AUSTIN — While one Texas injury changed the course of the game, in the end, it didn’t completely change the course of Texas’ season.
Sophomore Sam Ehlinger was pulled from the game by the officials on the Longhorns’ first drive with blood on his hand. When he got to the sideline he wasn’t out for a couple of plays, but rather for the rest of the game with a shoulder injury. Junior Shane Buechele replaced him, and along with a stout defensive performance, helped navigate the No. 9 Longhorns to a 23-17 win over Baylor.
Texas improves to 6-1 and remains an undefeated 4-0 in the Big 12. They achieve bowl eligibility in October for the first time since 2012.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, and then when your starting quarterback goes out in the first drive, there could have been some panic,” Herman said. “Could have been a little shock to everybody, especially knowing that they went down and scored right after that.”
It could have been a shock, but Herman’s backup quarterback helped guide Texas across the finish line for the win.
“I have told you guys and I want to tell the world: Shane Buechele is the most engaged; he’s the most prepared; he’s the most positive coaching backup quarterback I’ve ever been around in my life,” Herman said. “I’ve been around some really good ones, really, really good ones.”
The Longhorns needed a defensive stop late in order to seal the victory, a continuing trend for this team. Baylor’s Charlie Brewer orchestrated a 13-play, 80 yard drive in an attempt to tie the game. He needed 97, and after Brewer’s final throw sailed out the back of the end zone, Texas players ran onto the field in celebration. “Great stop,” Herman said after the game.
It wasn’t clear how long Ehlinger would be out when he left on Texas’ opening drive. He sustained a cut that bled enough for officials to remove him from the game, but when he got to the sideline he told the coaches something else was ailing him.
“He came off, he goes ‘coach, my shoulder is (pauses) messed up,’” Herman said. “So we had the trainers look at him, and the shoulder was messed up.”
Herman said in his postgame conference Ehlinger was diagnosed with a sprain of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. He said Ehlinger will get an MRI to make sure there’s no ligament damage, but hoped to have him throwing by the end of the week.
Buechele then took the field as QB1. Texas finished the drive with a Cameron Dicker field goal to give the Longhorns a 3-0 lead. Baylor scored on the ensuing drive, and Texas responded with another Dicker field goal. Buechele was 2-of-4 for 19 yards on the second field drive.
Buechele never settled into a rhythm throughout the course of the game, finishing 20-of-34 for 184 yards with an interception. Though he didn’t find his touch, he still found chemistry with his favorite target and close friend, junior Collin Johnson.
Trailing 10-6 in the late second quarter, Texas moved into Baylor territory thanks to two rushes from freshman Keaontay Ingram and a facemask penalty by the Bears. On first-and-ten, Buechele dropped back and threw down the far sideline. Johnson extended his arms, found the football, and ran into the end zone to give Texas the lead. “All of our quarterbacks love throwing him the ball because they trust him,” Herman said.
Texas’ defense stood strong on the next drive and gave the Longhorns the ball back with 3:40 remaining in the half. That drive became the Ingram show.
Ingram had rushes of 5, 10, and 18 that helped move the ball to the Baylor three. Lil’Jordan Humphrey lined up at quarterback and ran the ball in for the score. Ingram helped the Longhorns with 19 carries for 110 yards, the first 100-yard rusher for the Longhorns in more than a year.
Texas’ defense stood strong again, leaving enough time for Dicker to hit another field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
After halftime, the Texas offense struggled to pick up chunk plays and put points on the board. Buechele’s longest pass was 12 yards, and he recorded his first interception of the season on a long attempt to junior Devin Duvernay.
In addition, the hero of the Oklahoma game struggled. Dicker missed a 34-yard field goal that would have made it a two possession game in response to a Jalen Hurd touchdown run for Baylor. Instead, Texas entered the fourth with a 23-17 lead.
Where Buechele struggled, the other side of the ball held up just enough. The Longhorns gave up 53 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground in the fourth, with most of those yards coming on Baylor’s final drive. In the end, Texas made sure not to give up the 20 more that would have earned Baylor its first win over the Longhorns since 2014.
After helping guide his team to the win, Buechele’s backup play was praised by his head coach following the game.
“I told him we’re not going to change because you’re in here,” Herman said. “If Sam is 1A, you’re 1B, and we feel confident that you can execute the game plan.”
Herman also had reason to compliment the play of his defense who totaled 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, and one Caden Sterns interception against the Bears. Sterns’ interception was his fourth of the season, tying the freshman record with Chris Carter and Quandre Diggs.
Though there was solid defensive play for most of the game (Orlando’s ninth time holding a Longhorn Power 5 opponent under 20 points), Herman still has some parts of the game that need fine tuning.
“We know we’ve got some work to do on that side of the ball in the fourth quarter,” Herman said. “What that is, I don’t know.”
Texas now enters its only open weekend of the season prior to beginning the final stretch at Oklahoma State. The focus will be on getting everyone healthy, specifically the Longhorns’ starting quarterback.
“The off week comes at a very good time, and we need to rest,” Herman said. “We need to heal. We’ve been playing football for 11 straight weeks, and the guys need to take a nice deep breath, exhale, and get ready to come to work on Tuesday.”