiving yards, thanks to screen passes.

Texas simply won’t survive the final six games if the offense cannot score points. The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in scoring at 48.8 points per game. Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU rank second, third and fifth, respectively. All of them are averaging more than 40 points per game. Texas averages 33.7.

Herman’s penchant for going for it on fourth down — as dictated by his color-coded binder of analytics — is also proving problematic. The Longhorns are 5 for 14 on fourth down this season and 1 for 4 against OU. He clearly does not trust kicker Josh Rowland.

The Longhorns could have used points on the fourth-quarter drive where Ehlinger subbed out temporarily for Buechele. Rowland might have been looking at a 51-yard field goal attempt with two minutes remaining. “Down by 6 at the time, nah, didn’t feel good about it being into the wind,” Herman said.

Herman may not feel totally comfortable with his quarterback situation — aside from the fact that Ehlinger is now the clear-cut starter. Buechele has now had shoulder and ankle injuries this season, both knocking him out of the lineup.

OU’s fourth-quarter sideline takedown proved that Ehlinger is not indestructible, either.

Asked if he’s going to stick with Ehlinger, Herman said, “I mean, I would think so at this point.” Still, it’s clear Texas will need both quarterbacks the rest of the season.

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

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