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Recent history says Sam Ehlinger is due for a massive game against Baylor

October 20, 2020
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Sam Ehlinger has filled the box scores with yards and touchdowns the last three-plus seasons at Texas, amassing 114 total touchdowns and nearly 12,000 total yards in 40 career games. With all of those scores, a somewhat surprising bullet point on his player profile is the annoying fact that Ehlinger has yet to score touchdown against Baylor.

He’s also never led his team to victory over the Bears. 

A true freshman in 2017, Ehlinger didn’t take a snap against Baylor in 2017 while dealing with an injury suffered in his previous game against Oklahoma State. Texas won the game 38-7 in Waco, but with the arm and legs of Shane Buechele who totaled 298 yards and scored twice, once through the air and once on the ground.

A year later as a sophomore Ehlinger didn’t make it through the first offensive series in Austin before leaving the game with an injury and was unable lead the Longhorns to a single point in the game. Texas won the game 23-17 and it was Buechele once again who led his team to victory with 195 total yards and a touchdown.

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Baylor held Ehlinger to 22/32 passing for 200 yards and an interception last fall while sacking him five times.

It was 2019, Ehlinger’s junior season, before he was finally able to play an entire game against Baylor. The Ehlinger-led offense couldn’t find the end zone against Baylor’s defense until there was a second left on the clock in regulation following a desperation timeout taken by Texas head coach Tom Herman with hopes of getting points on the board.

Ehlinger is now set to face Baylor on Saturday in what could be the final time he faces the I-35 rival unless the Bears and Longhorns meet in the Big 12 Championship game in December or Ehlinger opts to return to Texas to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility rewarded by the NCAA to all athletes who compete this fall.

To prepare all Baylor fans, the odds the Bears keep Ehlinger out of the end zone again on Saturday are miniscule. Based on his career, the odds are greater that Ehlinger finds the end zone on Texas’ first drive and does again multiple times.

In 38 games played against opponents outside of Baylor, Ehlinger has scored at least one touchdown. In 23 games Ehlinger has scored three touchdowns eight times, four touchdowns 10 times, and five or more touchdowns five times. Through four games as a senior, he has scored at least four touchdowns in every game including six touchdown performances against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Even without change, the chances of Baylor keeping the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year out of the end zone were next to nothing. But there was change. 

From 2017-2019 the Texas offense battled former head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. After the Longhorns averaged 23.7 points per game over those three seasons, they will now square off with new head coach Dave Aranda and defensive Ron Roberts.

Aranda, who was the defensive coordinator at LSU last fall when they faced the Longhorns in the second game of the season, knows the full extent of Ehlinger’s ability after seeing it first hand. Ehlinger completed 31-of-47 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns against Aranda’s unit and rushed 19 times for 60 yards and another score.

The Tigers won the game 45-38, but it wasn’t the proudest moment for Aranda’s heralded defensive scheme. 

Additionally, it’s not just the change on Baylor’s end this fall. While watching film in preparation for the Longhorns this fall, Aranda noticed subtle and even major differences in the Texas scheme he became familiar with a year ago.

“One of the things that strikes me about the offense is the amount of motion,” Aranda said. 

“What that does for (Ehlinger) is help in man, zone tendencies. Is it man coverage? Is it zone coverage? Is it a blitz? Is it not? I think he’s able to make decisions quickly. So that ball comes out faster than I remember coming out when we (LSU) was preparing for him last year.”

Even with a 2-2 start to the season on the books for Texas, it’s not unlike Texas to fail to meet expectations early only to make a furious rally to bring themselves back to relevancy for the season. That reason is exactly why the Longhorns opened as double-digit favorites for Saturday despite giving up north of 47 points in Big 12 play and needing furious Ehlinger-led rallies to even make games competitive late.

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Ehlinger rushed for 79 yards on 19 carries in 2019 against Baylor.

Of Ehlinger’s 21 total touchdowns in 2020, seven have come in the final five minutes of regulation or in overtime. 

“I think the things that stay the same are just his competitiveness, his instinct,” Aranda said. “When the game is close and the ball’s in his hand, he’s going to make a play and own it. He’s similar to our guy (Charlie Brewer) in that respect. But a lot of respect for him. I know the offense runs through him.”

In the final years of the Charlie Strong era at Texas, Longhorn fans saw the foreshadowing of the quarterback run game with Tyrone Swoopes, aka the “18-wheeler”, that would eventually become a staple of the offense under Herman and with Ehlinger.

You know what’s coming, but can you stop it? Baylor has had success so far, but it’s been specifically because of Ehlinger’s inability to get on or stay on the field against the Bears. If they want to have a chance to pull the “upset” this Saturday, they better find relative success in stopping Ehlinger in key moments of the game. 

“Their ability to have the run game, and there’s tempo, there’s RPOs, there’s some shot plays, there’s stacks that they motion to create and try to hide,” Aranda said. “But then there’s a bunch of key runs by a quarterback counter, quarterback power, by a quarterback zone read. I think when they get into certain parts of the game when they need a play, it goes to him.

“Our ability to play team defense versus that I think is key.”

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Recent history says Sam Ehlinger is due for a massive game against Baylor

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