November has arrived, and though everyone more clearly understands the strengths and limitations of Texas quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger, no one appears to have a clear idea of who should be THE man behind center for the Longhorns with four games left to play.
Which means – clearly – the Longhorns will need to commit to both quarterbacks the rest of the way if Tom Herman’s group wants to be preparing for a bowl game come December.
Obviously the primary factor in determining the Texas quarterback situation the rest of the way is the health of Ehlinger, who has been banged around since almost engineering a win against USC in Los Angeles. He appears to be healthy this week in preparation for Saturday night’s TCU game in Ft. Worth, and if that’s the case, then Herman has a decision to make.
In a perfect world, both players are healthy and one or the other clearly outplays the other, and the starting quarterback emerges organically. In the real world, both quarterbacks have been nicked up, and neither has shown they can survive week-to-week without bags of ice, ibuprofen, walking boots or rest in a dark room.
Hence, if the Longhorns are to have a chance to win two games and become bowl-eligible – and thus earn additional and much-needed practice time – they should simply go forward with the understanding that there will be no naming of one “starter” for the rest of the season.
Often – pretty much every week – the “quarterback question” is asked of Herman: Who’s your starter? Why? Etc. etc. etc.
One thing Herman could do – and he’s sort of done this without doing it, if that makes sense – is simply say, “We aren’t naming a bonafide starter for the rest of the season. We will need to pass and run and mix and match and hold our mirrors just right and blow smoke accordingly with our offense in order to get two more wins. And we won’t tell you who we are starting each week until game day.”
TCU has – and it’s not close – the most complete defense remaining on the Texas schedule. Based on experience – and based on the fact that Ehlinger is trying to overcome getting his head slammed to the turf – Buechele should absolutely be the starter Saturday against the Horned Frogs. A rusty and inconsistent Ehlinger is not the equation for beating the Horned Frogs.
However, if the Longhorns have packages to run with Ehlinger as the quarterback, they should implement those against the Frogs. Mix in a series or two with Ehlinger just to give the Frogs a different look. Be nuanced in how you use the quarterbacks, playing them both well before the game has been decided.
If the game is tight, stick with Buechele, who’s shown he can manage a game and get wins by making smart decisions and not putting the ball on the ground or in the hands of opponents. If Texas gets a lead – or falls behind considerably – play Ehlinger more, building his experience for the near and extended future.
Play to win, up until the point when winning is not possible, and at that point UT needs to play to win two of the final three games. It’s not an enviable place to be, but it’s where the Longhorns are at this stage.
Who should be the Texas starting quarterback? I feel strongly both ways. And so should Tom Herman.