The Longhorns found a way to grind out a double overtime win over Kansas State in Austin on Saturday evening to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in conference. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger got the start for the Longhorns at quarterback and never looked back. The true freshman threw for 380 yards and rushed for 107 yards to propel Texas and Tom Herman to their third victory of the season.
Let’s take a look at the offensive grades from Saturday evening’s win over the Wildcats.
If there was any doubt about who the starting quarterback should be going forward, those questions were answered last night. Sam Ehlinger is the best option at quarterback moving forward, and he proved it all game. Ehlinger still makes freshman mistakes and is far from perfect, but he is a winner and brings a moxie to the position that the Longhorns have not had since Colt McCoy.
The true freshman finished the evening 30 of 50 passing for 380 yards and 2 touchdowns, while adding 107 yards on the ground on 20 carries. After an interception on the first play of the game, Ehlinger settled in and delivered a terrific performance. His physicality and ability to get chunk yardage in the run game was evident all night and was capped off when he leveled Denzel Goolsby in the second overtime. In the passing game. Ehlinger showed good accuracy in the intermediate game and looked comfortable in the pocket despite playing behind an offensive line that has been suspect all year. To compete in the Big 12 you must have great quarterback play, and I think Texas may have found their man Saturday night.
All 3 running backs made their presence felt in different areas of the game. Toneil Carter actually led the running backs in yards with 32 on 6 carries. Carter was utilized in the zone read game, where he could use his speed on the edge. He also showed good pass blocking ability and was not afraid to take on defensive lineman.
Kyle Porter finished the evening with 7 carries for 13 yards and 2 short touchdowns. At this point everyone knows that you are getting with Porter, and he showed it again against Kansas State. He showed very little wiggle on his runs, but was very solid in pass protection and rarely ever misses an assignment.
Chris Warren also had 7 carries, which he turned in 14 yards, including the game winning 2 yard touchdown run in double overtime. Warren also came up huge in the passing game, hauling in his only reception for a 33 yard touchdown. For as much heat as he has taken for his blocking abilities, Warren showed well when he was asked to stay in and keep his quarterback upright. He also recovered a huge fumble in the 4th quarter.
Texas does not have a dominant running back on the roster and is making due with the skill sets they have. Running the ball into loaded boxes is not going to be effective, regardless of who is playing running back. Outside of some solid 5 and 6 yard runs from Carter, the running game was non-existent. The running backs are having to make their presence felt in other areas, and I was pleasantly surprised with how they were utilized and how they performed. A 2 touchdown performance by both Kyle Porter and Chris Warren, along with the effective use of Toneil Carter, is something that the running back group can build on in the weeks to come.
Wide Receivers/Tight End
The wide receiver group is starting to settle into their roles nicely. Collin Johnson, Reggie Hemphill Mapps and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey lead the pack in terms of effectiveness, reliability and consistency. Jerrod Heard is as athletically gifted as anyone on the roster and is a huge weapon out of the slot. Dorian Leonard and Lorenzo Joe are seniors who are reliable blockers and more than serviceable in the passing game.
Hemphill-Mapps led the charge against Kansas State, hauling in 12 passes for 121 yards. Mapps was deadly in the screen game and catching passes in the middle of the field. Johnson finished the night with 7 catches for 92 yards despite being the focal point of the Kansas State defense. Ehlinger did an excellent job of getting the ball to his 6’6 playmaker. Johnson’s willingness as a blocker is also something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Humphrey and Heard both added 4 catches, with Heard adding a touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Overall, the receivers had an outstanding game. The only negative was some dropped passes and Humphrey putting the ball on the ground while attempting to hurdle a man, but the unit as a whole helped their true freshman quarterback a lot and continues to be the strength of the team.
I bunched the tight ends with the receivers for this game because Texas utilized the tight end less than they have any game this season. The offense opted to use 10 personnel groupings (1 running back and no tight ends) a lot, but Cade Brewer and Kendall Moore still saw meaningful snaps. Brewer seems to be taking over as the primary tight end because his blocking continues to improve. Moore came in on several short yardage situations and always finds someone to block. On the game winning touchdown, Moore was one of the guys who helped push Warren into the endzone.
Tom Herman and Derek Warehime opted for a shake-up to try to help a struggling offensive line, and the unit responded with a respectable game against a good Kansas State defensive front. Denzel Okafor was inserted at left tackle and looked comfortable for most of the game. He still needs some work in pass protection, but offers an upgrade in mobility and lateral quickness that Tristan Nickelson can not match. Terrell Cuney saw his first meaningful action of his career and never seemed overwhelmed at any point of the game. There were a few times where an assignment was missed and a rusher got through, but Cuney performed about as well as anybody could have expected. After rewatching parts of the game, it was obvious that it was not the best game for guards Jake McMillon and Patrick Vahe. Pass blocking is not their strength, and when Texas chooses to throw 50 times then the duo is going to struggle some. Both had several missed assignments and were beat multiple times.
The important stat for the offensive line is 0 sacks. The unit was able to keep their quarterback upright for most of the night and allowed Ehlinger to make plays in the passing game. Texas is having to make do with the parts they have on the offensive line, and they performed admirably against one of the best defensive lines in the Big 12.
Offensive Play Calling
I have added a section for this week and for the remainder of the season. Tim Beck had his best game of the season on Saturday. Whether it was Tom Herman or Beck, or maybe a combination of both, there was an effort to put players in a position to succeed for the first time all year. The outside zone play that had become a staple for a 2 yard loss was replaced in favor of effective zone reads with Sam Ehlinger and Toneil Carter. Beck brought back the screen game that had seemingly disappeared and made an effort to get Reggie Hemphill Mapps the ball in space. I felt like for the first time this season, Beck wasn’t trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. In the passing game, he used slants and screens heavily in the second half to beat the blitzes Kansas State was bringing.
One improvement that will need to be made is play calling in the red zone. Texas found itself unable to punch the ball in on first and second down multiple times when they were inside the 5. The absence of a reliable running game becomes apparent when the Longhorns get inside the 20, but with the weapons the Longhorns have at receiver and the dual threat ability of Sam Ehlinger, there are ways for Beck to find something that can be relied upon.
Maybe it’s because Sam Ehlinger is a better fit for the offense or maybe it’s because Beck finally realized that he needed to make adjustments, but whatever the reason, for the first time all season Texas played a complete game on offense.