Head coach Tom Herman has his hands full with question marks on both sides of the ball heading into game No. 2 of his tenure at Texas.
The two issues facing Herman on Saturday? For one, the Longhorns could trot out a true freshman quarterback in what’s essentially a must-win game. Granted, Texas is a 26.5-point favorite at home this Saturday against San Jose State. But the Longhorns were also 19-point favorites over Maryland last Saturday, a contest ending in a 51-41 defeat.
Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele suffered a bruised throwing shoulder in the middle of the game against Maryland and woke up Sunday morning in pain according to Herman. Buechele still finished the game and threw for 375 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for a touchdown. But Texas’ signal caller was forced to miss practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and will be a game-time decision.
Much of the focus this week has shifted toward freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who will start if Buechele is not ready by Saturday. Ehlinger has taken the first-team reps in practice this week in Buechele’s stead. Sophomore Josh Covey and junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard, who played quarterback for the Longhorns his redshirt freshman year, have also taken backup reps.
“Shane’s our starting quarterback — if he can play, he’s gonna play,” Herman said at his Monday press conference. “Is Sam ready? No, not right now. But he will be. He’s close. He’s as close as any true freshman I’ve ever been around. So I think him getting these reps this week, he’ll respond.”
Ehlinger starred at Austin’s Westlake High School and was a long-time commit for the Longhorns before entering the 40 Acres. Throughout spring and preseason camp, Herman remained adamant that there was an open competition between Buechele and Ehlinger, refusing to officially name a starter until the Monday before the season opener against Maryland.
On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Tim Beck confronted the possibility of Ehlinger getting his first start as a true freshman on Saturday afternoon.
“I think the team will follow him,” Beck said. “I think the coaches respect him. He’s a hard-working young man, a great student and he does everything right. How do you not follow one of those guys? And he plays really, really hard.”
The other issue facing Texas on Saturday is its defense. The Longhorns were gashed in both the running and passing game against Maryland. The Terrapins completed 12 of 15 passes, throwing for 219 yards, while collecting 263 yards on the ground. It was not the grand debut defensive coordinator Todd Orlando envisioned.
“It’s on me,” Orlando said. “These kids played hard. We need to clean up some of the fundamental work. That was the biggest thing. I’ve told them, I said, ‘Hey, listen, let’s not make this game define who we are.’”
Herman said the Longhorns were “going to win with great defense” prior to the start of the season. But after last Saturday, the subpar Texas defense of the past two seasons reared its ugly head again. Players stressed this week that they can’t play in fear of making mistakes if they’re going to right the ship.
“I think we all have to play a lot more looser and not try to play perfect,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said. “Just go out and try to make the plays that we can and understand that we’re not going to be perfect each and every play, but just going hard will