We continue our annual Triplets of the Big 12 series, looking at every conference school’s expected standouts at quarterback, running back and receiver.
Here, we’re talking Texas.
Quarterback: Sam Ehlinger
FYI: 6-3, 230-pound junior, from Austin Westlake; has played in 23 career games and has started 20 of those, joining recent UT quarterbacks Vince Young, Colt McCoy and David Ash in that exclusive Twenty Starts Club. Ehlinger is 12-8 in his first 20 starts; Young was 18-2 in his, McCoy 15-5 and Ash 13-7. The preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year had the fifth-best passing season in school history last year and set a Big 12 record with 308 straight pass attempts without an interception. That streak spanned 10 games without a pick.
Last year: 275 of 425 for 3,292 yards, 25 TDs and 5 INTs. Also rushed for 482 yards and 16 TDs; his 41 combined TDs were the second-most in UT history, behind McCoy’s 45 from 2008. (Career: 433-700-5,207, 36/12 plus 278-867-18 rushing)
Maybe Ehlinger isn’t the best pure quarterback in the Big 12. Others might have bigger arms with more impressive stat lines.
But Ehlinger is the league’s most powerful quarterback and possibly the most valuable player on his team.
Consider that a year ago, he scored 16 rushing touchdowns. That was the most of any Power Five quarterback and second-best in the country. Only Army’s Kelvin Hopkins, who had 17, scored more times than Ehlinger. And Hopkins ran an option, run-oriented offense.
Ehlinger also can throw well. His 3,296 yards represent the best numbers of any returning quarterback in the Big 12. Counting the 25 touchdowns he threw, Ehlinger had a direct hand in 41 scores.
The one area where Ehlinger and UT could elevate its offensive game is the ability to reel off big plays. As the conference coaches like to say, the Big 12 is a scoring league. Long-distance throws can get you to the end zone in a hurry. UT was the only team in the Big 12 in 2018 — and one of only two in the country (Central Michigan) — that didn’t have a play longer than 50 yards.
Running back: Keaontay Ingram
FYI: 6-0, 220-pound sophomore from Carthage; has played in 13 career games, but has started just two (against Oklahoma State and West Virginia). His 76 career prep touchdowns broke a Carthage record.
Last year: 142 carries for 708 yards and 3 TDs (Career: Same). His best game so far was against Baylor last year, when he set career highs for carries (19), yards (110), total offensive yards (110) and all-purpose yards (112).
Ehlinger will need help from the running game. Ingram, a sophomore, rotated with Tre Watson a year ago and is set to be the starter. He rushed for 708 yards with three touchdowns in 2018. But Ingram has been hobbled some this August and left UT’s first scrimmage with what was diagnosed as a bone bruise to his knee.
Jordan Whittington, the most talked about Texas freshman, is pushing for playing time. He was a five-star prospect out of Cuero who was ranked as the second-best athlete in the country. He’s found his niche at tailback.
Wide receiver: Collin Johnson
FYI: 6-6, 220-pound senior from San Jose, Calif.; a preseason all-conference pick, Johnson enters his final season ranked ninth in school history in all-time in receptions and 10th in career yards. Johnson started 12 of the 13 games last year was second on the team in catches, yards and TDs. He’s the son of former UT All-American defensive back and Hall of Honor inductee Johnnie Johnson. And his brother Kirk is a UT running back.
Last year: 68 catches for 985 yards and 7 TDs, which were second on the team behind Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Set a Big 12 championship game record with 177 receiving yards, on nine catches, including a touchdowns. (Career: 150-2,065-12)
Johnson, after three steady years, opted to return for his senior season. Maybe he’s in line for something spectacular. At 6–6, 220 pounds, he has dominating size. But his numbers haven’t been as flashy as other receivers in the Big 12. He caught 68 passes for 985 yards last season, with three 100-yard efforts (TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma).
Opposing defenses also will need to contend with Devin Duvernay, who had 42 receptions for 546 yards and four touchdowns in 2018 and is moving inside to Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s former slot position.
Our Big 12 triplets
Coming tomorrow morning: Texas Tech