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Sunday, October 8, 2017

No More Discussion…This is Ehlinger’s Team

No More Discussion…This is Ehlinger’s Team
by: B.R. Battle
Photo by:  Eric Gay/AP

What a game that was last night!  The Longhorns prevailed in, yet another, double overtime performance.  Were there things that the team could have done better in the game?  Yes; however, Texas came away with a much needed win to move to 2-0 within Big XII play.  In addition to the win, Tom Herman has finally found his quarterback for this Longhorn team. 

Speaking on the quarterback position, Sam Ehlinger exhibited the leadership qualities that this Texas team has been looking for from that position since Colt McCoy left.  The kid just has the “it” factor.  To the naked eye, nothing seems to rattle him.  Even with his first pass of the game being an interception, Ehlinger shook it off and continued to battle the remainder of the game to the tune of 380 passing yards, accompanied with 107 rushing yards.  He showcased his dual-threat qualities with rushing for exactly half of the carries for the Longhorns, while gaining nearly 65% of the team’s rushing yards.   Every time Texas needed a successful play, Ehlinger delivered with both his legs and arm.  He led the Longhorns to an overall offensive success rate (SR) of 55%, which is 15% above the NCAA average.  

The significant thing about Ehlinger’s performance this week was that his SR was above the NCAA average for the entire contest.  In his previous start against USC, his success rate rose with each quarter, as he became more comfortable with the game.  Against Kansas St, Ehlinger led the offense to success rates of 45% in the 1st quarter, 76% in the 2nd quarter, 62% in the 3rd quarter, 48% in the 4th quarter, 100% in the first overtime, and 67% in the 2nd overtime.  Not only did the Texas offense perform successfully over the entire course of the game, they also were able to rack up 13 explosive plays of more than 15 yards.  Much of this is directly associated with Ehlinger’s fearless nature of testing the deep, middle of the field.  Of the 30 pass completions Ehlinger had, 11 of them were of the explosive nature.  That’s a 37% explosive pass completion rate.  This is outstanding because every 3 completion Ehlinger threw was an explosive play.  This kept the defense honest by not allowing the safeties to stack the box and dare Ehlinger to pass the ball.  With the safeties playing conservative and honest, Ehlinger was able to utilize his running abilities more, resulting in leading the team in rushing during the game.
Speaking of Ehlinger’s willingness to test the middle of the field, he passed the ball extremely well during the game to 6 different receivers.  Last week, I criticized Texas Offensive Coordinator, Tim Beck, for using too many wide receivers during the game.  Buechle had 19 completions to 11 different receivers against Iowa State.  There was no possible way that any of the receivers could get into a rhythm during the game.  Fast forward to last night, each of the 6 receivers that caught passes from Ehlinger had multiple catches, with the exception of running back Chris Warren III.  The 5 “true” wide receivers were all in rhythm and looked fluid throughout the game.  Leading the pack was Reggie Hemphill-Mapps with 12 receptions for 121 yards.  His performance continues to suggest that he needs to stay on the field as much as possible because he has shown to be a “plus” player in this offense.  Collin Johnson, Lil Jordan Humphrey, and Jerrod Heard were the other 3 leading receivers who played the majority of the game.  All had really good games and look to be the first 4 receivers to solidify the starting unit from now on out.     

The Texas defense had a slightly above average game against Kansas St.  Their success rate was 48%, just 3% better than the NCAA average of 45%.  Against the run, their success rate was 49%; whereas, against the pass, the success rate was 46%.  The numbers weren’t eye-popping; however, the defense made plays when they needed to.  Malik Jefferson played another great game, totaling 10 tackles, .5 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss.  Deshon Elliott is continuing to make his claim for being an All-American with another big game interception in the 4th quarter. Holton Hill never gets thrown at.  He has quickly become Texas’ shutdown cornerback and a potential All-Big XII and All-American candidate as well.  
If my memory serves me well, Devante Davis replaced Kris Boyd midway through the 3rd quarter of the game.  Boyd’s main issue continues to be allowing wide receivers to get behind him.  A key play that comes to mind is when Ertz missed on a pass to Kansas St’s wide receiver, Zuber, who was wide open behind Boyd.  A better passing quarterback would have made that pass completion and opened up the game for Texas’ opponent.  

Speaking of wide receivers getting behind defenders, PJ Locke is probably the one player on the team most excited that this game is over.  Kansas St’s wide receiver, Dalton Schoen, completely worked Locke all game.  This was, by far, Locke’s worst game of the year.  He had sole coverage on Schoen for the majority of the game and allowed 128 yards and 2 touchdowns on 5 catches.  Locke has proven to be a much better player than what was shown last night, and Texas will need his best play next week against Oklahoma.  

The totality of the Longhorn defense was not its best showing of the season; however, as the game wore on, Texas became really successful on 3rd down plays.  In fact, throughout the game, Texas had an 82% success rate on 3rd downs.  The problem lied with Kansas St’s 2nd down possessions.  The Texas defense was only 33% successful on 2nd downs throughout the game.  In fact, all of Kansas St’s touchdowns came either on 1st or 2nd down.  The Longhorn defense had difficulties getting Kansas St into 3rd down situations; however, when they did, The Longhorns forced Kansas St to 6 punts and 3 FG attempts.  
Overall, this was a huge win for Texas.  It moved them to over .500 this season, and 2-0 in the Big XII.  Sam Ehlinger had a great performance Saturday night and should now be penciled in as the starter for the remainder of the season.  This Longhorn offense looks completely different with him at the helm.  He continually looked downfield to pass the ball and took advantage of the running opportunities that were presented to him.  Although Ehlinger’s run game was great, one of the Texas running backs needs to step up and start producing as a pure runner in this offense.  Early in the game, Toneil Carter rushed the ball effectively, averaging 5.3 yards a carry on 6 carries.  I think we’ll continue to see his workload increase over the next few weeks.  This needs to happen in order to allow Ehlinger to alleviate some of the punishment he’s taking as a result of his running style.  

In sticking with the Texas offense, the Longhorns are so stacked at receiver that potential game-changing playmakers cannot get on the field.  I don’t recall seeing Armanti Foreman in the game at all last night, while Devin Duvernay only tallied a few snaps.  I hate it for those two guys; however, shortening the wide receiver substitutions has allowed the wide-outs to establish some rhythm with their new starting quarterback.  Now, if Texas can only find a Tight End….

On the defensive side of the ball, good cornerback play opposite Holton Hill needs to emerge soon.  With Hill playing as well as he is this year, the opposite corner will be thrown at plenty.  Whoever emerges as this corner will need to make plays and have a really short memory because, with the amount of targets they will receive, some plays will be made on them.  PJ Locke also needs to shore up his game for next week if the Longhorns want to be successful.  On the other hand, Texas did a great job of stopping the run for the majority of the game, until Kansas St’s 2nd string speedster quarterback emerged.  Fortunately for Texas, their defense should not have to face a quarterback with that type of running ability for the remainder of the season.  

All in all, this was a great win for the Longhorns.  The mental toughness of this team is increasing by the week.  Last year, this team would have folded after going down by 10.  This year, the team seems to know that if they trust in their training, they will be in an opportunity to win every game they play in this season.  

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