Putting Sam Ehlinger’s season in perspective

Kirk von Kreisler

Whether it be periods of sustained greatness or a period of struggles, Texas has been pretty consistent.

Years of competing with top college football programs were followed by years of middling results. Now, Texas may be in the midst of a turnaround season, and a large part of that can be credited to the consistency at the quarterback position.

Ever since the fateful night in Pasadena when Colt McCoy’s shoulder and Texas’ title hopes were shattered, nothing has come easy for the Longhorns at the quarterback position. Despite years of highly ranked recruiting classes since then, program-defining quarterbacks such as McCoy and Vince Young eluded Texas for years.

From 2010 and on, the Longhorns have had a number of quarterbacks try to bring Texas back to greatness: Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Shane Buechele and, now, Sam Ehlinger.

Before 2018, that quarterback grouping had yielded 53 wins, five bowl appearances, and just 1.38 touchdowns for every interception in eight seasons.

Ehlinger gained prominence as one of the state’s top dual-threat quarterbacks heading into his Texas career, and that potential is now flashing often. Ehlinger’s skills appear to be refined more and more each week.

Ehlinger has orchestrated a historic season, and that’s not just considering the team’s struggles in recent years. Etching his name into pieces of Texas, and conference, history, he has quickly made a name for himself on the national stage.

Visit Ehlinger’s page on the 2018 Texas Football Roster, and it’s hard to not notice his increasing number of accolades. His consistency and massive improvement have brought records not accomplished since the days of Colt McCoy, or even before.

His success hasn’t been limited to team records, though. Just this past weekend, Ehlinger broke the Big 12 conference record for most consecutive passes without an interception, surpassing former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and extending his streak to 280 passes.

While owning the record would be significant for any passer, it’s arguably even more so for the sophomore quarterback. Responding to seven interceptions last season, Ehlinger has only thrown two interceptions in 2018.

Ehlinger’s cautious, calculated approach is enough to receive national hype, but his performance in close games helps him stand out even more. Eight of Texas’ 10 games have been decided by one score. Freshman mistakes have been replaced by game winning drives and award recognition.

Eighteen total touchdowns to zero interceptions is remarkable, no matter who the quarterback is. Ehlinger’s consistent play is even more impressive given how often Texas has been in close games: one-score, or tied, situations account for 59 percent of his 2,869 yards from scrimmage and nearly two-thirds of his touchdowns on the season.

Ehlinger has been an anchor for the Texas offense. He’s responsible for about 66 percent of Texas’ total yards, and he’s recorded at least three touchdowns in seven games this season, only behind McCoy (10 games) and Young (9) for Texas QBs since 1996.

The 20-year-old QB is reaching feats not met by Texas quarterbacks in years, or any quarterbacks for that matter.

The sophomore QB’s production has proved just how valuable Ehlinger is to the Texas offense. Teammates have cited experience and newfound “swagger” from their leader, and that has evidently translated to the field.

That confidence in their quarterback can be found throughout Texas’ gameplans and offensive production in just about every game. Injuries (e.g. Ehlinger’s shoulder) and deficits haven’t scared the Longhorn offense away from their style: controlling possessions with physical drives led by their dual-threat quarterback.

Through 10 games, it seems that Texas may have turned the corner on their period of rebuilding, as the Longhorns sit with a 7-3 record and a No. 13 ranking from the AP Poll. Texas may still not be officially “back” yet on paper, but it’s easy to say a fair amount of that promise has come from the team’s quarterback position.