Over the course of the week leading up to the Longhorns’ game against the San Jose State Spartans, head coach Tom Herman and his players repeatedly told the media “we can’t let Maryland beat us twice.”
The Horns did not fall to the Terrapins again, and rather than let last week’s loss loom, they ran right over any defender in their path on the way to a 56-0 victory over San Jose State for Herman’s first victory at Texas. Chris Warren had 166 of Texas’ 406 rushing yards on 16 carries, scoring twice. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger was 15-of-27 for 222 yards and a score in his first career start.
Texas did not charge out of the gates early with Ehlinger (or junior Jerrod Heard in the wildcat) at the helm; the Longhorns gained one first down before being forced to punt, with Ehlinger showing some signs of first game jitters.
SJSU and Texas traded punts on the ensuing three drives. Texas punter Michael Dickson and SJSU punter Michael Carrizosa each had a respectable first half, with both combining to average 45.4 yards a kick with minimal returns.
Texas took over on their own 43 midway through the first quarter. Faced with a third down, the Longhorns were helped by a defensive holding penalty to give them a first down on the Spartan 41. Then, faced with a 4th and 6 on the Spartan 37, Ehlinger found Warren for a nine yard conversion.
Heard came in to spell Ehlinger, and took the direct snap off the left side into the end zone to give the Horns their first offensive touchdown of the game.
Texas forced another punt, and took over possession at the end of the first quarter. After moving into San Jose State territory, Warren took a direct snap 41 yards to the end zone to make it 14-0, breaking several tackles along the way. Texas used the legs of Warren and the arm of Ehlinger to record a six play, 89 yard drive.
Not everything was going Texas’ way, however. The secondary was caught out of position several times in the first half against San Jose State offensive coordinator Andrew Sowder’s veer and shoot, with several passes that would assuredly have been touchdowns being dropped or just overthrown. These were mistakes that were not punished, but will be against superior opponents.
In addition, Ehlinger’s first half was not spotless, even though his stat line read that way. Ehlinger forced several throws into tight windows and Spartan defenders had opportunities to punish the true freshman with turnovers, they just did not take advantage.
Leading by two scores with just over two minutes remaining in the half, the offense took over on their own 23. Texas used this opportunity to practice the two minute offense, with senior Lorenzo Joe hauling in a spectacular catch to put Texas into the red zone with a minute remaining.
Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck went back to what worked earlier in the game, putting Heard in and running him over the left side once more to give Texas a three score lead heading into the half.
“I think being back there and communicating with the offensive line is something you lose,” Heard said on going back to playing quarterback. “But taking snaps and being able to run behind them is something that I love.”
After limiting SJSU to a three and out in its opening drive of the second half, Texas put together its most dominating drive of the game. Beginning on the eight yard line, Texas put together a 16 play drive where they ran the ball 12 times. Four different rushers received carries on that drive. Warren had five carries, pushing Texas to the Spartan 31. After Heard moved the Horns into the red zone, sophomore Kyle Porter carried the ball four straight times, scoring his first career collegiate touchdown from three yards out.
Herman made it clear how important the ground game is to the success of his team.
“We need to run the ball,” Herman said. “We’ve got an above-average offensive line. We’ve got good tailbacks. That’s who we are. That’s what we believe in.”
Facing a four score deficit, the Spartans began to go to the air more than they had done previously. They were punished for it when SJSU quarterback Montel Aaron threw a strike to Texas’ Holton Hill, who returned it the other way 45 yards for his second pick-6 of the season.
“I just saw my team blocking for me and I just used my vision,” Hill said. “I cut it back and I was like ‘yes, thank you.”
Herman made sure to note how improved Hill has been as a teammate.
“Holton Hill, man, what a joy it’s been to watch that kid grow,” Herman said. “He’s done a complete 180 from our short time here in nine months. For him to contribute as positively as he has in the last couple of weeks is really good, because that’s a position of very little depth right now.”
Hill’s score was part of a phenomenal defensive effort from the Longhorns. Texas limited SJSU to just 62 yards on 23 carries, and 129 yards on 15 completions. Facing an offense that places a lot of importance of running play after play to tire out the defense, the Spartans only ran 52 plays. Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson was a big part of that defense, leading the Longhorns with 7 tackles.
“I told those guys to go out there and play as hard as you can,” Jefferson said. “We needed the shutout to prove to people that we could actually do it and prove it to ourselves.”
Texas highest scoring quarter ended up being the final one. Warren added another score from nine yards out (with an assist from freshman guard Patrick Hudson) after Ehlinger hit two deep passes to move the team down the field. The Texas offense had little time to rest as a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff gave them the ball on the Spartan 19. Ehlinger gave two shovel passes to senior Armanti Foreman, who took the second one into the end zone for Ehlinger’s first career passing touchdown.
It was not what Ehlinger expected his first touchdown to be like, but he could not complain.
“I appreciate Coach Beck giving that one to me,” Ehlinger said. “He kept flipping it and trying to get my first passing touchdown.”
The Longhorns’ eighth and final score came with the backups in, as true freshman Toneil Carter ran it in from four yards out to put the game at its final 56-0 mark.
The ground attack helped Texas control the game, but the two quarterback system of Ehlinger and Heard had to put it into place. Herman took the time to compliment both of his signal-callers.
“I think Sam played good,” Herman said. “I mean, for that being his first collegiate start, that was good. I thought he was very poised in the pocket.
“Jerrod is a dynamic playmaker. He’s a guy comfortable back there taking snaps and comfortable in the QB run game, and that is a very needed, added dimension in our offense to equate the numbers like that in terms of not having the quarterback have to hand off to somebody, and now you’re in minus-two.”
After Ehlinger’s performance and sophomore Shane Buechele’s lack of one, Texas could have an important choice to make before heading into Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans. It was a choice Herman said he could not make after the game.
“I think it would be premature of me to say that today,” Herman said. “We’ve got to see how healthy (Buechele) can be. He played pretty good against a really good team in Maryland.”
Herman said he would know more about Buechele’s health on Tuesday and Wednesday. As far as preparing for USC? That will have to wait a day.
“Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this one.”