Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) and his teammates sing "The Eyes of Texas" after the Big 12 Conference championship loss to Oklahoma in Arlington on Saturday. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Whys of Texas: Aside from Sam Ehlinger, who’s the most important Longhorn?

The left tackle? A running back? Once you get past the quarterback, what one player can Texas not go without, our mailbag readers want to know.

Posted August 28th, 2019

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We muddled through the offseason, entertained ourselves during talking season and sweated through the preseason. Come Saturday, it’s football season. Finally.

Each August, one of the more popular staples of preseason coverage involves ranking the most important Longhorns. It’s easy, really. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger ranks 1-2-3 on that list. Probably even 4-5, too.

This question arrived through the Internet tubes from Swervin60: “Besides Sam, who is the one player Texas can not afford to lose this year and still meet its goals?”

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Several players have strong arguments, seems to me:

  • Left tackle Sam Cosmi. Granted, he’s only a sophomore, but he’s already on track to be an NFL prospect. Ehlinger surely needs someone to protect his blind side.
  • Safety Caden Sterns. He’s awfully exciting, but the secondary is the deepest unit on defense. Same goes for receiver on the offensive side. The Horns would still march forward if one of its standout receivers got dinged up. Knock on wood, of course.
  • The running backs, as a group, have almost taken themselves out entirely before the season even begins. So yes, that group has a legitimate argument.

But we’re looking for a specific player here. And fans will see a noticeable drop in the run defense if something happened to defensive tackle Keondre Coburn.

Texas defensive lineman Patrick Bayouth (left) is tackled by Keondre Coburn during practice earlier this month. (Ana Ramirez/American-Statesman)

“It all starts in the middle, right?” defensive line coach Oscar Giles said. “The tip of the spear is your nose guard. And if you have someone who can slice and get penetration, you got a chance. Keondre gives us that.”

Two years ago, Poona Ford was an underrated anchor in the middle. In August, few thought he would be so vital. Ford ended up being the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year. He led the way for a run defense that finished second in the Big 12.

Last season, Chris Nelson brought his belly-rubbing ways to the front of the line, and UT allowed just 131.4 rushing yards per game. Again, that was the second-best total in the league.

Coburn must keep it going in 2019. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando needs steady pressure up front to do all the free-wheeling blitzes he likes. Coburn (6-2, 340) has earned the coaches’ trust. This position has depth with Gerald Wilbon (6-3, 325) and Moro Ojomo (6-3, 280). But Coburn is the clear leader.

“We’re blessed. I’m blessed. I get a chance to work with them,” Giles said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach some guys who have played very, very well with that position. And we feel like we’ve got really two or three guys that can do it.”

On to this week’s mailbag:

Where is the trap game on UT’s schedule this season? — Bruce

A trip to Iowa State (Nov. 16) is probably too obvious, so put me down for the following week at Baylor (Nov. 23).

This could solely be related to my fascination with quarterback Charlie Brewer. A solid group of running backs, multiple returning offensive linemen and a defensive shift to a 3-3-5 base to get more speed on the field? There should be a lot of optimism in Waco. And the Bears will be jacked sky-high for the Horns after how last year’s game ended on the final play.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) runs for a first down in the second quarter against Oklahoma in last year’s Big 12 championship game. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

What do you think a good number of carries for Sam would be for week 1? Obviously you want to limit his exposure due to next week’s game. I could see him carry it 20 times next week, but do not want to see it this week. Thoughts? — Darryl

First off, we’re just looking to go 1-0 around here, so who does Texas play next week? Oklahoma? Texas A&M? Just kidding. That’s a great point about limiting Ehlinger, but you still have to win the game, too. Earlier this month, offensive coordinator Tim Beck lamented that coaches didn’t run Ehlinger enough in the second Maryland loss.

“And the reason why is he likes that,” Beck said. “He gets hit, he starts talking smack. I mean, that gets him in the game, right? I don’t know why that is for him, but it is. That’s part of who he is, his nature and his makeup. He likes that.”

With running backs Keaontay Ingram (knee) and Jordan Whittington (sports hernia) both dinged up a little, I expect Ehlinger to get double-digit carries against Louisiana Tech. And we’re talking about Ehlinger taking snaps and feeling his way around the ends. I don’t think he’ll line up and bull his way through a wall of humanity — unless it’s fourth down with the game on the line.

So put me down for 14 rushing attempts. And for prop bet purposes, I’ll say he has 65 yards rushing.

Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers visit Royal-Memorial Stadium next weekend. It could be a national top-10 matchup. (Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press)

Is the LSU game the most hyped (e.g. overpriced) ticket in Texas football history? — J. Maloney

Possibly. It’s at least the most overpriced non-conference game this decade, for sure. I did notice that Stubhub sellers have dropped their prices and now offer tickets in the $320 range on the secondary market. That’s still way more than I would pay for a ticket to a non-conference game in early September.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that should Texas and LSU both take care of business this week in their respective openers, ESPN’s “College GameDay” is likely to be in Austin on Sept. 7. When kickoff arrives, those who paid up to get in the stadium will believe it was worth it.

Will there be an award for the furthest traveled longhorn for each home game? I’m coming all the way from Kinsale, Cork, Ireland, to Austin for the LSU game. — B.D. Ireland’s #1

This is actually something I’ll bet Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte would be interested in. You come all the way from Ireland, and Del Conte might buy you a beverage or two on Bevo Boulevard. I would like to know who travels the furthest for that game. How could you track and verify that?

Why hasn’t anyone talked about the losses on defense? Is it because the Big 12 plays no defense? — SalsaF

Trusty reader Nick answered this question on Twitter for me. “The discussion has absolutely happened,” he wrote. Indeed, there has been a lot of stories written this month about the Horns replacing eight defensive starters. But I’ve been the first to say that isn’t as big as it seems. Yes, Texas lost experienced players. But what if they are replacing these veterans with younger, faster athletes who have more upside potential? Indeed, they are. That’s why you simply haven’t seen a lot of hand-ringing about the topic.

Given the basketball team’s national championship this past spring, is there added pressure on Tom Herman to bring home a similar result in football? — Nit Stu

Ha! I see what you did there.

For those who missed it, someone got a little too excited during the men’s basketball team championship NIT run. After Texas won the title, an image appeared on the school’s athletic website proclaiming the Horns as “National Champions.” Well, NIT champions, absolutely. Just not national champions. The image was quickly taken down after the Twitter police were called into overzealous action.

Can we at least acknowledge that Texas has dramatically upped its game on social media the last two years? I’ll be the first to admit the short videos and graphic edits are rather impressive. Most of it is directed at recruits, not exactly fans. But fans care about recruiting and wins, so there you go.

Got a question for The Whys of Texas mailbag? Send your thoughts to bdavis@statesman.com or drop a line on Twitter (@BDavisAAS).

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