Each week this fall, we’re looking at a specific number that’s tied to Texas football.
This week’s notable number is 20 — the jersey number that Texas retired in 1979 in honor of the legendary Earl Campbell. Sophomore lineman Joseph Ossai compiled 20 tackles last season, and eight of those stops came in the Sugar Bowl. UT has 20 80-yard runs in its history, but no Longhorn has accomplished that feat since it was done three times in 2015.
Twenty also represents the number of starts that junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger has made at Texas.
Ehlinger is 12-8 as a starter, though those numbers can be deceptive. For example, Ehlinger gets credit for a 2018 win over Baylor that he started but exited after a first-drive injury. A winning relief effort in the 2017 Texas Bowl, however, doesn’t go on the résumé.
In those 20 starts, 14 of which came last season, Ehlinger is 408 of 664 for 4,950 yards and 32 touchdowns. He averaged just over three yards per rushing attempt and ran for another 18 scores.
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) August 27, 2019
How do Ehlinger’s stats stack up against the 20-start starts of other recent UT quarterbacks?
- Vince Young (2003-05): 18-2 record; 223 of 370 for 2,811 yards, 20 TDs plus 6.6 yards per carry, 20 rush TDs
- Colt McCoy (2006-07): 15-5 record; 377 of 559 for 4,446 yards, 43 TDs plus 2.7 yards per carry, 3 rush TDs
- David Ash (2011-13): 13-7 record; 327 of 513 for 4,041 yards, 26 TDs plus 3.2 yards per carry, 4 rush TDs
- Sam Ehlinger (2017-18): 12-8 record; 408 of 664 for 4,950 yards, 32 TDs plus 3.0 yards per carry, 18 rush TDs
Of those four quarterbacks, only Ehlinger and McCoy beat Oklahoma during their first 20 starts. Every one of those players did pick up a signature win, however. Ehlinger and Young both led Texas to major bowl victories, Ehlinger in the Sugar Bowl (Georgia) and Young in the Rose Bowl (Michigan). McCoy was beaten by No. 1 Ohio State in his second career start, but he led Texas to a 28-10 win over the next ranked opponent he faced (Oklahoma). Ash was victorious in the Holiday and Alamo Bowls.
With his first 20 starts behind him, Ehlinger could eventually join an exclusive UT club. Only two quarterbacks — McCoy and Peter Gardere — started 40 times in their career. McCoy’s 53 starts from 2006-09 are a school record.
If Ehlinger does eventually reach that 40-start plateau, expect him to treat that game like it was his first. (In Ehlinger’s actual first start, by the way, he totaled 270 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass in a 56-0 blowout of San Jose State). Senior receiver Collin Johnson told reporters this week that his starting quarterback is incumbent but not complacent.
“One thing that can get kind of scary, I haven’t seen it here but when a guy’s established, that guy, sometimes you can see that person getting a little lazy,” Johnson said. “Here, that’s not the case with Sam. Sam always plays with a chip on his shoulder, practices with a chip on his shoulder, that’s just a part of his DNA.”
Since McCoy’s last suited up for the Longhorns, only two quarterbacks have been designated as captains. Neither Case McCoy nor Tyrone Swoopes opened the 2013 and 2016 campaigns as starters, though. Ehlinger enters this season as an unquestioned starter and one of UT’s five team captains.
“One of the biggest honors of my life to know that my teammates respect and see me as a leader of their team,” Ehlinger said. “I have every right interest in mind when it comes to my teammates, and it’s a blessing and an honor that they see that in me as well.”