Tag Archives: Sam Ehlinger

2017 Report Card For The Texas Longhorns

2017 brought a lot of hype to the Texas football program, but that’s really nothing new. Expectations were high with Tom Herman coming in and taking over the program, and to most people, those expectations didn’t come close to being met.

There were plenty of positives throughout the season, but we’ve seen this story before. Herman’s job this offseason is to build on those positives and eliminate the negatives. Previous regimes haven’t been able to do so successfully, and the result has been a below average team for the last several years.

Here are my thoughts on how each position unit graded out for the Longhorns in 2017.

Offense: C-

I believe Texas found it’s quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Shane Buechele is a good quarterback, but he just can’t stay healthy enough to be relied upon. With that being said, Ehlinger is essentially the sole reason for three out of the six losses Texas had. He fumbled the ball in double overtime against USC, threw a dumb interception in overtime against Oklahoma State and made a terrible mistake by throwing the ball on a third down late in the game against Texas Tech that resulted in an interception.

Eliminate those three plays and Texas finishes the season at 10-3 instead of 7-6. That’s a brash statement, but it’s just an indication of how close the Longhorns were to meeting expectations. It was clear to me that the coaching staff sent a message to Ehlinger during bowl practices that he has to be smarter on the field. He tries to do too much at times and it hurts his team. I saw a smarter quarterback in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, so there is some promise that he could build on his maturity over the offseason.

Defense: A

There’s no question this Longhorns team wouldn’t have won seven games if it weren’t for Todd Orlando’s defense. In fact, this is probably a three- or four-win team if the defense hadn’t played stellar all season. The Texas defense faced a top-tier quarterback week in and week out, and pretty much contained them as much as possible.

Consider this list of names Texas faced: Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Drew Lock. Three of those quarterbacks will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, and the fourth likely will be next year. The common theme is Orlando’s defense held those quarterbacks in check and did not allow them to take over the game, as they do against other opponents.

It appears Herman and the UT administration is working on a contract extension and a raise for Orlando, which could be the best thing they do all offseason.

Special Teams: B-

The only reason I’ve given this high of a grade for this unit is because of punter Michael Dickson. There’s a reason why he’s a Ray Guy award winner for the best punter in the nation. He was the best offense in many games for Texas, with his ability to flip field position and put the defense in a better position to succeed. The Longhorns are going to miss his leg next year as he heads off to the NFL.

Special Teams would have received an “A” grade if it weren’t for the field goal kicking woes. Herman was forced to either go for it on 4th down or punt numerous times instead of attempting a long field goal. In some cases, he passed up field goal attempts of under 30 yards because he couldn’t trust his kicker. Look at every good Texas team in the last 15 years and you’ll recognize the name of the kicker. It’s a critical part of the success of any program, and the Longhorns didn’t have it this year. Hopefully, Herman will solve the kicking woes in recruiting this offseason, because it was clearly an issue in 2017.

Recap

2017 was mostly a year to forget but could be a turning point for the program as well. Stability within the UT athletic department could be a sign of good things coming for Texas, and bringing back a pretty decent amount of experience will help. Herman now knows how fragile of a group he was working with all year, especially from a mental standpoint, so now he has to go to work to address those issues. Otherwise, we will be talking about a similar story at this point next year.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

Texas Is Back, Folks…

…to bowl eligibility! For the first time since the 2014 season, Charlie Strong’s first year at Texas, the Longhorns are eligible to participate in college football’s bowl season. While this should be an insignificant accomplishment, it is far from it at this point.

With Texas’ win on the road at West Virginia, the Longhorns now sit with a 6-5 record with one home game remaining against Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving. A chance to win seven games in the regular season hasn’t happened since Mack Brown’s final year as head coach. Again, the standards should be higher at Texas, but this is something fans should celebrate as improvement.

I finally saw one of the most complete games of the season for the Longhorns in all three phases of the game against West Virginia. Shane Buechele started the game at quarterback and moved the ball somewhat efficiently, but the Longhorns didn’t get on the scoreboard until Sam Ehlinger came in and finished the game from the second quarter on.

But the real difference was in the running game. Texas had three players average more than 7.0 yards per carry on a combined 28 attempts among those three (Ehlinger, Daniel Young and Kyle Porter). The team ran for 233 total yards, which is about 100 yards over their season average.

The difference maker? The return of All-American Connor Williams at left tackle.

Combine Williams’ return with the emergence of a new H-back role for Chris Warren III, and the Longhorns running game actually looked like something a decent football team would have. It’s the first time this year that I actually saw some promise for the unit against a decent opponent, and it seemed like Tom Herman finally found an offensive line combination that can work for the rest of the year.

There are still plenty of issues to clean up, but this was a team that looked like they gained more confidence with nearly every snap.

And let’s talk about the defense for a bit. I wrote last week that Texas needed to have a good game from cornerback Kris Boyd to have a shot at winning. Fans who watched the game didn’t hear Boyd’s name called much on Saturday, which means he did his job. He held West Virginia’s best receiver to two catches for 47 yards. Bravo, Boyd! Now continue to play up to your potential like that on a weekly basis.

Now, what does getting to a bowl game mean for Texas? It means the team gets 15 additional practices after the conclusion of their season on Friday. The more organized repetitions you can get for Ehlinger and some of the other young playmakers, the better off the program will be in the future.

It’s really not about the bowl game they’ll be playing in or their opponent. We know it’s not going to be a great game, and it’s going to be against another mid-tier team in another conference. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to win against Texas Tech and then go on to win the bowl game.

The prospects of winning eight games looked bleak just a couple weeks ago, but after pulling off the upset against West Virginia, it’s not out of the question now. Herman will be able to preach improvement all offseason long, players should have some newfound confidence and recruits will hopefully take notice.

Texas still has a long way to go to be considered “back” to national relevance, but qualifying for a bowl game is a big first step for a fragile program that has been struggling for years.

Photo: Pixabay

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

For Texas, There’s Still More Questions Than Answers

After almost every Texas game this season, I read about people bashing the offense on Twitter, the radio and everywhere else. Some people blame Tom Herman, some people blame offensive coordinator Tim Beck, and others blame the quarterback (whomever that is any given week).

It’s pretty clear the Longhorns have some serious problems offensively. But to place the blame entirely, or even partially, on one person is simply unfair.

First, Beck usually gets the brunt of the blame from fans, just because it’s easy to target the offensive play caller. But from what I’ve seen, I’m ok with what he’s done so far. Of course there are some questionable calls, but we see some different things happening. Adjustments are being made, but none of them work. I’ll tell you why in a bit.

Next is Tom Herman. Is Herman really the answer at Texas? I thought he was an offensive mastermind? Isn’t he the quarterback whisperer? These are the questions I’ve seen numerous times. And for those people, I say chill out and let this play out for more than one season before you make those judgments. And for the record, I always said the same things about Charlie Strong.

The next line of blame falls on the quarterback. Fans were excited about what Shane Buechele brought to the table last year, but he just can’t stay healthy. Then there was excitement with Sam Ehlinger, who got concussed and is now dealing with an inner ear issue. All I’m going to say about this point is the issue isn’t with the quarterback, folks.

Now I want to draw some parallels with you. Let’s flashback to last year at this point. Texas had a 5-4 record and had to win one of their last three games to save Charlie Strong’s job. That team was so fragile and incredibly mentally weak that they couldn’t do it, even when they knew they would lose their beloved coach if they didn’t.

This year, Texas is 4-5 and has to win two of their last three games to become bowl eligible. Again, some players are saying they are confident they can do it. But confidence and mental toughness are two different things.

The one question that has been answered most of the year is the mental state of the team. Even in some heartbreaking losses, the team never gave up as they did in past years. I was seeing a mentally stronger team, with the exception of the most recent game against TCU.

Another parallel to quickly touch on is the fact that Ehlinger went from the concussion protocol to having an inner ear issue. This sounds eerily similar to what David Ash dealt with in Charlie Strong’s first year. Forgetting about my fandom for a moment, I hope Ehlinger’s football career doesn’t end like Ash’s did.

Ok, back to Tim Beck and why his adjustments simply aren’t working no matter what he tries. I wrote all of these issues out in a paragraph, but then realized it’s worthy of a bulleted list because there are so many:

  • He doesn’t know who his quarterback is going to be on a weekly basis
  • He may not have had the same starting five on the offensive line in back-to-back weeks the entire season
  • The linemen he has to work with simply aren’t good, for the most part
  • He doesn’t have a running back he can rely on
  • He has plenty of talent at wide receiver, but none want to step up and stand out
  • The lack of a quality and experienced tight end has limited him
  • Some of these points have to do with injuries, while some of them have to do with poor recruiting efforts on offense by the previous coaching staff.

My main point is if you’re going to point your finger at Tim Beck or Tom Herman for this dumpster fire of an offense, then you haven’t been keeping up with this team much at all, and you’re taking the easy way out with the blame game.

Players have to be accountable too. Injuries play a big role in a struggling offense, but the last I checked, even the backups have a scholarship. And if a coach gave you a scholarship to play at the University of Texas, then you better be ready to step up when called on.

With any coaching change, there are going to be a ton of questions. It’s unfortunate that most of the questions to this point are still unanswered for Herman’s program. But with three games left, there’s one big question he needs to answer clearly.

If this team can find a way to beat Kansas, and then either West Virginia or Texas Tech to get to a bowl game, I would say the biggest question of the year had been answered. The team has been struggling mentally in games for years, but now they have a chance to finish strong and somewhat overcome their woes.

But if they can’t get the job done and finish 5-7 or worse, we will be asking even more questions at the end of the season.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Realistic Expectations For Texas With Four Games Remaining

The Texas Longhorns sit with a 4-4 record through eight games this season. While it’s been a disappointing season, to say the least, there have been a lot of positives to build on. With a quarter of the season remaining, it’s time to set some realistic expectations based on what we know about this team through eight games.

The Longhorns offense isn’t going to get any better any time soon. With Sam Ehlinger in the concussion protocol, Shane Buechele is back at quarterback. While Buechele is serviceable and capable of doing some good things at the position, it’s obvious the offense is limited with his skill set.

Scoring 38 points against Baylor shouldn’t be looked at any other way than Texas played against an awful team in Waco, but took care of business. Now, I will say the combination of true freshmen Daniel Young and Toneil Carter looked pretty promising. Those guys are clearly the most explosive running backs on the roster and should get a lot more action going forward. Maybe it will be the start of the running game getting going? Or maybe not.

The offensive can’t get anywhere because of a depleted offensive line; Buechele was running for his life nearly every time he dropped back to pass against Baylor. This patchwork offensive line has been exactly that since about week 3 and hasn’t improved much. I have no reason to believe it will get better over the remaining four games.

Now, the defense is another story and can cover up some of the doom and gloom of the offensive woes. I could see the defense getting even better, as they have just about every single week. The only problem is the team almost has to rely on defensive touchdowns to win games since the offense can’t get them there enough.

So with four games left, and we pretty much know what we’re going to get out of the team on a weekly basis, what are the realistic expectations in the win-loss column?

The Longhorns head to TCU on Saturday, who just came off of a loss on the road to Iowa State. I didn’t think Texas had a chance to beat TCU before that game, and I definitely don’t think they will be able to score enough points to beat them now.

Then comes Kansas to Austin. There shouldn’t be any headlines following this game other than stating that Texas took care of business.

Going to West Virginia is always tough. I’m not really sure what to make of the Mountaineers, as they’ve been a little up and down all season. This is a game Texas can win, but being on the road is going to be a huge challenge.

Then the finale against Texas Tech at home. This could very well be the game that could send the Longhorns to bowl eligibility. In fact, I expect Texas to have a 5-6 record entering this game. And if that’s the case, beating the Red Raiders will be more important than any other game in year one for Tom Herman.

In a year with so many expectations, getting to a bowl game is the absolute minimum that has to happen. There can’t be any setbacks between now and then, and I don’t think there will be.

The truth is this team could very possibly be looking at a 5-7 record. I believe they’ll split the remaining four games and become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014, though. Is that something to hang your hat on? Definitely not. But with such a fragile team, both mentally and physically at times, even a small victory should be celebrated.

At this point, it’s time to build on some of the positives, find ways to fix some of the negatives and start looking ahead to year two of the Herman era.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

Next Step For Texas: Eliminate Close Losses

Texas will never be a “moral victory” program, but it seems like that’s all we can get from the football team nowadays. In fact, it’s beginning to become predictable. Every time the Longhorns face a ranked opponent, they always have a chance to win the game, but find a unique and creative way to lose it.

How predictable is it? I wrote the majority of this article before Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State was even played, minus the details of the actual game, of course.

Tom Herman has to find a way to eliminate these close losses, or things could go south quickly for his program. For the record, I believe Herman is a much different coach than Charlie Strong, but you can’t argue with some of these numbers.

  • Texas lost three games by three points or less in the 2015 season.
  • Texas lost five games by seven points or less in the 2016 season.
  • And through seven games in 2017, Texas has lost three games by five points or less.

And to take it further on the opposite end, this team’s biggest loss under Herman so far is by ten points. Strong’s team lost by 20+ points nine times in three years. So am I saying the close losses are an acceptable trade-off for getting blown out? Not at all.

The most gut-wrenching thing about the close losses this season is the Longhorns held a lead against the #4, #12 and #10 ranked teams in the country in the fourth quarter.

So what can Texas and Herman do to convert these close losses into wins going forward? I don’t see a solution this year, unfortunately.

With a depleted offensive line, the offense is going to be limited all year. That unit may get a little better, but Sam Ehlinger is going to continue to run for his life every time he drops back to pass. It’s just the reality of the situation. A patchwork offensive line is exactly that…patchwork. It can’t be completely fixed in the course of a season, and it’s not going to be.

Not trying to be negative here, but I see what I see and I’m calling it as it is.

The defense has made an admirable turnaround since week one, and they may have turned in their best performance of the season against the top-ranked Oklahoma State offense. When you hold that team to just ten points in regulation, there’s no excuse to not win the game.

People can blame and criticize playcaller Tim Beck all they want, but the playcalling isn’t the issue. Just look at what Ehlinger is forced to do every play. The offense may be better off adopting a backyard football scheme and just have receivers run around everywhere until they get open. And forget about handing the ball off to a running back.

The good news is the brunt of the Big 12 schedule is over for the Longhorns. The hope of being in contention for the conference championship went out the window against Oklahoma State, and now the goal has been lessened to making a bowl game for the first time in two years.

When you look at how competitive this Texas team has been in big games, wins over teams like Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech seem like a given. However, the confidence of this team is clearly shaken on offense, and could result in a loss in any game left on the schedule.

Until Texas figures out how to win a close game over a ranked opponent, we are going to see a lot more of what we did on Saturday. It had to be the most frustrating loss of the season for fans, simply because the result was predictable when the Longhorns held a slight lead in the fourth quarter.

In a way, it seems like the mindset of the players is similar to the mindset of the fans, or me at least. Instead of thinking how Texas could possibly pull off the upset, you can’t help but think how they are going to possibly lose the game after playing so well.

It’s the unfortunate state of the program right now, and it may not get any better until next season, at the earliest.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

Texas Found Its Identity, But How Far Will It Take Them?

If you missed it last week, I wrote about how Sam Ehlinger should be the starting quarterback for Texas against Oklahoma and for the rest of the season. That came true on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to beat Oklahoma. But anyone who watched the game saw that Ehlinger wasn’t the problem.

Texas has been searching for their identity, especially on offense, for the first six games of the season. They finally had a little glimpse of what it could be against Kansas State, and the Oklahoma game solidified it.

This Texas team will go as far as Sam Ehlinger takes them. He is their identity.

The Longhorns totaled 452 yards of offense against the Sooners, and Ehlinger accounted for 392 of them. Add that to last week’s totals and Ehlinger has combined for a total of 871 yards of offense in the last two games on his own.

The only time Texas could run the ball against Oklahoma, Ehlinger had the ball in his hands. He ran for 106 yards on 22 carries. Chris Warren, Kyle Porter and Toneil Carter combined for 17 yards on 14 carries. That’s not going to take the Longhorns very far.

As a Texas fan, I’ve seen this scenario before. In 2015, Jerrod Heard took Longhorns nation by storm by accounting for the majority of the offensive production. But what happened when he had a couple of games under his belt? The opposing teams knew what to expect and shut him down.

The difference with Ehlinger is he is more capable of throwing the ball than Heard was, but this is still a one-dimensional team. Most of the time when you talk about a team being one-dimensional, it’s because they can only run the ball or only throw it, but can’t do both.

This team is one-dimensional because they only have one player who can do it all. But as we learned on Saturday, it’s not going to be good enough against top teams.

The running game woes boil down to having to use a patchwork offensive line. Only two of the five starters to begin the season are still in their same positions. Due to injuries, players are out for the season and forcing guards to move to tackles and vice versa. You never know what you’re going to get from the offensive line on any given play, much less any given game.

As good as Ehlinger has played these last couple of games, he’s not going to be able to win big games if he’s running for his life constantly. I honestly don’t know how Tom Herman is going to fix the offensive line with the lack of depth and inexperience throughout the group.

The thing that worries me most about Texas’ new found identity is it’s easy for good teams to key on. The thing I’m at peace with is Ehlinger doesn’t shy away from contact and can make things happen with his feet and his arm.

When you’re truly a one-dimensional team, you have to have a dynamic player to bail you out of circumstances. Ehlinger has shown he can be that player, but now he has four games of film on him. It’s going to change, and when it does, it could get ugly. Especially if the defense doesn’t play at a high level like they have been since week two of the season.

Herman’s biggest challenge at this point is adding another dimension to his team’s identity. It’s obviously not going to be in the traditional run game, but I’m not sure an unconventional run game will even work at this point.

Texas fans can’t expect this team to change much for the rest of this year. What you saw on Saturday is their identity. And I’m not sure yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Pexels

Texas Found Its Gunslinger, And His Name Is Sam

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, the week of the OU game, I wrote about the tradition of the Red River Rivalry and virtually avoided writing anything about the actual Texas football team. Texas was 2-2 and coming off of back-to-back terrible losses to California and Oklahoma State. There was no hope for success and the team wasn’t worth talking about, so I chose to avoid it completely.

Fast forward a year and the Longhorns are coming off of yet another dramatic double-overtime game, but this time came out on the winning end against Kansas State. But it’s not only the victory to improve the team’s record to 3-2 that will make the headlines. It’s the fact that Texas has the quarterback they’ve been looking for, and his name is Sam Ehlinger.

I’m not proclaiming Ehlinger to be a hero my any means, but I am proclaiming him to be the starting quarterback over Shane Buechele. He’s clearly earned it.

If you missed it, head coach Tom Herman has been adamant about Buechele not losing his job only because of an injury. And to be fair, Buechele hasn’t been the main reason for the Longhorns’ failures on offense, but Ehlinger is just a better fit.

Notice I said the words “better fit” instead of “better quarterback.” The difference is Herman requires his quarterback to be mobile, based on his past coaching stops and the quarterbacks he’s had success with. Buechele can move, but not very well. What we saw Ehlinger do against Kansas State is exactly what Herman needs to finally get the offense moving in a positive direction and establish an identity.

It’s not the fact that he can scramble out of a sure sack to escape trouble. It’s not even the fact that he can lower his shoulder and completely run over a defensive back. But it’s the fact that Ehlinger is a threat to run the ball, and run the ball well, that will open up holes for this Texas offense.

That’s why Ehlinger has to be the starter going forward. I know he’s going to make mistakes. And quite honestly, I would expect a couple of horrendous games from the true freshman if he is in fact named the starter the rest of the season. But he’s not going to be able to grow unless he’s in those situations.

My final point on the subject is if Ehlinger is not the starter against OU in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, I’ll have some serious questions about what exactly Herman is trying to accomplish here in both the short-term and long-term.

Now, speaking of OU, Texas will have a bigger challenge than they even anticipated when they step foot in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. No one in their right mind expected Oklahoma to lose at home to Iowa State over the weekend. I felt pretty good about Texas beating Oklahoma, but now I have my doubts because of that result.

Oklahoma simply doesn’t lose two games in a row. In fact, the last time the Sooners lost two games in a row in the regular season (not counting bowl games) was 1999. But in that season, the second loss came to Texas.

History isn’t on Texas’ side now, but the Longhorns clearly have some momentum going for them. Oklahoma is going to be angry, and they are going to play angry. I thought Texas would be able to catch them off guard, but now that’s not the case.

The Longhorns will only win this game if they play the level of defense they did against USC, and if the offensive line holds up well like they did against Kansas State.

And let’s not forget about the gunslinger himself. Ehlinger has lived for this moment. We will see on Saturday if the moment is too big for him. I seriously doubt that will be the case, though.

If the Longhorns lose the game, it would surprise me if it were because Ehlinger played a terrible game. The most likely outcome is the Texas offensive line gets mauled, and never gives Ehlinger a chance to do anything.

I’m still holding out hope that this Texas team may have figured out how to win over the last couple games. But this will be their biggest test so far in the conference season.

Tom Herman has a chance to get his first signature win at Texas. If he chooses to start anyone at quarterback not named Sam, he’ll be making a big mistake.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Texas May Be Forced To Rely On An Unconventional Running Game

It’s amazing how a single player can hide a lot of flaws on a team. It’s clear to me after two games that D’Onta Foreman single handily carried the Longhorns’ rushing attack in 2016. We thought it was the strength of the offensive line, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Texas couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Maryland, but ran for over 400 yards against San Jose State. Yes, I realize San Jose State isn’t the greatest team in college football, but it’s the way Texas racked up those 400+ yards that got my attention.

I do believe Texas has a formidable offensive line that will eventually gel together and allow for a solid rushing attack on a consistent basis. But they aren’t there yet, so Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck decided to go unconventional to open things up against San Jose State, and it worked.

I think we are going to see more runs out of the wildcat formation. Chris Warren took snaps from the formation, Jerrod Heard did the same, and LJ Humphrey did the same last week. It’s been the most successful way to get a running game going so far this short season, and it’s the only hope the Longhorns have of taking some pressure off the quarterback, whomever that may be.

And since I mentioned quarterbacks, I’ll say that Sam Ehlinger looked good for a true freshman, but there shouldn’t be a quarterback controversy starting up anytime soon. Shane Buechele should get the start against USC this weekend if he’s healthy. But that doesn’t mean we should see the same offense that rolled out on the field against Maryland.

It bothers me a bit that Texas can’t just hand the ball off to their stable of running backs and average 4-5 yards per carry, similar to how they did last year. But if there’s one thing I like about this coaching staff so far, it’s their willingness to adapt. Time will tell if the running game adjustments just happened because of Ehlinger getting the reps, or if the unconventional running attack will become the norm.

No matter who takes the snaps at quarterback against USC, Texas will get blown out if they aren’t able to run like they did last weekend. I’m not saying they have to run for 400 yards, but gaining 200-250 yards is a necessity if they want to stay in the game.

This is an important number not only because it helps take some pressure off the quarterback, but it also keeps the USC offense off the field. And that’s going to be huge against a team that just racked up 600+ yards of total offense against Stanford.

There are plenty of reasons why USC is going beat Texas this weekend. But being able to sustain a drive on offense by running the ball will help keep the Longhorns in it.

I want to see Jerrod Heard take more snaps in the wildcat formation, if that’s the route this offensive staff wants to take to develop a running game. I’m in no way suggesting Heard should be in the discussion for being the starting quarterback. But I do believe he has a high ceiling with multiple different package options due to his ability to throw and his breakaway speed.

I’m expecting a lot of creativity for this offense against USC, simply because it has to happen. It may be unconventional and only be a temporary fix for hiding a much larger issue, but if it leads to victories against top opponents, then I won’t be arguing against it.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Is a Graduate Transfer Quarterback Worth it for Texas?

Tom Herman has made it very clear in his words and his actions that he expects to win in 2017. That was made even more crystal clear when news came out recently that Herman is heavily recruiting Brandon Harris, a graduate transfer who has spent his college career playing quarterback at LSU. However, with Harris’ recent commitment to play for North Carolina this year, Herman will have to explore other options.

I always thought Herman would entertain the idea of bringing in a graduate transfer at the quarterback position, considering he only has two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster at the moment (third-stringer Matthew Merrick quit the program to focus on academics recently).

One of them is Shane Buechele, who started every game for the Longhorns last season. The other is Sam Ehlinger, a true freshman early-enrollee who has only been on campus for a couple months.

I’ve discussed the good things and bad things from each of the quarterbacks before. I feel like it’s a good thing that Herman is pursuing a graduate transfer QB to provide some depth and competition at the position. However, I’m glad Harris chose another route, so Herman can focus his efforts elsewhere.

Harris has started at LSU on random occasions over the past few seasons. He was highly recruited out of high school and there’s no doubting his athletic ability. But the fact that he couldn’t keep a stranglehold on the job at LSU is telling. I’m not a hardcore LSU follower, but they are involved in plenty big games where I watched Harris play enough to gather an opinion.

What I observed is a quarterback who is pretty athletic, but isn’t going to outrun or finesse anyone to break a long run. He’s not very accurate most of the time, but he can make some really good throws occasionally to give you hope. And he seems to pretty indecisive, almost like he either thinks too much or has no clue what the defense is doing (or what play his offense is running).

Who does that sound like?

Yep. The 18-wheeler himself, Tyrone Swoopes.

There are just way too many similarities between the two to get excited about bringing Harris in. His experience would have been valuable, but will he really win more games this year than Buechele would?

Herman said in an interview after a practice recently that he would worry about developing his other quarterbacks next spring if a graduate transfer is better than them this year. There’s good and bad to that situation.

What if Buechele doesn’t appreciate a graduate transfer coming in for just a year and taking the job from him? Does he transfer himself? Does he lose confidence? Or does he grind harder as the backup, knowing that he’s got two years left to prove his worth?

And then what if a graduate transfer does get the job and wins 6-7 games? It would seem like a loss of a year of experience for Buechele, since he could hopefully win that many games on his own.

That’s the bad.

The good thing is bringing in a graduate transfer QB is ideal for Ehlinger’s situation, since it’s best if he redshirts anyway. It would also send a message to the team that Herman doesn’t care who is on the field, as long as the team is winning. The notion that anyone is replaceable should make the effort level rise at every position.

My thought is if Herman brings in a graduate QB transfer, it says more about what he thinks about Ehlinger than it does about anyone else. I believe Ehlinger is Herman’s type of player, but he knows he won’t be ready to lead the team this season as a true freshman. A graduate transfer QB would allow Ehlinger to redshirt, get used to the system and be more prepared to take over next year.

There are so many “what ifs” that it’s hard for me to be convinced that a graduate QB transfer is needed right now or not. Of course, if we were talking about JT Barrett or another no-brainer guy with a ton of talent, then it would be a different story.

Harris is not a no-brainer type acquisition. That’s the reason why I’m glad he chose to play elsewhere.

Depth at the QB position is desperately needed, but Herman doesn’t need to be desperate in finding just any quarterback. If the right one comes around at the right time, then grab him.

I’ve said it many times already this offseason, but it’s worth saying again…In Herman We Trust.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Expect Another Quarterback Controversy for the Longhorns

Texas hasn’t had a clear-cut starting quarterback entering spring football since Garrett Gilbert in 2010, following his performance in the National Championship game against Alabama when Colt McCoy went down. Even though Shane Buechele started all 12 games for the Longhorns last year, don’t expect him to be the guaranteed starter for 2017, at least not yet.

With the new regime under Tom Herman, classification or experience don’t matter much. At least that’s what we are led to believe. That means the quarterback battle is anyone’s to win or lose, and it may actually be a closer race than you’d think.

Buechele didn’t do anything in 2016 to derail his chances of being the starter in 2017, but early-enrollee freshman Sam Ehlinger is hot on his heels already. Buechele was an early-enrollee freshman last season and ended up winning the starting job from senior Tyrone Swoopes, so anything can happen.

Let’s take a look at what Buechele has in his favor.

He started all 12 games in 2016 and set numerous freshman quarterback records in the process. He consistently showed the ability to battle back from being in a hole, so he’s proven to have a ton of composure. I would argue that he was even handicapped a bit by Sterlin Gilbert’s offensive philosophy toward the second half of the season, which relied solely on the running game and lateral passes. Because of his on-field success last season, Buechele should be the starter in 2017.

So what does Buechele have going against him?

The injury bug is the biggest concern for Buechele. He played the second half of the season with a sprained thumb, which could have been a big reason for the shift in Gilbert’s play calling down the stretch. It’s the same thumb he hurt in high school, which has healed both times without surgery. However, surgery may be required if it gets reinjured again this spring. That would be an obvious setback to his chances of retaining the starting job, depending on the recovery time.

Now let’s see what Ehlinger has to offer.

Ehlinger has exactly the personality that Herman wants to lead his team. He’s extremely confident in his ability and he’s more of a vocal leader than Buechele. And he’s definitely not afraid to put people in their place if they are slacking. By all accounts on message board chatter, Ehlinger expected the most out of his teammates at Westlake High School, and he’s already doing the same at UT after only being enrolled for a little more than a month.

The downside of Ehlinger?

We simply don’t know what he has to offer yet. He was injured most of his senior year at Westlake, but showed some pretty good athletic ability when he was healthy. That’s the type of quarterback Herman wants. He’s always been successful with a mobile quarterback, but he also can adapt to the quarterback’s skill set. Ehlinger has some mobility, but he’s also injury prone. We won’t know how he will handle college competition until after the spring game or later.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ehlinger gave Buechele a serious run and made this a competition all the way through the end of fall camp. But it also wouldn’t surprise me if one or the other got hurt and completely detailed the competition to start the season.

I think Ehlinger will get some quality playing reps in 2017, as much as I would like him to redshirt. There simply isn’t another decent option on campus right now to serve as the backup, and Herman knows it. Unless Matthew Merrick comes out of nowhere and takes the backup job, these will be the two guys in 2017.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of Herman grabbing a graduate transfer this summer as well. I don’t think there’s one on the market at the moment who would be an immediate threat to take over the starting job, but it would be smart of Herman to grab someone with experience to provide some depth at the very least.

Two young quarterbacks who are injury prone are enough to scare you to death (in the words of the great Mack Brown). It’s even scarier when they are your only options.

My prediction right now is Buechele and Ehlinger will get fans excited during spring ball and at the spring game on April 15. I expect both of them to ball out and prove even further that there isn’t a clear-cut starter. It will be enough to talk about all summer, but Buechele will start the first game against Maryland, barring an injury.

Texas may have another quarterback competition and controversy on their hands, but for the first time in a half-decade, I get the sense that most fans would be satisfied with either option at this point in time.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia