The burnt orange half of the Cotton Bowl sat nervously in the final stages of the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t because of Texas’ 29-24 deficit.
The Longhorn faithful watched as freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger was assisted off the field after a hard hit violently bounced his head off the ground.
“I wasn’t ever confused at all,” Ehlinger said. “It was a hard hit. My head hit the ground pretty hard. And they were taking precaution. I told them immediately I could go back in. I felt fine.”
In the meantime, sophomore quarterback and former starter Shane Buechele took off his headset, buckled his helmet and took the reins of the Longhorn offense –– temporarily.
With Texas trailing No. 12 Oklahoma, 29-24, and just over 5:00 remaining in the game, Buechele strung together a pair of completions and an eight-yard rush to put Texas 31 yards away from giving his team the lead while Ehlinger attempted to watch from the trainer's tent on the sideline.
“There’s actually a little sliver at the top and they were getting mad at me because I was trying to watch what was going on,” Ehlinger said. ”I’m trying to get back in the game, obviously, but I’m trying to see which side is cheering … They made me count backwards from 100 by 7. With everything going on and the crowd I was like, ‘I’m good, 93, c’mon.’”
With the Longhorns setup with a first down on the 31-yard line, the tent collapsed and Ehlinger returned to the sideline. Ehlinger watched on from the sideline as Buechele dropped back, but Buechele didn't have much time before he nearly lost the ball after getting sacked.
Buechele regained possession, and Herman quickly called a timeout. The offense huddled on the field with 2:42 remaining in the ballgame, then the crowd applauded as Ehlinger emerged from the huddle.
Ehlinger didn’t lead the team to a touchdown. In fact, he threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down, handing the ball over to Oklahoma.
So it begged the question: Did Herman consider leaving Buechele in the game?
“There was (consideration),” Herman said. “But I think when the guy’s played three-and-a-half quarters and is in the rhythm he’s in, if he’s cleared, you’re going to put him back in the ballgame.”
Ehlinger had one more shot to lead the Longhorns, who once trailed 20-0 in the second quarter, to a miraculous comeback. Although the Longhorns just trailed 29-24, with the ball placed at their own four yard line and only 49 seconds remaining, it proved to be insurmountable.
But Ehlinger shouldn't receive any of the blame. He is just the third true freshman to start at quarterback in the Red River Showdown. At the conclusion of the game, he owned the true freshman record with 278 passing yards.
Even in the loss, it sure seems like Tom Herman has now come close to announcing his outright starter. When asked if he anticipated sticking with Ehlinger, he said, “I would think so at this point.”
Ehlinger finished with 278 yards through the air, 106 on the ground and two touchdowns. And Herman said he’s seen what he needs to see from Ehlinger — not just on Saturday, but several contests ago.
“Oh, he showed me all he needed to show me in Los Angeles,” Herman said. “He’s a tough dude. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s competitive as all get out … I’ve seen everything I need to see from Sam Ehlinger.”