QB Sam Ehlinger suffers sprained shoulder, but backup Shane Buechele and the defense keep Texas' train rolling
Posted October 13th, 2018
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger now has the Longhorns’ most concerning shoulder injury since the fifth play against Alabama.
At least Ehlinger made it through 10 plays Saturday against Baylor, a 100-percent improvement over Colt McCoy in that 2009 national championship tilt.
Ehlinger left the game with blood on his hand on Texas’ opening drive and soon went to the locker room. When the sophomore returned, his right arm looked dead, merely attached to his body via a strong muscular and skeletal system. Ehlinger’s sprained shoulder will be evaluated again Sunday, but it’s not a season-ending injury.
“He came off and said, ‘Coach, my shoulder’s messed up,’” UT coach Tom Herman said. “Um, OK.”
Junior backup Shane Buechele, who had been fitted for a redshirt this season, took the wheel and guided the ninth-ranked Longhorns to a 23-17 victory at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Sam or Shane, same result. Texas (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) now sports a six-game winning streak, its longest since 2013, heading into a much-needed off week. Here’s even better news: Texas is now bowl-eligible and it’s just mid-October. That sentence probably deserves an exclamation point given the last four years.
“It’s go time,” linebacker Gary Johnson said. “It’s good to be bowl-eligible, but I didn’t see a trophy out there that said we were Big 12 champions or bowl championships.”
The Longhorns tried to close things out with one drive lasting 6 minutes, 44 seconds and then another that went 3 minutes, 3 seconds. But Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, a Lake Travis product, had other plans.
Brewer got the ball one final time at Baylor’s 3-yard line with 1:43 left and the Bears started marching. Baylor (4-3, 2-2) plowed all the way to the Texas 17 with six seconds left. Brandon Jones almost intercepted Brewer’s first pass attempt into the end zone. The last, with one tick left, was overthrown out the back of the end zone, and 93,822 fans let out a shout of relief.
The Longhorns piled up 10 tackles for loss and sacked Brewer three times. Charles Omenihu got a pair of those; he’s now got six for the year.
Asked his level of nervousness about the final plays, Omenihu said, “Low. Because I’m confident. I’m confident in myself and confident in my team. What’s to be nervous about?”
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has two weeks to tinker with his unit. But the offense is clearly the biggest question mark going forward. Herman preaches a next-man-up mentality, and quarterback is no different.
“I have told you guys, and I want to tell the world Shane Buechele is the most engaged, he’s the most prepared, he’s the most positive-coaching backup quarterback I’ve ever been around in my life,” Herman said. “And I’ve been around some really good ones.”
Ehlinger is the one who has attempted a school-record 168 passes without an interception and guided the Horns to five previous wins. Herman said from what he’s been told Ehlinger could start throwing late this week.
Buechele started seven games last season, but hadn’t played at all this year until Saturday.
“You never want this to happen, you never expect it to happen,” Buechele said. “Just talking with my family and my teammate, they said to stay ready and be the best teammate you can be. That’s what I tried to do since fall camp and since this moment here.”
Sure, but sitting on the bench must be difficult. Here’s a player who has 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns the last three seasons. He started every game in 2016 as Texas struggled to finish 5-7. He’s played through multiple injuries, multiple coaching staffs and never complained.
“It’s tough. But in all actuality, when you’re winning, it’s not so bad, you know what I mean?” Buechele said. “Sam’s done an unbelievable job to this point getting us to 5-1. That’s hard to do. Winning’s hard and he’s done a great job, too. I’m thankful for him and thankful for the guys around me.”
Herman has been steadfast that Buechele wouldn’t be rusty when his number was called. The Arlington Lamar product completed 20 of 34 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown and one interception. He looked a little amped up on his first few drives but settled down as the first half went on. Oh, and Buechele remembered Texas had a 6-foot-6 threat out wide.
On first-and-10 from the Baylor 44, Buechele went long for Collin Johnson, who had no problems with his defender and hauled in a touchdown. Johnson was Buechele’s security blanket all day as the talented wideout finished with 11 catches for 132 yards.
“Shoot, I could barely see it,” Johnson said of his touchdown catch. “But I trusted Shane to put it where we practice.”
Later in the half, Johnson had some nice yards after the catch on third-and-5 that kept a drive going. Keaontay Ingram, who still isn’t getting enough touches, had a 10-yard run to the right and an 18-yard sizzler down the left side to the Baylor 5.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey took a snap from the wildcat formation and ran it in from 3 yards out to give Texas a 20-10 lead.
Ingram didn’t really play in the first quarter and still had his first 100-yard game. The freshman finished with 110 yards on 19 carries. Herman said Ingram is playing at 90-percent health.
“Coach Herman, he knows what he’s doing and he knows what he’s talking about,” Ingram said with a smile. “I agree with him.”
The Bears may have been content to run out the first-half clock after getting it back with 1:12 left before the break. After Texas called timeout with 1:05 left, Baylor changed course. A 10-yard catch by Jalen Hurd got the offense moving. But on the next play, UT freshman Caden Sterns was there to snag his fourth interception of the season.
Buechele completed a 17-yard pass to D’Shawn Jamison to get into field goal range. Then Cameron Dicker drilled a 47-yard field goal to end the period, giving Texas a 13-point lead.
When Baylor coaches review the film, they’ll be furious at officials for denying Jameson Houston a terrific diving interception in the end zone. They’ll also be frustrated with Tyquan Thornton for dropping a sure-fire 27-yard touchdown pass in the end zone.
The second half film will be a tough watch, too. Hurd dropped a touchdown catch after beating P.J. Locke III in the end zone. At least Hurd made up for that mistake. Coaches lined him up in the backfield, and Hurd ran it in from two yards out, making it a one-possession game.
Texas never gave up the lead, though. The Horns closed it out, just like they’ve done the last five weeks.
And Buechele loved it.
“It makes the work worth it,” he said. “I appreciate coach and everything said. The least I can do is stay ready for times like this.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.