Texas’ quarterback storyline is likely to shift back to Shane Buechele this week now that Sam Ehlinger is day-to-day after suffering a concussion against Oklahoma State.
Ehlinger played the entire game against the Cowboys, and in typical hard-nosed style, he rushed 16 times and threw for 241 yards.
The freshman didn’t seem worse for wear after the game with reporters, taking full responsibility for throwing the game-ending interception that sealed a 13-10 overtime loss. But UT coach Tom Herman said “the medical guys kind of noticed something off.”
Ehlinger was evaluated and sent home on Saturday night. Then he returned to the football building on Sunday and had some symptoms, Herman said.
Ehlinger must complete the team’s concussion protocol, along with center Zach Shackelford, who also had a concussion, before getting cleared to play against Baylor (0-7, 0-4 Big 12). Until then, Buechele will be back under center as Texas (3-4, 2-2) attempts to get back above .500.
Receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps also has a sprained knee injury, Herman said. His availability against Baylor is still unclear.
“I hope by now we all know that a coach’s role in that is very, very limited, if any,” Herman said about Ehlinger’s diagnosis. “My understanding is that he was cleared symptom-free the entire week after the Oklahoma game. Obviously he was cleared enough to go back in the game. At some point during the game against Oklahoma State, something happened.”
Herman was asked how much he worries about putting Ehlinger’s health in jeopardy considering how hard the quarterback plays. “Yeah, I mean, it’s football,” he said.
Ehlinger was brought down hard in the fourth quarter two weeks ago against Oklahoma. The department was flooded with emails that the quarterback looked woozy after standing up. He was evaluated by the UT medical staff at the Cotton Bowl and it was determined Ehlinger could return to the game.
Then, Ehlinger was brought down hard in overtime against Oklahoma State. It’s unclear whether that tackle clouded his judgement on that final play.
“The last play on third-and-4 was the exact same play that Clemson ran for the game-winner against Alabama in the national championship game,” Herman said.
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Clemson ran the play to the right side of the field, whereas UT went left. It was a designed pick play where the outside receiver blocked the cornerback and the slot receiver slipped outside into the open for the catch.
In UT’s version, Lorenzo Joe didn’t get a clean block, and Jerrod Heard didn’t get a free release into the open. Oklahoma State’s defensive pressure forced Ehlinger to backpedal and freelance.
Said Ehlinger about the interception, “That’s not anything that I should have done. That was a mistake.”
Ehlinger’s health has become a touchy topic for Herman and UT administrators. Team doctors and trainers, who do not speak to reporters, have a national reputation for being at the forefront of concussion research. The school pressed for tougher language on NCAA concussion guidelines in January 2015 at the association’s national meeting.
Still, UT is sensitive to the topic after quarterback David Ash suffered multiple concussions earlier this decade and eventually gave up football. The school can’t say too much, either, because of federal laws that protect students’ medical information.
Herman said he was proud of Buechele for staying engaged over the last three games despite Ehlinger taking over as the starter. Buechele suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener against Maryland and an ankle injury against Iowa State.
Buechele is still not close to full strength, but it’s unlikely Ehlinger will start against the Bears if he misses too much practice time. “Shane is as good as probably he’s going to be all season,” Herman said. “He’s still wearing a brace on the ankle to protect it more than anything right now.”
Herman said Buechele has been able to get more velocity on his throws. “When he runs, it’s not a gallop like it was,” the coach said.
Receiver Jerrod Heard will get more practice time at quarterback this week if Ehlinger can’t practice, Herman said.
“It’s all going to depend on these next couple of days with Sam, to be honest with you,” Herman said. “If he’s progressing, this is something that you can be cleared in three or four days, but if you have any setbacks along the way, that kind of restarts the clock.”
Meanwhile, Herman faced more questions about the team’s running game and other offensive woes. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” he said.
Herman insists offensive coordinator Tim Beck is committed to running the football even though the Horns did that only 18 times in the second half. Chris Warren III finished the game with 12 carries for 33 yards — a 2.8 average. Oklahoma State’s leading rusher Justice Hill ran the ball 33 times for 117 yards.
“When you go in with a plan and that plan doesn’t work, you have to adjust,” Herman said. “You’re not going to survive many games running the ball for 2 or 2 1/2 yards per carry with your running backs. So, we’ve got to get better at it.”
Herman also made clear that he has final say on the receiver rotation. “Me. Always,” he said.
Asked why Armanti Foreman and Collin Johnson aren’t being used as much, Herman indicated again that others are practicing better. Foreman, the team’s leader in touchdown catches, has been effectively benched. Johnson, the team’s leader in receiving yards, was demoted against Oklahoma State.
“The statistics are irrelevant,” Herman said. “Each game is and each week of practice is an independent event. I don’t know many teams where it’s not.”
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