Sam Ehlinger

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

It isn’t square one, but it might as well be.

As much as head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns learned about their quarterbacks during the 2017 season, they still won’t have a starter when spring football rolls around. But the battle won’t be any easier this go-around — especially since two four-star quarterbacks committed to Texas and have already arrived on campus due to early enrollment.

Herman has never been one to jump the gun when it comes to announcing a starting quarterback, but here’s what each of the four scholarship quarterbacks must do in order to be named the starter come August.

Ehlinger has the highest ceiling with the lowest of basements

Longhorn fans’ emotions toward freshman Sam Ehlinger changed like the seasons last year. Whether it was due to his confidence, his Westlake High pride or his ability to run over Big 12 defenders, Ehlinger earned some love from Texas fans, but he never quite earned their trust.

Ehlinger’s performances remained fairly inconsistent all season, exhibiting game-changing plays — both good and bad. The 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound quarterback pounded his way to a double-overtime victory over Kansas State, only to throw a game-ending interception in overtime against Oklahoma State two weeks later.

If Ehlinger can eliminate those crucial mistakes throughout spring football, it will be no surprise if No. 11 runs out with the offense against Maryland at FedExField on Sept. 1.

Buechele has a shot, if he remains healthy

Sophomore Shane Buechele experienced multiple injuries last season. His injury woes began in the season opener against Maryland when Buechele sustained a bruised throwing shoulder. The sophomore missed the next two games before returning against Iowa State, only to sprain his ankle.

But Buechele’s injury bug didn’t stop there. On Jan. 17, the Longhorns confirmed Buechele was set to undergo surgery on a torn adductor (hip)/abdominal muscle that he sustained during the Texas Bowl against Missouri. However, after treatments and rehab, Buechele is still expected to return in time for spring practice.

Buechele’s first task is getting healthy and staying there. If he can do that, don’t count him out of this battle.

The new kids on the block

This is where the quarterback battle gets fuzzy. A pair of four-star quarterbacks in Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson both look to make an immediate impact in burnt orange.

Thompson, a dual-threat quarterback, appears to be the best rusher of the four guys competing. The Oklahoma native threw for over 2,500 yards and added over 1,000 rushing yards during his sophomore year of high school.

Rising, however, brings with him what many are calling the strongest arm in the 2018 recruiting class. The Californian threw for over 3,000 yards in his sophomore season and rushed for another 756. Rising signed with Texas despite receiving offers from Alabama, Miami and Oklahoma.

How these two highly sought after recruits adapt to the college game is yet to be determined, but not too many people in the state would be surprised if their talent outweighed their inexperience once the quarterback battle and spring practice begin on March 5.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — It was the triumphant, defiant play that Texas craved so badly.

Late in the fourth quarter and deep in Missouri territory, leading by 10 with seemingly the Texas Bowl already in hand, the Longhorns opted for a reverse play. Sophomore running back Kyle Porter took a handoff from freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, only for senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman to take it back the other way.

As Foreman turned the corner and bolted upfield, Ehlinger charged in front of him and delivered a key lead block. As he’s exhibited so often this season, Ehlinger was unafraid to dish out some contact of his own, mutating from quarterback to bulldozer.

Foreman sprinted for the goal line and absorbed one final hit, plunging into the corner of the end zone. It was an exclamation point like no other — one that helped cap off the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

And it was one that delivered Texas its first winning season in four years.

“You can’t overstate it,” head coach Tom Herman said. “It’s really important for these guys to call themselves a winner... Again, it wasn’t gonna be life or death. We would’ve been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward.”

Texas players celebrated jubilantly on the field after the game. Herman embraced his wife and kids. Junior punter Michael Dickson, who declared for the NFL Draft last week, staged a punting clinic in his final game for the Longhorns and was named the game’s MVP.

It was noticeable by everyone’s emotions how important, and defining, a bowl win was for this long-struggling program.

On the outside looking in, it may have been just a victory in the Texas Bowl. This wasn’t a national championship win or anything remotely close to it.

But this is a program that won a bowl game for the first time since since 2012. It’s a program that finished with a winning record (7–6) for the first time since former head coach Mack Brown’s last season in 2013.

It’s a program searching for any sign of tangible momentum, and any sign of a real turnaround under Herman.

“I think tonight, Coach Herman won the locker room. 100 percent. Hearts out,” junior defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “He now has our hearts as a team.”

If there were any questions as to which team would set the tone early, it was all settled on the first drive.

The Longhorns’ offense opened with the ball and took advantage of three costly Missouri penalties — a pass interference, holding and face mask — to move deep into Tiger territory.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele found a wide open Daniel Young for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The freshman running back scored with ease and Texas was in front early, 7-0.

Despite not starting, Ehlinger proceeded to enter the game on Texas’ third possession. He put the Longhorns completely in the driver seat on his second drive.

Ehlinger scrambled to his left and found junior wide receiver John Burt in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Longhorns up 14-0 in the first quarter.

Missouri’s offense, which ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense entering the game, was shut down for most of the first half. The Tigers didn’t cross midfield until early in the second quarter. But on that drive, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and the offense finally found some life. Running back Ish Witter scored from four yards out, and the Texas lead was cut to 14-7.

But right when Missouri appeared ready to find its footing in the game, Witter coughed up the ball after junior defensive back P.J. Locke III knocked it loose midway through the second quarter. Junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler scooped it up and returned it 38 yards the other direction for a touchdown, delivering a mean stiff-arm to a Missouri tackler along the way.

“They say never run out of bounds, so either get tackled or score, and I just went to go to the end zone,” Wheeler said. “It was just instincts to do (the stiff-arm). I really don’t have too many moves. I just went with the stiff-arm.”

Texas was in front 21-7 and seemingly had all of the momentum.

The momentum for the Longhorns continued on Missouri’s ensuing possession when the Tigers fumbled again. Hager — who wore No. 60 on Wednesday night in honor of the late, legendary Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis — recovered the fumble.

“It’s more than a number to me, to be honest,” said Hager, who was selected by Herman during Texas’ last bowl practice to wear the number. “It was emotional, and I’m so happy that it happened in my lifetime. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Texas was in complete command heading into the locker room at halftime up 21-7.

But on the first play of the second half, Missouri wide receiver Johnathan Johnson got behind senior nickelback Antwuan Davis. Lock hit Johnson in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. After a mishandled snap by the placeholder, Missouri trailed 21-13.

The Tigers tacked on a field goal midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-16, but that was all they could muster the rest of the way.

The Longhorns scored 12 unanswered points to put the game away, including a safety, a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Joshua Rowland and Foreman’s late touchdown.

Moving forward, Texas now has a full offseason to digest the whirlwind that was the 2017 season. It began with a complete thud in early September with the loss to Maryland.

It showed signs of progress against USC and Oklahoma. It spotlighted a highly-inconsistent offense against Oklahoma State and TCU — an offense that still has plenty of question marks heading into 2018.

And it took a dark turn against Texas Tech — a game that nearly defined the season.

But the taste of an all-important bowl victory will be the last memory in the minds of the Longhorns.

“Anytime you can get confidence, give confidence to a fragile group of guys, that’s big. That’s big,” Herman said. “I think it gives us a lot of hope, but the confidence part of it is the biggest thing.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

It was a collapse — a catastrophic, epic collapse.

Yet, in a way, it was typical of a program that’s spent years wandering in no man’s land.

Friday night was primarily supposed to be about the seniors, who played their final game under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But above all else, it was supposed to be about continued progress.

The footprint on this game in the end was one of disaster, though. The Longhorns suffered a 27-23 defeat to Texas Tech after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“There's no words for it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “To come up short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game.”

Texas turned the ball over four times in the second half and never could put the Red Raiders away, despite many opportunities to do so.

The Longhorns led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter after junior kicker Joshua Rowland booted a 40-yard field goal.

And then it all went south.

Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek marched the Red Raiders down the field in six plays for a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Shimonek fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Vasher, who then flashed the Horns sign down which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Texas Tech closed the deficit to 23-20 and was firmly back in the game.

But with just over two minutes to play, Texas had a chance to put the game away for good.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger had led the Longhorns on a promising drive that was moving well into Texas Tech territory.

Ehlinger has been an unpredictable player all season long. He’ll make the head-turning impressive play one moment and then the head-scratching play at the next.

With the Longhorns ready to shut the door on Texas Tech, Ehlinger made Texas fans scratch their heads. On third-and-2 at Texas Tech’s 37-yard line, Texas elected to throw the ball, only for Ehlinger to make a catastrophic error. His pass was intercepted by Texas Tech defensive back Justus Parker, who returned it 55 yards all the way to Texas’ 14-yard line.

“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let down the team again, it's awful.”                           

Moments later, Shimonek lofted a touchdown pass to Cameron Batson to give the Red Raiders a 27-23 lead with 1:47 to play.

On the ensuing drive, Ehlinger once again marched Texas down the field and into Red Raider territory. Ehlinger had his chance to redeem himself and once again learn from his mistakes.

But with under a minute to play, he made another costly mistake. Ehlinger was intercepted a second time, this time by Texas Tech defensive back Douglass Coleman III, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes.

Texas players walked off the field with dejected looks on their faces. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was one of the last players to leave the field. He headed up the tunnel with tears in his eyes, knowing this was his last game at home.

Head coach Tom Herman sat at the podium with a stunned look on his face.

“Losing that way hurts,” Herman said.

The talk from Herman and the Longhorns during the week had been of progress. The Longhorns entered their bout with Texas Tech as 7.5-point favorites riding a wave of momentum from a road victory last week over then-No. 24 West Virginia. Texas had already clinched bowl eligibility. It had a chance to clinch a winning season against Texas Tech, too.

The Longhorns now have plenty of time to reflect on how it all collapsed on Friday night.

“We certainly felt like we had a lot of momentum — and we still will once the sting of this wears off,” Herman said. “We kept fighting. We’ll keep fighting throughout the bowl preparation.”    

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Texas Sports

Sam Ehlinger has shown Texas fans plenty of good and plenty of bad this season.

One moment on Saturday, he tossed a beauty of a pass for a 50-yard pickup. The next moment, he evaded a would-be sack, turning a broken play into a positive one that left the West Virginia defense dazed and confused. And if you stuck around long enough, you saw Ehlinger throw a head-scratching pick-six that let the Mountaineers back into the game.

On a cold, rainy Saturday in Morgantown, Ehlinger showed why he’s the ultimate risk-reward player.

“You got to forget about the past if it’s good or bad,” Ehlinger said, “because you can’t let it affect the future.”

After watching sophomore Shane Buechele start the game and lead the Longhorns for the first two series, Ehlinger gave Texas a spark. The plan had been for Ehlinger to come in on the third offensive series no matter what. But he was unsure if it’d be for good.

“Obviously we knew that I was going in the third drive,” Ehlinger said, “but I had no idea after that what was gonna happen.”

The Longhorns went three-and-out on Ehlinger’s first series. His second was when things changed.

On the first play of the second quarter, Ehlinger delivered a perfect ball to redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps down the sideline, which went for 50 yards and set up Texas in the red zone for the first time in the game. Minutes later, Ehlinger tossed a four-yard touchdown pass to graduate transfer tight end Kendall Moore to put Texas up 7-0.

The next Texas drive was peak Ehlinger. Facing a third-and-9, he evaded a West Virginia rusher who had broken free, scrambled out of a near-sack, then sprinted down the sideline for a 17-yard gain. The next play, Texas tried a trick play and had junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard throw a pass back to Ehlinger, who then ran for 23 yards to the West Virginia 31.

Ehlinger found junior running back Chris Warren III down the seam for a 20-yard touchdown pass moments later to put Texas up 14-0 late in the first half.

Texas fans had seen the reward. But then came the risk in the second half.

Facing a third-and-8 at West Virginia’s 22-yard line with under six minutes to play in the third quarter, Ehlinger dashed for 17 yards to set up a first-and-goal on the five. Ehlinger popped up after the play and pointed his hand forward to signal a first down.

It was the reward.

The Longhorns looked ready to break open the game and go up by three touchdowns.

But on the very next play, Ehlinger committed a costly mistake. A West Virginia defender broke loose in the backfield and got a hold of Ehlinger as he dropped back to pass. Instead of taking the sack, Ehlinger attempted to get rid of the ball as he went to the ground.

It was the risk.

Ehlinger desperately flung an errant pass that found the hands of West Virginia safety Kenny Robinson, who returned it 94 yards for a touchdown to cut the Texas lead to 14-7.

He wasn’t fazed by that play, either. Ehlinger calmly led Texas on two more touchdown drives in the second half to help ice the game.

“He’s tough. He’s a competitor,” head coach Tom Herman said. “He gives us a dimension in the run game. He rushed for 68 yards, 7.6 yards a carry — that’s a pretty good day at the office.”

Ehlinger has given Texas fans a dose of everything this season — a lot of good and, at times, a lot of bad.

But the most important thing he gave them on Saturday was a 28-14 win, making the Longhorns bowl eligible for the first time since 2014.

“Coach kept saying, ‘Just keep swinging, keep swinging. It’s gonna pay off. It’s gonna pay off. Keep swinging,’” Ehlinger said. “Obviously we would’ve liked some of the games (this season) to go differently, but we kept our head down and we kept working. To be able to go to a bowl and have that opportunity after the hardships and the close games that we’ve went through this year says a lot about the coaching staff as well as the players on the team.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nick Wagner, Austin American-Statesman

As the fourth quarter winded down on Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia, several Longhorns could be seen dancing and celebrating on the sideline. Head coach Tom Herman even flashed a grin.

When the clock hit 0:00, cementing Texas’ 28-14 victory over No. 24 West Virginia, the Longhorns officially earned what hasn’t been done since 2014: bowl eligibility.

“It was fantastic,” Herman said. “These guys, the smiles on their faces, we know we’ve got one left, but this was a big one to get another road conference win, to beat a top 25 team and make sure that our seniors are bowl eligible.”

The Longhorns and Mountaineers struggled for the majority of the first quarter in what was a treacherous downpour on the turf. Then, Texas caught a break –– at the expense of West Virginia quarterback Will Grier.

Grier took the snap from inside the one-yard line, faked the handoff and made a break for left end of the endzone. Grier dove for the pylon, but as he returned to his feet, he threw his right hand into the air, displaying a gruesome injury that deformed his middle finger.

The officials ruled the play a touchdown which gave the Mountaineers a 6-0 lead for the time being. Grier was sent to the locker room. One minute later, the officials overturned the touchdown call and Grier would not return for the remainder of the game.

The Mountaineers were forced to play redshirt sophomore Chris Chugunov and the Longhorn defense took advantage, holding a team averaging 39 points per game to zero at halftime.

“I thought our defense, to hold them to zero points offensively until mid-way through the fourth quarter,” Herman said.  “I think (that) was definitely something that kept us in the game.”

The Longhorn offense failed to put any points up in the first quarter as well until freshman Sam Ehlinger relieved starting quarterback Shane Buechele of his duties after the first two drives.

Ehlinger made his presence known immediately on the first play of the second quarter. The Longhorns faced a third-and-4 when the freshman quarterback floated a pass just over a West Virginia defender and right into the hands of redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps for a 50-yard reception.

“That was difficult because it was pouring and the ball was pretty wet,” Ehlinger said.  “Reggie said he couldn't find it for a little bit because it was raining so hard. But it was good. It was a little boost knowing ‘hey it’s pouring and we can still throw the ball for 50 yards. We can do whatever we want in this game.’”

Ehlinger remained behind center for the rest of the game and finished the game completing 12-of-19 attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns. But he did have one disastrous mistake in the third quarter. With the Longhorns five yards away from the end zone, Texas threatened to take a commanding 21-0 lead.

Then, right before Ehlinger was pulled to the ground for a sack, he desperately tried to throw the ball out of bounds. But it didn’t make it there. Instead, the ball landed right in West Virginia cornerback Kenny Robinson’s lap, who returned the interception 96 yards to cut the lead to 14-7.

“The pick-six, that’s a kid probably trying too hard,” Herman said. “I think he thought he could throw it away. As the saying goes ‘You’ve gotta know when the journey is over.’ We were in field goal range…  I suspect that will be a mistake that you won’t see him make again.”

Despite the interception, the Longhorn defense continued its dominance by holding a West Virginia offense averaging over 500 yards to 295 yards en route to a 28-14 victory, allowing Tom Herman and the Longhorns to leave Milan Puskar Stadium with both a victory and a bowl bid for the first time since 2014.

“They're kids that have been beat up quite a bit the last couple of years and to be able to say we’ve reached one of our goals this season,” Herman said. “These guys are ecstatic, but they also know we've got one left.”

The same players who suffered from back-to-back 5-7 seasons danced in celebration as the final seconds of the game dwindled down. Although the Longhorns do have one more game remaining in the regular season, one thing is for sure: 5-7 is no more.

Photo Credit: Gabby Lanza | Daily Texan Staff

It was an all-too-familiar sight for the majority of the 92,506 spectators at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium: yet another heartbreaking loss.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns walked off the field in dejection, as they watched their opponent storm the field following another painful defeat.

This time, it was No. 10 Oklahoma State celebrating a 13-10 victory.

Stunned looks ran across DKR on Saturday afternoon –– except for a small, bright orange section on the visiting side of the stadium where the Oklahoma State fans celebrated the Cowboys’ win.

“I don’t know when we’re going to break through that barrier,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I thought it was going to be this week. We had an unbelievable week of preparation. The guys were focused and ready to go. But it wasn't.”

Texas took the Cowboys, a team boasting the top offense in the nation, into overtime with the score deadlocked, 10-10. Saturday marked Texas’ third overtime of the season, and the Longhorns appeared to be primed to polish off a major upset, until they didn’t.

Oklahoma State had the first possession of overtime, but the Longhorn defense did what it had done all game: prevented the potent Oklahoma State offense from entering the endzone. Texas forced Oklahoma State to kick a field goal, giving freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger the ball with an opportunity to win the game.

With Texas less than seven yards away from winning the game and pulling off Texas’ biggest win of the season, Ehlinger took the snap. The freshman quarterback rolled to his left but was quickly forced to backpedal after the Cowboy defense forced pressure.

Unable to plant his feet, Ehlinger lobbed the ball into the endzone, barely in the vicinity of junior receiver Jerrod Heard and sophomore Devin Duvernay. The ball floated several yards away from Heard and Duvernay and right into the hands of Oklahoma State senior cornerback and San Antonio-native Ramon Richards, who fell to the ground to end the game.

“It’s awful,” Ehlinger said. “Losing sucks. That’s every week that we lose … I just made a mistake. I thought that Jerrod [Heard] was going to circle back up to the back of the end zone for a jump ball. That’s why I put it up there for him and for a chance to win. It was a mistake.

Texas’ 13-10 loss marks the Longhorns’ fourth defeat of the season, and another close one at that. Overtime forced the Longhorns to do something they hadn’t done all game: depend on the offense to close things out. After a strong defensive effort, Texas’ offensive unit failed to ice the contest.

The Longhorn defense, however, kept the burnt orange in the game by holding the nation’s top offense, who came into the matchup averaging over 48 points per game, to 13 points –– the first time the Cowboys haven’t scored 20 points or more in 36 games.

But it wasn’t enough, not with the mere 10 points the offense put up.

“(The defense) played well enough to beat any team,” junior running back Chris Warren III said. “We’ve got to help them, point blank.”

Texas is now coming off of back-to-back one-possession losses to then-No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 10 Oklahoma State.

The Longhorns’ loss to the Cowboys also marks their second overtime loss to a top-10 team. However, despite a 3–4 record (2–2 Big 12), Texas has been in every game this season.

Texas is close, and Herman knows it.

“I told our guys all week, after the loss to Oklahoma, that we were close and that close is a lot better than the alternative,” Herman said. “They’ve been a part of teams that were far away, and you know it when they are. This one’s not."

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

In the northwest corner of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the only thing some Longhorn players could do was simply kneel down and process another agonizing loss.

The play that had dashed Texas’ hopes of a breakthrough victory over No. 10 Oklahoma State was just too excruciating to accept.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood bewildered and pointed in the direction of where everything came crashing down. He couldn’t believe what he had just done.

Ehlinger’s pass into the corner of the north end zone on third and four in overtime was nowhere close to a Longhorn receiver. Oklahoma State safety Ramon Richards had no trouble intercepting Ehlinger’s gift of a pass, the final play of Texas’ 13-10 overtime loss to the Cowboys.

“I feel like we're in every game,” junior safety DeShon Elliott said. “We don't know how to finish. We'll get to that point. We'll keep digging and eventually we'll get to diamonds.”

As Oklahoma State players began to storm the field, senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe dropped straight to a knee.

Senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard crouched down in disgust, then was consoled by injured senior tight end Andrew Beck.

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson also went down to the turf. Jefferson had said earlier in the week that the Longhorns just needed one more turn for Texas to break through. But on Saturday afternoon, Texas took a turn back into the wrong direction, dropping to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in Big 12 play.

It was the third time this season the Longhorns went into overtime, and it was the second time they came up a play short.

“It’s tough — I have no words for it honestly,” Jefferson said.

Fellow junior linebacker Breckyn Hager was the first to console Jefferson.

Hager turned in one of the best performances of his career on Saturday. The Austin Westlake High School product set a career-high in sacks with two, tallied three tackles and had a quarterback hurry. Hager said after the game he wanted to bounce back after dropping a crucial red-zone interception in the third quarter of last week’s loss to Oklahoma in Dallas.

“I just knew there was a lot of opportunity out there for me, and I had to take it,” Hager said. “I felt real down on myself about dropping that OU (interception).”

On a day when the Longhorns held the No. 1 offense in the nation to just 10 points in regulation, Texas still couldn’t close out another game. After the loss, few words were used to describe the pain of yet another gut-wrenching result.

The one question seemingly hanging over the Longhorns’ minds after Saturday’s defeat was simple: when will things finally turn around?

And maybe that was the question so many Longhorn players on bended knee were trying to answer in the wake of another painful loss on Saturday afternoon. The upperclassmen in particular — Joe, Leonard, Elliott, Jefferson and Hager — have spent their entire Texas careers confronting that question and dealing with frustration.

And they know time is running thin.

“This upper class — it’s special,” Hager said. “We’re tired of talking about it to you guys and saying that. But we are special, and we are bringing positives out of these negative outcomes.”

But the only positives that haven’t followed are the ones that teams are ultimately judged by — wins.

“We’re very close. It’s still not over with,” Elliott said. “Because we believe in each other. The defense believes in the offense, the offense believes in the defense and we believe in our coaches. We’re a family. So eventually, we’ll rally together and get things right.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

The burnt orange half of the Cotton Bowl sat nervously in the final stages of the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t because of Texas’ 29-24 deficit.

The Longhorn faithful watched as freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger was assisted off the field after a hard hit violently bounced his head off the ground.

“I wasn’t ever confused at all,” Ehlinger said. “It was a hard hit. My head hit the ground pretty hard. And they were taking precaution. I told them immediately I could go back in. I felt fine.”

In the meantime, sophomore quarterback and former starter Shane Buechele took off his headset, buckled his helmet and took the reins of the Longhorn offense –– temporarily.

With Texas trailing No. 12 Oklahoma, 29-24, and just over 5:00 remaining in the game, Buechele strung together a pair of completions and an eight-yard rush to put Texas 31 yards away from giving his team the lead while Ehlinger attempted to watch from the trainer's tent on the sideline.

“There’s actually a little sliver at the top and they were getting mad at me because I was trying to watch what was going on,” Ehlinger said. ”I’m trying to get back in the game, obviously, but I’m trying to see which side is cheering … They made me count backwards from 100 by 7. With everything going on and the crowd I was like, ‘I’m good, 93, c’mon.’”

With the Longhorns setup with a first down on the 31-yard line, the tent collapsed and Ehlinger returned to the sideline. Ehlinger watched on from the sideline as Buechele dropped back, but Buechele didn't have much time before he nearly lost the ball after getting sacked.

Buechele regained possession, and Herman quickly called a timeout. The offense huddled on the field with 2:42 remaining in the ballgame, then the crowd applauded as Ehlinger emerged from the huddle.

Ehlinger didn’t lead the team to a touchdown. In fact, he threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down, handing the ball over to Oklahoma.

So it begged the question: Did Herman consider leaving Buechele in the game?

“There was (consideration),” Herman said. “But I think when the guy’s played three-and-a-half quarters and is in the rhythm he’s in, if he’s cleared, you’re going to put him back in the ballgame.”

Ehlinger had one more shot to lead the Longhorns, who once trailed 20-0 in the second quarter, to a miraculous comeback. Although the Longhorns just trailed 29-24, with the ball placed at their own four yard line and only 49 seconds remaining, it proved to be insurmountable.

But Ehlinger shouldn't receive any of the blame. He is just the third true freshman to start at quarterback in the Red River Showdown. At the conclusion of the game, he owned the true freshman record with 278 passing yards.

Even in the loss, it sure seems like Tom Herman has now come close to announcing his outright starter. When asked if he anticipated sticking with Ehlinger, he said, “I would think so at this point.”

Ehlinger finished with 278 yards through the air, 106 on the ground and two touchdowns. And Herman said he’s seen what he needs to see from Ehlinger — not just on Saturday, but several contests ago.

“Oh, he showed me all he needed to show me in Los Angeles,” Herman said. “He’s a tough dude. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s competitive as all get out … I’ve seen everything I need to see from Sam Ehlinger.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Head coach Tom Herman said he won’t announce Texas’ starting quarterback anytime soon during Monday’s press conference. He has stuck to his word so far, and so has offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

Here’s what Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had to say during Wednesday night’s media availability.

Beck discusses Ehlinger, Buechele

The foggy quarterback situation hasn’t fizzled out after five games, but it seems like one quarterback currently has a much stronger case than the other. And it’s not sophomore Shane Buechele.

Buechele’s last appearance came on Sept. 28 when the Longhorns left Ames, Iowa, with a 17-7 win over Iowa State. Texas later confirmed that the sophomore quarterback sustained a sprained ankle during the victory over the Cyclones, and Longhorn fans haven’t seen him since.

Two weeks have passed since then, and the Longhorn faithful isn’t exactly begging to see Buechele in Saturday’s AT&T Red River Showdown in Dallas. They seemingly want more of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who put his best foot forward with his most recent performance in Texas’ double-overtime victory over Kansas State last Saturday.

“At this point, (Ehlinger)’s played really well,” Beck said. “I’m not down on Shane’s play. I don’t think that Shane has played bad. I think right now Sam is the hot name. I know all the media and the fans and everybody feels that he is the guy.”

Sam is the “hot name” for a reason. Throwing for 380 yards and rushing for 107 more in a double-overtime victory will do that.

“He made a lot of plays and plays with a lot of passion,” Beck said. “That’s one thing, a lot of juice, he brings that to the offense, and I like that.”

Although the majority of Austin seems to be on the Ehlinger bandwagon, don’t expect Herman or Beck to announce their starting quarterback until game time.

Jefferson continues to make strides

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson’s job is secure. That isn’t up for debate.

Jefferson’s 10-tackle performance on Saturday night against Kansas State doesn’t even tell the full story. Orlando said Jefferson is simply carrying himself in a different way, becoming more of a vocal leader and taking pride in the physicality of the Longhorns’ new defense.

“Those are the things that I’ve seen improve the most out of him, just the way that he’s carrying himself and the respect that he’s starting to get with his teammates,” Orlando said. “When he sees something that he doesn’t like, whether it’s on the practice field or in a meeting room, he’s gonna say something, and those kids will respond to it.”