Ehlinger responds in first start against Spartans

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Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Fans erupted on Saturday as “The Eyes of Texas” blared at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium following Tom Herman’s first win at Texas.

The win came one week later than most anticipated. It also came without the Longhorns’ starting quarterback.

Two hours before the Longhorns’ 56-0 blowout victory over San Jose State, Texas ruled sophomore Shane Buechele out with a bruised throwing shoulder. Sam Ehlinger got his Longhorn debut as a true freshman — only the 10th quarterback to do so in Longhorn history.

Buechele could only help the true freshman from the sideline, but Ehlinger said Buechele gave him some advice to calm the nerves before his Longhorn debut.

“We’re roommates at the hotel, we talked about it last night,” Ehlinger said. “He told me, ‘Just play football and relax and do what you do. You’ve been preparing for this moment since January.’ His advice really helped me — I took a breath and just played football.”

Ehlinger got off to a rocky start, throwing three incompletions to start the game. But a dominant defense combined with a much-improved rushing attack allowed the true freshman to find his groove before completing 15-27 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown.

“For that being his first collegiate start, that was good,” Herman said. “I thought he was very poised in the pocket. However, I thought there were times he wasn’t seeing the coverage as well, and there were some throws to be made, and he was handing onto it a little bit too long.”

Ehlinger didn’t have a Heisman performance, and he didn’t need one — not with the way his defense performed.

The Longhorn defense, who gave up 51 points in last week’s season-opening loss to Maryland, responded by pitching a shutout against the Spartans — Texas’ first since 2014.

“It was a personal challenge,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I told our guys, ‘Let's go get a goose egg. Let's get a shutout and show people what we can actually do, and let’s show each other what we can actually do if we play our game.’”

The Texas defense even put points of their own on the board. Junior cornerback Holton Hill returned an interception for a touchdown for the second-consecutive game, taking an errant pass 45 yards for a score.

While Texas continued to shut down the Spartans on the defensive side of the ball, Chris Warren III led a heavy dose of the run game on the offensive side. The junior rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, including his 41-yard scamper in the second quarter to give the Longhorns a 14-0 lead.

The Longhorn offense, who failed to even reach the century mark in rushing last week, responded with a 406-yard performance on the ground.

“That’s who we are. That’s what we believe in,” Herman said. “You’ve got to be able to impose your will and run the football and take some pressure off the quarterback. I think our offensive line and backs did a marvelous job of that.”

The route continued in the second half. Texas used the ground game to reach the end zone three more times with running backs junior Chris Warren III, sophomore Kyle Porter and freshman Toneil Carter, extending the lead to 56-0 late in the fourth quarter.

As time winded down, the scoreboard proved that this week was different. Fans didn’t leave early or throw cardboard fans onto the field, and players didn’t leave the field in frustration — they responded.

“(The players) got back to work, and they knew what we had to do,” Herman said. “They knew what we’re capable of doing, and they did it. I couldn’t be prouder of that team in there right now for responding the way that they did.”