With the USC game now in the rearview mirror, the bye week hits a perfect time for the Longhorns as they heal up and prep for conference play. Last Saturday’s thriller in the Coliseum against the Trojans featured a future first round pick in Sam Darnold and the potential future at the quarterback for Texas in Sam Ehlinger.
With Shane Buechele limited in practice for the second straight week, it was Ehlinger who took the field again once again to lead the Longhorn offense in their primetime matchup in Los Angeles after previously logging a successful start against San Jose State. Needless to say, the degree of difficulty was ratcheted up a notch in Ehlinger’s second start and the stage this time around was a long way away from the friendly confines of DKR.
While the offense stalled most of the night and often suffered from self-inflicted wounds, Ehlinger engineered a clutch final minute, go ahead touchdown drive that was capped off by a touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman. When you talk about a player being clutch and having ice water in his veins, those are the moments you are talking about. The offense had been stagnant and frustrating up until that point, but in spite of all that occurred Ehlinger found a way to will his team down the field with time ticking down and there being minimal room for error.
While the final score ended up being in favor of the Trojans last Saturday, that wasn’t a bad way for Ehlinger to introduce himself to the college football world.
So three games into the season we have seen both Buechele and Ehlinger take starter snaps, and the debate is already raging on who should be the starter coming out of the bye week against Iowa State. It wouldn’t be Texas football without a good old fashioned quarterback controversy.
Lets take a look at the two signal callers and what they have to offer.
Shane Buechele (sophomore):
Stats: 13 starts, 270/443 passing for 3333 yards (60.9 %, 7.5 Y/A), 23 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 111 carries for 161 yards (1.6 YPC), 3 touchdowns
- Holds the experience edge by a long shot with 13 starts and is still early in his development being only a true sophomore.
- Solid accuracy as a passer.
- Has shown to have good touch on deep passes.
- Mobile enough to escape pressure in the pocket.
- Has shown he is capable of mentally processing things quickly.
- Has shown that he can come up big when the lights are bright (Notre Dame, 2016)
- Tough kid. Has taken a good number of shots early on in his career, but he gets up and keeps looking for more.
- Doesn’t seem to be a fit scheme wise for the offense due to his inability to be a factor in the run game.
- Not going to hurt a defense when he has to tuck the ball and run. Might be able to pick up a few yards, but is a guy that is strictly north and south as a runner and doesn’t possess wiggle.
- Lack of zip on some passes can get him into trouble. Doesn’t have the arm strength to get away with balls that are late coming out of his hand.
- Has shown a tendency to self-sack by fleeing the pocket before he needs to or by drifting into pressure.
- Has been banged up a lot in a short amount of time and that could be attributed to him having a less than ideal frame. He’s gotten up from his fair share of hits, but is often dinged because of it.
- Does a lot of things well, but doesn’t possess any elite tools, which ultimately limits his ceiling as a player.
Sam Ehlinger (freshman):
Stats: 2 Starts, 36/67 passing for 520 yards (53.7%, 7.8 Y/A), 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 26 carries for 58 yards (2.2 YPC)
- Possesses the skillset that is the ideal fit for what the staff wants to do offensively. A credible run/pass threat when under center.
- Has the frame and toughness to be featured in the QB run game and excelled at this aspect during his high school career.
- True dual threat ability. Mobile enough to buy time for himself and can also tuck it and run to gain positive yardage.
- Possesses a strong arm and you will see him use it to take some chances. Has a gunslinger mentality.
- Showed on the big stage in LA that he can make plays and be clutch when the chips are down on the table. Engineered a clutch final minute drive that would have gone down in Longhorn lore had the lead held up.
- Like Buechele, Ehlinger is a gritty, tough guy. His toughness will never be in question and his teammates will gravitate towards him.
- Lacks experience and it has showed in both starts thus far. If you decide to ride with him be prepared to take youthful lumps like last year with Buechele.
- No risk it no biscuit. Ehlinger’s going to take chances, so be prepared to live and die with the results. Has some Brett Favre to his game with how he operates under center and that’s both good and bad.
- Missed most of his senior season due to injuries, so manufacturing a run game outside of his run game will be very important. Important that he isn’t logging a ton of carries even though he did that often at Westlake.
- Ball security. Was credited with two fumbles against USC, including a big one on the goal line that changed the game.
While some think this debate is a clear cut and dry case, at this point I can see credible cases made for either guy. While it’s fair to say that Ehlinger won over a lot of people with how he performed against USC, it could also be said that Ehlinger never actually beat out Buechele coming into the season. A healthy Buechele is likely making the start against San Jose State and USC, thus it seems fair that he is back under center as the starter once he has a clean bill of health.
One of my biggest gripes in this entire debate is that I feel folks have been way too quick to try to bury Buechele despite it still being early in his development. This is his second system in two years and he only has one start under his belt due to getting dinged up against Maryland. Shane probably knows now more than ever that his rope probably won’t be as long with Ehlinger lurking over his shoulder and there is the possibility that the threat of replacement elevates his game.
My biggest concern for both Buechele and Ehlinger is that the run game has been inconsistent at best and in two of the three games this year we’ve seen the offensive staff absolutely refuse to give Chris Warren the touches the offense needs. On top of that, both quarterbacks will not have the luxury of having Connor Williams locking down the blind side, which is probably the most crucial issue the offense is facing right now.
Tom Herman and his staff are in a very interesting position right now, as they try to figure exactly what they want to be offensively. While the defense seemed to finally turn a corner against USC, the offense will need to hit its stride if Texas wants to have a chance in a conference that puts up a ton of points.
Where do you stand on the quarterback topic? Are you #TeamBuechele or #TeamEhlinger?