SAM EHLINGER MAKES HEISMAN STATEMENT IN WEEK 1
If there's a quarterback who's evolution has been more drastic than Sam Ehlinger's, I'd like to know. A kid who came to Austin as a dual threat quarterback who relied on his legs more than his arm, Ehlinger was far from an elite passing threat as a freshman. A relentless work ethic, competitive nature, and attention to the detail helped improve his throwing, and now he's making Heisman statement just one game into the season. He has all of the tools on and off the field to win the award, and it's just a matter of everything coming together at once for the Longhorns quarterback to leave college football with its top honor.
Regardless of your opinion of Texas football, you pay attention to them. Whether you're watching Ehlinger ball or making a 'Texas is back' joke, the Longhorns are a team that everyone knows and watches. That inherently puts a spotlight on their team, and given the quarterback is the most scrutinized position, Ehlinger himself gets critiqued week in and week out. Even against UTEP.
Ehlinger admitted he caught himself scoreboard watching what Oklahoma was doing this past week, but it showed fans his competitive side. Knowing he'd only have a maximum of three quarters to play, Ehlinger put in work in the first half. And I mean WORK! He threw for 429 yards in the first two quarters, the most by any Texas quarterback in a half. He also threw five touchdown passes, each to a different receiver, which no Longhorns quarterback had done since Vince Young.
Gaudy numbers? Check. Records broken? Check. We've seen some record breaking quarterbacks win the Heisman, including LSU's Joe Burrow last year, and Ehlinger's off to a great start in 2020. What's the scariest part about his performance? It's not the stats he's putting up, but how he's doing it and what he still has left in the tank that should terrify teams.
Primarily, Ehlinger shouldn't expect to play less than an entire game going forward. The competition he faces will not only require him to play four quarters, but it will also help his case to win a Heisman. With Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the schedule (one of them potentially twice if the Longhorns make the Big 12 championship game), there's plenty of quality competition for voters to see him perform. Strength of schedule? Check. Then, there's the evolution in Ehlinger's game we mentioned. From more of a bulldozer running the football and throwing when necessary, his attention to the passing game has elevated his offense to a new level, one that benefits him as well. And that could lull defenses to sleep at what he does best.
If you watched the Longhorns dismantle UTEP, you noticed one thing: Sam Ehlinger wasn't running much. That's a trend that continues, and it's one that's made him an even more dangerous threat to college defenses. At 225 pounds, you're not exactly missing Ehlinger when he's on the field. His strong base and natural running ability make him a nightmare to tackle for any level of the defense. That part of his game isn't going anywhere, and it's when teams focus on stopping him as a passer when it gets extremely dangerous for any Longhorns opponent. Against the Miners, he only ran three times for 12 yards, focusing more on getting the ball to his playmakers. His focus on running through progressions has become more evident, and we saw his progress in Week 1.
Texas' first play went for six, but it was the play by Ehlinger that sparked it. In the play above, you'll see he wanted to throw the bubble screen. He even starts his windup to make the throw, but sees the inside defender step up to take it away. In the past, Ehlinger would have looked to escape the pocket or take off running, but not this year. He sticks with his progressions and moves on to his second option: Joshua Moore on a slant. Moore creates separation from the corner, the ball's thrown right at his face, the Miners safety over the top takes a bad angle, and it's off to the races.
Ehlinger threw the ball with great poise and accuracy (75.7%), and it's plays like that which will keep the Longhorns in games or help them pull away. Texas came into the year needing to identify new playmakers at receiver, and that appears to also have helped their quarterback. Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson were reliable for years for Ehlinger, but now he has mostly new faces. Meaning he can't zone in on just one guy yet, forcing him to read defenses and rely on multiple receivers.
He doesn't limit what he can do because he'll go to his second and third options on a given play, which could lead to a better opportunity than throwing the ball up and hoping his man comes down with it. Ten Longhorns players caught passes Saturday, including two transfers Michigan transfer Tarik Black and Oregon/Arizona transfer Brenden Schooler. New faces means new opportunities for everyone, which means depth and versatility for the Longhorns options. It takes a good team to help a player win the Heisman, and the number of options Ehlinger has at his disposal makes him a great Heisman candidate, and could put Texas in the playoff.
The last thing, and this honestly might be the most important: the looks. For those who don't pay attention to the equipment, Ehlinger's made some critical changes to his look this year (and one last year) that add to his performance and image. First the facemask. Last year Ehlinger switched from a three bar setup to two, and the passer came out of him. Every Heisman winning quarterback after Sam Bradford (there were nine) wore a two bar mask.
Next, there's the visor. Of those nine quarterbacks that won a Heisman since Bradford, seven of them wore a visor (six if you want to eliminate Lamar Jackson's first half against Purdue). Wearing a visor also projects confidence. Everyone knows a quarterback wearing a visor isn't running up the middle 20 times a game. He's sitting back looking to make plays with his arm and supplementing that with his legs. So based on the helmet alone, Ehlinger's right in line for a Heisman win. Two bars? Check. Visor? Check. Oh and he wore a sleeveless jacket/pullover/whatever you want to call it. Sales for those are going to rise with college kids wearing them. Oh and he added 3/4 tights to the look as well. Spicing up the image can add to a fresh mentality, so Ehlinger's pulling out all the stops to ensure his team wins, and the accolades find him this year.
Sam Ehlinger's biggest draw of attention was his declaration that Texas was back after they won the 2019 Sugar Bowl. For the most part, he played it safe. This year, there's no time for safe. Yes he still has to play smart, but he's already shown that he can work outside of his comfort zone and break records. It's still early in the year, but we're seeing something special brew before our eyes. Sam Ehlinger started his career as a player similar to Florida Gator legend Tim Tebow, but he's move on from that comparison. Now he's looking to cement his legacy as one of the best Longhorns of all time. If he keeps checking off boxes, trophies will follow. It's only a matter of time.