Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Sam Ehlinger
- Texas coach Tom Herman shocked fans by announcing a starting quarterback before the team's opener against Maryland.
- Sam Ehlinger got the call, which makes sense because of how he fits with the Longhorns' scheme and personnel.
- But Herman's early announcement shows an increased level of faith in Ehlinger.
Nowadays, you can bet on just about anything.
You can bet on the outcome of sporting events, you can bet on what will happen on your favorite reality TV show, you can bet on who will win political elections. I’m pretty certain you can even bet on whether or not the sun will come up in the morning.
While there are almost no guarantees in the betting world, there are plenty of “safe” bets out there. Well, I would have told you that was the case before last week, anyway.
Throughout the offseason, Texas coach Tom Herman has said there’s been an open competition for the starting quarterback job. He never even really hinted that either competing quarterback had the upper hand in the battle for QB1.
The overwhelming belief was that we weren’t going to find out who the starter was until the Texas offense took the field against Maryland on Sept. 1. But the fact that we got it early makes it seem like Herman really believes in sophomore Sam Ehlinger.
Herman shocked Longhorn fans by announcing that “barring any sort of catastrophe between now and the Maryland game,” Ehlinger would get the start in the season opener against the Terrapins.
Ehlinger, who went just 2-4 as a starter during his freshman year, beat out junior Shane Buechele (5-2 in 2017) to earn QB1 honors for the Horns.
Texas 2017 QB Comparison
Despite the quarterbacks’ records as starters last season, the decision to go with Ehlinger isn’t much of a surprise.
Ehlinger led the Longhorns in passing (1,915) and rushing (381) yards in 2017. He guided Texas to its biggest regular-season wins, over Kansas State and West Virginia, and had it on the brink of top-10 wins over USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
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The last time we saw Texas play a game, Ehlinger got the start and helped the Longhorns earn their first bowl win since 2012, over Missouri in the Texas Bowl.
While there is still some debate about who is the better overall quarterback between Ehlinger and Buechele, there is no debate that Ehlinger is the better fit for Herman’s offense.
Herman’s most successful offenses during his time as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State and head coach at Houston featured mobile and efficient running quarterbacks. Think J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller and Greg Ward Jr.
While Ehlinger isn’t the quality of runner that any of those guys were, he’s much more mobile than Buechele and has the ability to make game-changing plays with his legs at any time.
It’s important to note that Herman was not at Texas when Buechele was given a scholarship. Even though Buechele was a four-star recruit from Texas (Arlington Lamar HS), we will never know for sure if Herman would have been interested in him if he were in charge at Texas at the time.
In addition to Ehlinger being the better fit in the scheme that Herman wants to employ, the Austin native also is the better fit for the personnel that Texas has.
The biggest question facing this Texas team is the offensive line. Because of the question marks up front, the more mobile quarterback makes for the far better option.
If given a clean pocket, Buechele can comfortably drop back and pick apart a defense with his arm. However, he lacks Ehlinger’s ability to throw on the run and scramble to pick up first downs when the pocket collapses. We saw plenty of examples of that last season.
As impressive as Ehlinger was at times during his freshman campaign, his late-game decision-making proved costly. A fumble in double overtime against USC, an interception in the end zone in overtime against Oklahoma State and a late interception against Texas Tech directly cost the Longhorns three wins a year ago.
The big question for Ehlinger, Herman and this Texas offense going into 2018 is whether those were just freshman mistakes or a disturbing trend. The answer to that question will determine whether or not Herman’s decision to start the sophomore QB was the right one.
The call to start Ehlinger didn’t surprise too many people, but the early announcement did. That should give Longhorns fans faith that Herman believes he has his guy, whether he’s right or not.
Brad Kellner hosts Midday with Trey & BK on The Horn ATX, the flagship radio station of the Texas Longhorns. Follow him on Twitter @BradKellner.