QB Sam Ehlinger sets new career highs as Longhorns pile up third-most yardage in school history
Posted September 13th, 2020
Saturday night’s 59-3 victory over UTEP was cathartic for anyone with an emotional attachment to Texas football.
After weeks of coronavirus testing and mask wearing, the 14th-ranked Longhorns got to act like football players again by whaling on the Miners. It was a rather impressive way to start the season.
“Going on the field is a true blessing,” left tackle Samuel Cosmi said. “We were stoked to go out there and play.”
After months of wondering if football was safe, coach Tom Herman got to stand back and oversee a domination that equaled the biggest blowout of his four-year tenure. Although he noted that wearing a mask was “a pain in the butt.”
“Even running out, we had smoke, we had fans that were cheering, we had music, the whole nine,” Herman said. “It felt really, really normal, as normal as it could be.”
After Zooming themselves into oblivion, home schooling their kids and avoiding large gatherings, a few UT fans came to Royal-Memorial Stadium ready to shout and sing “The Eyes of Texas.” The official attendance was 15,337 in a building capable of holding more than 100,000.
Those who stayed until the end held up the “Hook ’em” hand sign and sang the school song. Some Longhorns jogged off while others walked toward the locker room. The days of the whole team staying on the field to sing The Eyes with fans may be over, at least temporarily.
“We all got to go out there and do the thing we love,” defensive end Joseph Ossai said. “You know, play the game of football.”
First-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich promised an up-tempo offense, and it most certainly was. The Horns scored six touchdowns on their first eight drives as quarterback Sam Ehligner piled up new career highs in passing yards (426) and touchdowns (five).
Texas amassed 689 total yards, the third-highest total in school history. That included a school-record 481 passing yards. Practically everyone wearing a uniform got some playing time, including backup quarterback Casey Thompson and third-stronger Hudson Card. With the NCAA freezing everyone’s eligibility this season because of the pandemic, why not?
Still, the whole scene was kind of weird. Fans were scattered literally all over the building, even tucked into the far corners of the upper deck, as UT stressed social distancing. The Longhorn Band did not play, but the UT pom and cheer squads performed from the band’s place in the stands.
The late Walter Cronkite’s voiceover still thundered over the loudspeakers that UT fans should “get their Horns up” at the start of the fourth quarter. The 1,500 fan cutouts that were placed in the east stands didn’t move, though.
The large swath of cutouts running up section 29 served as a buffer between the student section and the general population. A UT spokesman said that 1,198 students underwent COVID testing on Friday, and 1,103 were negative. A total of 969 healthy students showed up and had their own concession stands and restrooms.
The student-athletes running around on the field are tested three times per week, according to Big 12 guidelines, including on Friday mornings. Every UT player tested negative before the game, a team spokesman said.
With a full bill of health, the Horns took used their own pick axe on their UT System brethren from El Paso.
On the first play of the game, Joshua Moore ran an inside slant, caught a dart from Ehlinger and blasted his way home for a 78-yard touchdown. On UT’s second possession, tight end Cade Brewer slipped free down the seam and made a 20-yard touchdown catch.
Jordan Whittington had a nifty end-around near the goal line, and Roschon Johnson punched it in from two yards out. Arizona grad transfer Brenden Schooler made his introduction with a 25-yard catch and then a 40-yard touchdown. Michigan grad transfer Tarik Black found paydirt later with a 5-yard touchdown grab, too.
“Confidence is a real thing,” Ehlinger said. “Especially with the new system, becoming confident in-game is different than becoming confident in practice. So to be able to get all those different guys touches and touchdowns is really, really beneficial for our confidence as an offense as a whole and then also individually for those guys.”
By that point, Texas led 35-0 but it still wasn’t over. Walk-on Kai Money from Brownsville caught Ehlinger’s fifth touchdown pass of the night with six seconds left before halftime.
Thompson played the third quarter and threw touchdowns to Brennen Eagles (35 yards) and Marcus Washington (17). Card got some work and a promising drive stalled out at the UTEP 8-yard line.
Before anyone breaks out the anointing oil, realize that UTEP (1-1) is not a good team. The Miners managed 233 total yards but went 3-for-16 on third downs. UT’s Josh Thompson made a terrific, leaping interception as the defense tallied two sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Thompson left the game early with a laceration to his ear, requiring a trip to the hospital. Jordan Whittington also left early with a knee injury. He’ll have an MRI on Sunday, Herman said. Those were the only two major injuries.
Now the only major question is whether the Horns can keep their focus after a huge win.
Most college football players revert back to students after big games. They go to parties on campus or clubs, hang out with friends and generally do college things. If they slip up now, players could find themselves in some kind of COVID quarantine.
Texas doesn’t play again until Sept. 26 at Texas Tech. Herman wouldn’t be too thrilled to have multiple guys missing practice in the coming week because they wanted to party until dawn.
“I’m pretty confident if they understand the goal and what we’re actually trying to accomplish, making history, I’m not too worried about my teammates going out and doing things,” safety Caden Sterns said. “You can’t right now obviously with the virus going on. So I think they’ll handle their business.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.