Sam Ehlinger has bled burnt orange his entire life.
The freshman quarterback attended countless games at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium growing up. And on Saturday afternoon against San Jose State, Ehlinger finally got his shot, fulfilling his lifelong dream to play quarterback for the Longhorns.
“It’s such a surreal moment for me,” Ehlinger said after the game. “Being at the games growing up — literally growing up, maturing in that stadium, literally from when I could walk to now — it was a great feeling.”
Prior to kickoff, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele was ruled out after suffering a bruised throwing shoulder in the season opener against Maryland last week. Buechele missed all of practice this past week, leading to Ehlinger taking the first-team reps.
Ehlinger and Buechele roomed together at Texas’ team hotel Friday night. About a year ago, Buechele made his debut for the Longhorns as a true freshman in the season opener against Notre Dame. Leading up to that game, there was much speculation over whether Buechele or then-senior Tyrone Swoopes would start at quarterback. One year later, Ehlinger found himself in a similar situation, not knowing if his name would be called upon.
“This is something that he’s been waiting on,” junior cornerback P.J. Locke III said. “He has that ‘next man up’ mentality, and from day one he was going to be ready. His name was called, and he went out there and played his butt off.”
The true freshman looked shaky on the first few series as the Longhorns struggled to move the ball. Ehlinger’s first pass was a duck that sailed well right of his intended receiver. The next two were also misfires.
“Oh, he was so nervous,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Y’all saw those balls he threw?”
Ehlinger eventually settled in and finished the afternoon with respectable numbers, throwing for 222 yards and one touchdown on 15-27 passing. He also showcased his running ability, rushing seven times for 48 yards.
“I think he went out and he had a great game,” Jefferson said. “I’m very proud of him for stepping up. I told him he’d never know when his name would be called or redshirt would be burned, and so he stepped up to the occasion.”
Ehlinger’s lone touchdown pass came with 12:08 to play in the fourth quarter. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was set in motion, and Ehlinger flipped a quick pass to him as Foreman sprinted by — a play Texas tried a few times.
It was Ehlinger’s easiest throw all day as Foreman did the rest of the work, scoring from one yard out. Ehlinger was asked if it was how he envisioned his first touchdown pass at Texas would be, and he couldn’t help but crack a smile.
“No, but I appreciate Coach Beck giving that one to me,” Ehlinger said. “He kept flipping it and trying to get my first passing touchdown, and I appreciate that.”
As Texas now prepares for its week three matchup with No. 4 USC, the Longhorns are currently unsure of who their starting quarterback will be against the Trojans. In his postgame press conference, head coach Tom Herman was asked point-blank if the Longhorns have a decision to make as to who’s the starter if Buechele is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Herman said. “I mean, I think it would be premature of me to say that today. We’ve got to see how healthy (Buechele) can be.”