Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger will start this week against Oklahoma State provided his sprained throwing shoulder is healthy enough, Longhorns coach Tom Herman said Monday.
“If he’s healthy and he’s himself,” Herman said, “then certainly he’ll start.”
Will Ehlinger be honest with trainers and coaches about his pain level? He’s the type of athlete who would crawl onto the field, with or without appendages. That seems the bigger question this week as No. 6 Texas (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) gets back to work after taking last weekend off.
Ehlinger will bump up his workload as the days progress, and a final decision could be made by Thursday.
If he doesn’t look quite right by late week, Herman said the Longhorns have no problem going with junior backup Shane Buechele.
“We talked a while yesterday about him being very honest with us in terms of his pain because there’s an element to his game that’s different than a lot of quarterbacks,” Herman said. “If we’re out there playing cautious and tentative and trying to protect things, I think that plays into the overall effectiveness of him and his game for us.
“So we know we’ve got a great one in Shane ready to go and got a ton of confidence in him as well.”
Oklahoma State (4-3, 1-3) expects a sold-out crowd to fill up Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday night. Mike Gundy’s Cowboys are a slumping, wounded lot, having lost three of their last four games. But it will be homecoming night and OSU will wear its 1988 throwback uniforms to honor Barry Sanders, so anything is possible.
“There’s a lot of stuff on defense that you’re going to have to be prepared for,” Herman said. “And then Justice Hill. I mean, this guy’s a stud.”
Oklahoma State’s exceptional running back will give the Longhorns fits. Will the same be said of UT’s offense based on the triggerman?
Ehlinger sprained his AC joint in his throwing shoulder on the opening drive against Baylor on Oct. 13. He left the game after only 10 plays, and Buechele played the rest of the day. Texas won 23-17 to push its winning streak to six games, the school’s longest since 2013.
Ehlinger was dressed in street clothes after halftime. He spent last week resting and rehabilitating. Herman said he threw a Nerf football 10 times and a regular football 15 times on Sunday. He was scheduled to throw the regular football between 25-30 times on Monday.
“There’s a protocol, if you will, for overhead throwers with AC sprains that we want to make sure that we adhere to as aggressively as possible without making sure we don’t have any major setbacks that could be lingering,” Herman said.
As of midday Monday, the plan was for Ehlinger to throw 25 times during Tuesday’s practice in full pads. The training staff hoped to bump that to 50 on Wednesday. “A normal day for him would be 75 to 80 anyways,” Herman said.
Herman said the medical staff has different metrics to gauge Ehlinger’s effectiveness. But the sophomore also will have to pass the eyeball test.
“What does his motion look like, does it look like he’s babying throws, does it look like he’s altering the way that he’s used to throwing?” Herman said.
Buechele has 19 career starts, so it’s not like Texas would start a journeyman. He’s 10-9 as a starter with 4,547 career passing yards and 29 touchdowns. He started every game in 2016 and played through a series of injuries. His toughness could not be questioned. Last season, Buechele started seven times while Ehlinger started the other six as neither player could stay healthy enough to play at a consistent level.
“Shane is a very, he’s an above-average quarterback,” Herman said. “I think the recruiting experts, if you go back, (said) he was a dual-threat guy, with a fantastic release.”
Asked if he sensed any doubts in the locker room about Buechele, Herman said, “There is zero. I mean, I don’t feel it at least.
“I think there’s certainly a lot of confidence that Sam had earned in his teammates,” he added, “but based off what Shane Buechele has done in his career here, there’s nobody that doubts that we can win games with him and win big games with him.”
Herman said there are no plans to devise one game plan for Ehlinger and a different one for Buechele.
“Yeah, I think that gets overblown a lot with quarterbacks,” Herman said. “Are they different? Certainly. I don’t know any quarterback room that has two clones. Do they have certain strengths and weaknesses? Yeah. But I think our offense, it’s very easy to plug-and-play.”
With Ehlinger sidelined for a few days, Buechele has been working with the first-team offense. Third-stringer Cam Rising, a freshman, has been working with the second team.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual at UT. The bye week sailed by with no problems, Herman said. “Everybody made it back safely from wherever they were taking their time off.”
Tight end Andrew Beck has strep throat, and linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch is working through neck stiffness suffered from last week’s car accident. Defensive back Josh Thompson also hyper-extended his knee last week but will practice this week.
“Other than that,” Herman said, “same as it ever was.”
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