Every week this fall, we’re looking at a specific number that’s tied to Texas football.
This week’s notable number is 56 — the number worn by center Zach Shackelford, a three-year starter who has missed the last three games with a foot injury. Texas picked up 56 return yards over three punts in its season opener but has not had any positive returns since. In 1982, Kiki DeAyala recorded a school-record 56 quarterback hurries.
The number 56 also represents the number of offensive snaps that Texas has taken in the fourth quarters of its wins over Tulsa, USC and TCU. Those 56 snaps can be split into 35 runs, 17 passes and four kneel-downs. (Texas has also punted four times).
Texas is averaging 5.4 yards over those 35 runs, which have been divvied up among Tre Watson (14), Daniel Young (12), Sam Ehlinger (6), Keaontay Ingram (2) and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (1). That average is better than the season average of 3.7 yards per carry. One of those rushing attempts was UT’s longest of the season, a bruising 30-yard gallop by Young through Tulsa’s defense on Sept. 8.
— Bryan Carrington (@BCarringtonUT) September 11, 2018
To celebrate that run, an edited video surfaced online in which Young played the role of Sonic the Hedgehog. The gold rings so coveted in the video game popped out as he bowled over Tulsa safety Manny Bunch. An amused Young said, “I played Sonic and a lot of video games growing up, so I thought that was pretty cool to do that.”
Ehlinger is completing 60.3 percent of his passes, but the sophomore is 12 of 17 in these three fourth quarters. Ehlinger completed all seven passes on one drive against Tulsa. An 11-yard touchdown toss to Watson with 6:25 left was the game-deciding score in UT’s 28-21 win. Last week, Humphrey’s 38-yard touchdown catch capped a six-minute drive and put away a 15-point victory against TCU.
“Feeling it out and getting that experience during the game and growing on that,” Ehlinger replied when asked this week about his improved stats in the fourth quarter. “It’s a positive to understand that we’re not just being consistent throughout the game. We’re kind of on an upward trend right now and that’s how it should be in everything that we’re doing.”
According to players, coaches have harped on the concept of finishing since the team returned for offseason workouts in January. So far, the Longhorns have put into practice what has been preached. Texas has entered the fourth quarters of its last three games with a lead, and no opponent has gotten within seven points.
“It was happening when we were doing mat drills in the spring and out on the field at 6 a.m. working out,” receiver Collin Johnson said. “It’s not just words we say, it’s actually stuff we put into action. That’s why we see it on Saturday, and we’re going to continue to do the same thing.”
Said tight end Andrew Beck: “It goes back to months and months and months of training to prepare for that moment. Since we got back in January, that was one of the pillars the coaches focused on. I think it’s kind of shown the fruits of our labor now in the season, which is what they wanted it to do.”
In a 34-29 loss to Maryland to begin the season, Texas committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter and lost a five-point lead. When you include that game, Texas has been outscored 24-14 in the fourth quarter. It owns a 56-34 lead on the scoreboard in its second halves, though.
Ehlinger said that Texas doesn’t just need to “finish” in the fourth quarter. He insists that Texas needs to adopt that attitude once it leaves the locker room after halftime.
“We’re starting to understand what the whole ‘finish’ mentality means, and it’s not necessarily just the last drive of the game,” Ehlinger said. “It’s more in the second half — even if the game is close or if it’s not — we have to finish in regards to playing our best football.”