The tone was set from a lowered shoulder and a glare. Whatever you needed out of a true freshman quarterback in just his third-career start, Sam Ehlinger was going to give it to you.
In the first quarter, Ehlinger burst right up the middle and cut to the outside. Kansas State safety Kendall Adams closed in and appeared ready to lay a lick on the freshman signal caller. But Ehlinger dished out a hit of his own instead, lowering his shoulder right into Adams’ chest for a pad-popping collision.
Both players kept their feet as they went out of bounds, a play that ended in a 15-yard gain and a first down for Texas. Ehlinger glared right into the eyes of Adams as he headed back to the huddle.
“We knew we wanted to be physical,” Ehlinger said, “and that was my first chance to kind of set the tone.”
Ehlinger delivered his most impressive performance to date of his young Texas career on Saturday night. He finished the night with 487 total yards of offense and two touchdowns to bolster Texas’ 40-34 double-overtime win over the visiting Wildcats.
The news that Ehlinger was going to start began to swirl on Friday, but Texas didn’t officially announce Ehlinger as the starter until an hour before kickoff Saturday. Sophomore Shane Buechele — who was limited in practice this week after suffering a sprained ankle last week against Iowa State — was available to play if needed.
After an interception on Texas’ first play from scrimmage, Ehlinger settled in and showed improvement in the passing game throughout the night. The Longhorns were forced to throw the ball early and often as Kansas State contained Texas’ running backs. Freshman Toneil Carter, sophomore Kyle Porter and junior Chris Warren III ran it a combined 20 times for just 59 yards.
Ehlinger accounted for 380 yards through the air on 30-50 passing, adding another 107 rushing yards on 20 carries.
“I try to bring this offense energy and do my job,” Ehlinger said.
With 4:01 to play in the game, Ehlinger brought more energy to his team as Texas trailed the Wildcats, 27-24.
Ehlinger took the Longhorns 52 yards down the field in 12 plays to help set up junior kicker Joshua Rowland, who converted a 34-yard field goal attempt to tie the game at 27.
After an interception by junior safety DeShon Elliott, Ehlinger took Texas down the field again — this time in 30 seconds — setting up Rowland for a potential game-winning 45-yard kick with two seconds left in regulation. But Rowland missed. Overtime ensued.
On the first play of overtime, there was another big play from Ehlinger, who delivered a strike over the middle to redshirt junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard for a 25-yard touchdown.
In the second overtime, Ehlinger reverted back to the toughness he showed in his first-quarter run against Adams. Ehlinger bulldozed over a Kansas State defender for a nine-yard gain to get Texas to the four-yard line. Two plays later, Ehlinger was part of the mob pushing Warren into the end zone for the game-winning score.
“Sam’s just a baller all the way around,” sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “He’s just a great leader. The offense feeds off of him.”
Head coach Tom Herman said after the game that a decision on the starting quarterback for next week’s game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl won’t be made anytime soon. But with every start, every lowered shoulder and every glare into the eyes of a defender, Ehlinger continues to make his case.
“I’m so impressed by how (Ehlinger) ducks his shoulder,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “He’s fearless.”