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If Sam Ehlinger plans to contend for the Heisman in 2020, nearing or eclipsing marks set by Colt McCoy, the last Longhorn in serious contention for the award, is a solid approach.
Ehlinger set a school record with five touchdown passes and 429 passing yards in a half during a 59-3 rout of UTEP. He completed 25-of-33 passes for 426 yards in just over 30 minutes of game action, and found five different receivers on his touchdown passes.
Five touchdowns in a game is impressive, as is over 420 yards passing. Finding five different receivers for those touchdowns, including a 78-yard score on a RPO to sophomore Joshua Moore for the very first offensive snap of the season, is impressive in any 60 minute affair.
But in 30? Even against an overmatched opponent like UTEP, that’s an efficiency that makes life great for Ehlinger, Herman, and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. Still, Ehlinger walked off Campbell-Williams Field wanting more.
“To tell you the truth, I’m actually pretty disappointed,” Ehlinger said. “I left a lot of throws out there that I should have made. I can’t wait for the bye week to continue to get better.”
In its consistent breaking of the Miner defense with the passing game, the Longhorns set a school record with 481 passing yards. That broke a mark set against Houston in 1987.
On the first drive of the first game with the first pass of the season, Ehlinger hit Moore in the middle of the UTEP defense. Moore then outran several UTEP defenders on his way to the end zone. Moore’s 78-yard touchdown reception was Texas’ longest play since 2017, and longest touchdown since 2016.
Texas forced a three-and-out on the ensuing UTEP possession, and Ehlinger continued to rack up yardage once he got the ball back. He completed four of his next six passes, including a 20-yard touchdown throw to Cade Brewer. Brewer caught the pass, but the play worked so well that both he and Moore were wide open in the end zone.
“I think that Coach Yurcich’s schemes are incredible,” Ehlinger said.
Another stop resulted in another Longhorn scoring drive early in the second quarter. With 1st-and-10 from the Miner 40, Ehlinger found senior Brenden Schooler one-on-one with the opposing corner. He caught a pass from Ehlinger on a stop route, avoided a tackle, and ran for a 40-yard score on his second career catch as a Longhorn.
The Texas tally continued to rise in the second quarter, when Ehlinger found Michigan transfer Tarik Black for his first touchdown as a Longhorn, and the first ever by a Longhorn wearing No. 0.
Up 38-3 with just over a minute remaining in the half, Texas took an opportunity to work the two-minute drill in a live situation. Texas moved its way down the field, and with six seconds remaining in the half, Ehlinger delivered a pass to walk-on Kai Money in the end zone to make it a 45-3 game.
“I sure hope we can continue to spread the ball out to those guys,” Ehlinger said. “There’s too much talent in that room for them not to be making plays like that.”
Sophomore Roschon Johnson added a rushing touchdown and junior Cameron Dicker kicked a 32-yard field goal for the other 10 first half points Ehlinger was not responsible for.
Ehlinger saw one series in the second half, completing one pass to Moore. From then until the final whistle, he was able to watch his backups, Casey Thompson and Hudson Card, run the offense. Thompson added 55 passing yards to the total with touchdown tosses to Brennan Eagles and Marcus Washington in back-up action.
Texas is not going to face an opponent as close to the bottom of the FBS as the Miners, despite other Big 12 teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, and Texas Tech stumbling out of the gate. But if Ehlinger wants to potentially join the ranks of the Trevor Lawrence’s or the Jaylen Waddle’s in New York in December, then performances like Saturday’s against UTEP are a strong first step.
Ehlinger’s opening game performance was akin to those of McCoy and Vince Young during their standout seasons, at least in terms of efficiency. Young hit 76.5 percent of his passes against Louisiana in 2005, while McCoy had completion percentages of 82.8 and 72.4 in his season openers in 2008 and 2009.
Where Ehlinger differs is in his production. Neither Longhorn great matched Ehlinger’s yardage or touchdown production in those games, and none of those three games were as out of reach at halftime as Saturday’s game with the Miners.
Thanks to Herman’s spread principles and Ehlinger’s status as a starting quarterback since 2017, the senior from Westlake trails only McCoy for every major passing record in school history. Catching No. 12 was already a stretch in 2020 even before COVID-19 changed the college football landscape. With only 10 regular season games, the opportunities for Ehlinger to make up completions, yardage, and touchdowns aren’t as great in number.
Ehlinger’s opportunity at gold, especially considering who is and isn’t playing in 2020, might be just as strong as McCoy’s and Young’s. Still, those two never came out of the gate as strong as Ehlinger did Saturday.
“It’s really, really nice as a quarterback to have that many talented guys out there that are able to make plays,” Ehlinger said.
Texas now enters an open week with a game at Texas Tech in 13 days. The Longhorns have lofty expectations for 2020. So too does their quarterback. After one prolific game, the opportunity to continue on to great things exists thanks to a record-breaking Ehlinger performance.
Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics