With roller coaster freshman year under his belt, Ehlinger leads Texas into season opener

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Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Sam Ehlinger didn’t have a perfect freshman year.

Anytime sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger faces the media, he is forced to answer questions regarding the numerous, often detrimental mistakes he made last season.

The game-ending fumble against USC. The interception in overtime that handed Oklahoma State a 13-10 victory in front of a stunned burnt-orange filled Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The two-interception fourth quarter to allow Texas Tech to steal a win away in the season closer. He is reminded of each one, and every time he returns to the same mentality. 

“I think everything happens for a reason,” Ehlinger said. “… Without those things, I wouldn’t have learned the amount that I did. Although it would have been great for them to go the other way and to beat USC on the road for my first away game, that would have been great, but I learned a lot of things from that.” 

While Ehlinger and the Longhorns broke Texas fans’ hearts after losing the double overtime thriller in Los
Angeles, the big picture — which showed an 18-year-old true freshman nearly upset the then-No. 4 squad in the country — wasn’t nearly as ugly. 

“It brings an extra level of confidence to know that even without the knowledge and the experience that I could pull some stuff out that I never thought I could. Now, with the experience and the knowledge of what we’re going to do and what they’re going to do. I’m really excited for what’s to come.”

According to Ehlinger, his coaching staff and just about every player on the roster, Sam’s extra year of experience has done wonders for the
quarterback’s decision-making. 

“I would get so mad at him when I would chase him on third downs because he would just scramble,” Hager said as he reflected on last year’s practices. “I would tell him, ‘Dude, throw the ball.’ Now he’s not scrambling, he’s just throwing the ball and beating us with his arm not his legs.”

Hager’s comments are a drastic change from last season, when Ehlinger led the team in rushing in back-to-back games last season. 

“Being able to go all the way through my progression, go through four receivers opposed to just one receiver and taking off — that’s part of understanding of the offense and the experience with live bullets coming at you,” Ehlinger said.  

It’s hard to measure the extent of Ehlinger’s improvements, but it was enough to earn him the starting job for the season opener in what Herman called “probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make as a head coach.”

Earlier this week, Ehlinger spoke to the media for the first time since being named starting quarterback. He said he watched film from last season’s performances the night before. He didn’t like what he saw. 

“It was pretty eye-opening to see how far behind we were offensively in the understanding of what we were doing,” Ehlinger said. “There were some very obvious things that we would have picked up … it’s pretty knee-jerking, but we know how far we’ve come since then.”

While Herman has named Sam the starter for Saturday, he also said the chances of Shane Buechele’s number getting called at some point in the season are high. 

Whether or not that means a two-quarterback system in the team’s future is unclear. Sam is aware that he can’t throw six interceptions in Saturday’s game and remain the starter.

“I always play myself, the way I know how to play the game: with confidence and only controlling the things that I can control,” Ehlinger said. 

Ehlinger’s improvements have been discussed throughout the summer, but he still hasn’t had the opportunity to translate onto the field in an actual game. When asked why Texas fans should buy into all of the talk over the last year, Ehlinger communicated that his play is going to be the tell-all factor.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”