The Whys of Texas: No, Texas doctors did not send an injured Sam Ehlinger back onto the field

Posted October 18th, 2017


Texas coach Tom Herman left no doubt last week that the Oklahoma game held an elevated standard. Kudos to him for sticking with that same thought process afterward, when it he could have easily shrugged it off.

Herman even praised Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Lake Travis product who will finish his collegiate career with a personal 2-2 mark against the Horns.

“Gut-wrenching loss to our rivals,” Herman said Monday. “Heck of a football team led by a heck of a quarterback. I’m glad he’s a senior. But he is all that everybody has made him cracked up to be.”


But let’s start this week’s Whys of Texas mailbag with something else Herman addressed Monday. Fans flooded social media and my inbox with questions about Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.

The overall tone of the queries were similar: Why would Herman put an injured player back into the game? Apparently, several fans were irate that Herman would expose Ehlinger to more injury after he was taken down hard by OU’s Kenneth Murray in the fourth quarter.

Sam Ehlinger-Texas Longhorns
Some have indicated this Statesman photo was proof enough that UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger suffered some sort of head injury against Oklahoma. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

Trainers told Ehlinger to lay still on the sideline for a few moments, and then he was escorted inside UT’s medical tent for further evaluation. Backup Shane Buechele came into the game, ran twice, threw two passes and got sacked. Ehlinger then returned.

“Was I surprised? I mean, no,” Herman said. “When it comes to injuries, we do what the doctor tells us to and when he says he’s fine, he’s fine. And then yeah, we followed up. He was cleared for practice (Sunday). He practiced and he feels great.”

How can I say this is the strongest way possible? I do not believe the Texas training staff would put an injured player back on the field. No way. Something like that goes against everything team physician Dr. James Bray and athletic trainer Anthony Pass stand for.

David Ash finished the 2014 season opener against North Texas and appeared to be OK. It wasn’t until hours later that he felt dizzy and called the trainers. He never played football again after a series of concussions. Texas wouldn’t allow him between the lines.

I do believe that Buechele wasn’t all there in overtime against Kansas last season when he sailed a pass for an easy interception.

You can criticize Texas for a lot of things, but being dismissive about the welfare of their athletes is not one of them.

Most of the anti-Herman emails on this topic have focused on the fact that Ehlinger threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down. He clearly wasn’t right in the head, all the armchair doctors are telling me.

I would agree this point is debatable. Ehlinger rolled to his right after getting flushed out on fourth-and-13. He was pushed to the UT sideline and simply threw the ball into the bench area. Ehlinger should have just launched it toward the end zone just to see what would happen.

The Horns were flagged for offensive holding on the play, though. Had he completed the pass for a first down, the Sooners would have at least accepted the penalty. Texas would’ve had another chance. Oh well.

My point isn’t to criticize Ehlinger’s decision to throw it away on fourth down. That was probably just a freshman mistake. It’s simply my belief that Texas would have never let him back on the field if he was truly dazed or had suffered any legitimate head injury. That’s simply not how the Texas medical staff operates.

On to this week’s mailbag…

Yes, the offensive line has problems, and Warren may be a great third-down back with his ability to catch and block. That said, our current backfield lacks mobility and speed.  We MUST try to work in the freshmen. There were a few holes, current guys couldn’t get there. Warren shows no ability to make a guy miss in open field. (I would also suggest we cover all the opposing teams receivers).

— Stuart via email

This team’s inability to run the ball has to be considered one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Warren simply can’t get going. Kyle Porter can’t make anyone miss. Part of that stems from this odd rotation that running backs coach Stan Drayton insists on. One player will get a few carries and then come off the field. The next player will get a few carries and then come off. Nobody gets into any rhythm.

At the moment, Warren has a team-high 274 rushing yards and Ehlinger has 271. Ehlinger’s played in only four games compared to Warren’s six. Some fault lies up front with this thin offensive line, but as Herman indicated, if the play is blocked for 4 yards, that’s all you’re going to get.

Texas running back Chris Warren III (25) scores a touchdown against Oklahoma. He’s the team’s leading rusher, but leads quarterback Sam Ehlinger — who’s played in two less games — by only 3 yards. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Horns played a good game and probably should have won! But proud of the effort and believe in better results will come. Question: why do we keep getting beat deep? Looks like missed assignments. I expect Kris Boyd to get beat deep; he’s lucky there has not been more. OU had a touchdown called back in third quarter that no one was near and the last touchdown to Andrews was the game winner. Proud of the coaches and players! Great effort! Hook ’em.

— Terry via email

Before the season started, Herman was adamant that Kris Boyd was the team’s best defensive back. Maybe he was then. Opponents are certainly going after him now. Frankly I was a little surprised Boyd didn’t have better closing speed to at least knock the ball away from Jeff Badet on that 54-yard touchdown catch. I truly thought Boyd would get a few fingers on it and knock it down. The 59-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews late was a clear breakdown in coverage throughout the secondary. He was so open, it was difficult to determine who was at fault.

Cornerbacks play on an island. Get beat one play, you still gotta get ready for the next one. The Horns are playing the best athletes they have defensively. It’s defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s job to coach ’em up.

I think that UT could have won the game handily were it not for the incredibly inept UT defensive secondary. Look at all the passes Mayfield completed and the majority….like the last one….were caught over the middle or down the sideline uncontested by any Longhorn.  That’s coaching, not athletes. Secondary is the weakest link in the Horn program.

— Col. Larry Lewis (Retired) via email

To be fair, I didn’t get a single email complaining about DeShon Elliott the last three games when he was making five interceptions. I haven’t gotten many emails about Holton Hill, who scored three non-offensive touchdowns in the first two weeks. By its nature, the secondary is an area where everyone can see when you make a mistake. Make one wrong step or turn your hips the wrong way and — boom! — you’re toast. The secondary continues to need help from the defensive line and linebackers. The back end looks much better when the front end is getting to the quarterback. That’s why the whole unit must work in tandem.

As one of the beat reporters for the UT football program, I would urge you to keep an eye on the potential landing spots for Shane Buechele if he finishes this season as the #2 QB and decides to transfer. With 5 other QBs on the roster besides Mayfield, OU may not provide the ideal place for Shane to transfer, but with his siblings with strong OU ties, it’s a definite possibility.

— Tom via email

At this point, I think it’s wrong to just assume that Buechele will transfer. I mean, he might, if Ehlinger finishes the year as the clear-cut starter. But I firmly believe that Texas will need both quarterbacks in the final six games. That’s why Herman must be delicate in how he handles the quarterbacks. He can’t write off Buechele; Herman needs him. If I’m Buechele, I continue to work every day to get better. He may become the starter again, if something happens to Ehlinger. Or, let’s say he does transfer, who’s going to want someone who mailed in the second half of his sophomore season?

I noticed you referenced the updated UT depth chart again in an article today.  As discussed before, could you publish a link to it following the Monday pressers?  We fans love that stuff! Thanks.

— C.P. via email

This week, the depth chart was front and center prior to Texas’ matchup with Oklahoma State. Receiver Collin Johnson, the team leader in receiving yardage, is now listed behind senior Dorian Leonard. Now, maybe this is nothing more than a motivational ploy by Herman. But at least it got our attention.

Please raise question of coaching decisions not to try short field goals. How many games would have been affected in the fourth quarter if we had put 3 or 6 points on the board earlier? Made short field goals will increase the field goal kicker’s confidence on longer attempts. Any points on the board after a long drive boost the confidence and enthusiasm of the offensive unit. Continued failures on 4th and short only ratchet up the pressure. Professionals at the highest level understands the merit of taking 3 points if necessary.  (UT coaches are professionals). Please evaluate the effects of passed up field goal attempts and write an article which might get Herman’s attention. Thanks.

— J.L. via email

I know this drives some of you insane, but Herman admits he “hates” 20-yard field goals. It’s pretty clear that kicker Joshua Rowland’s inconsistency is a reason why Herman isn’t kicking it more often. Rowland is 5 for 10 this season with the majority of misses coming in the 40- to 49-yard range.

Herman relies on gut instinct and his color-coded binder to determine whether to go for it on fourth down. It’s long been my belief that coaches should go for it more on fourth down. The problem comes when they try to trick it up. Just keep running your offense! No need for special plays or whatnot. The Longhorns are 5 for 14 on fourth downs this season while their opponents are now 1 for 9. So Texas is rolling the dice but stopping its foes, too. If Rowland was more consistent or even automatic, I’m betting that Herman would kick it far more often than he does.

My aggie friend told me last night on the phone that he is disappointed A&M moved to the SEC. They don’t compete with Texas teams, he said.  Today they are off in Florida while the state of Texas is focused on the Cotton Bowl.  That makes him feel sad, but he is looking forward to watching the Texas OU game today. Me, too.

— Scott via email, who added that his life is spent “1/2 in Terlingua 1/2 in Buda, BA ’80.”

You know, I actually thought about that on Saturday. Most of the state was focused on the Cotton Bowl while A&M was off in The Swamp. I can promise you this, A&M fans had a much better time Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla., than Texas fans did on the Midway.

Hola from Madrid. So I was able to watch the Red River Rivalry on computer. Lots of ways to look at the game. But what is clear is this Longhorns teamed is flawed on several fronts. All flaws have been exposed by you and your colleagues. So what happens last half of season? 3-3 for 6-6 season?

— Ron via email from abroad

Well, getting to a bowl game is an absolute must. So that means Texas must finish at least 6-6. Is that possible? Sure. If Texas plays hard like it did against USC and OU, it can run the table, as Heisman winner Ricky Williams said on the Longhorn Network. I could see a scenario where Texas beats Baylor and Kansas with Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas Tech being toss-ups. Right now, I’d predict TCU to beat UT in Fort Worth.

Anything from 5-7 to 9-3 is still possible at this point, which is frustrating for Texas fans, I’m sure. This roller-coaster ride is far, far, far from over.

Have a question for The Whys of Texas mailbag. Email Brian Davis at

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