It was fourth down and goal at the one yard line. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger had just carried the ball three times. As he took the snap, he loaded up to run once more.
Even though all 71,449 people in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans knew what was about to happen, the sophomore quarterback carried the ball across the goal line for the third time of the evening.
Ehlinger’s stellar performance only enhanced what may have been the best defensive showing of the year for the Longhorns, holding the No. 13 scoring offense in the country to only 21 points.
When nothing went right for the Bulldogs, everything did for Texas, allowing head coach Tom Herman to pick up the biggest win of his tenure, a 28-21 win over No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Here's what clicked in the victory.
If there’s such thing as a play calling rhythm, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando found it on Tuesday night. Orlando loaded the box against a powerful Bulldog rushing attack, daring Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm to beat them with his arm. Fromm has been efficient all season, and posted 27 touchdowns to just three interceptions on 8.99 yards per attempt. On Tuesday, Orlando made him anything but.
The second-year defensive coordinator dialed up risky blitzes that left the Longhorns exposed on the back end if they didn't work. They almost always did. Fromm was officially sacked just twice, but the biggest pressure came from linebacker Anthony Wheeler. His hit on Fromm caused an underthrown ball that was picked off. The Texas defense did not pull any punches, and the aggressive play calling paid off.
Field position battle
Against a defense that has performed as well as Georgia’s, field position is everything. Texas caught a break early when Bulldog punter Jake Camarda kneeled down when catching a punt, turning the ball over on downs in their own territory. On their next possession, Camarda shanked a punt 11 yards, again setting up the Longhorns in great position. On their third drive, Georgia running back D’Andre Swift fumbled, setting Texas up at the 12 yard line, where they would punch it in 3 plays later to take a 17-0 lead.
Georgia was held to average starting field position at its own 25-yard line. The Longhorns started, on average, at the 39-yard line.
The first half was dominated by Texas. This was in large part to how they dominated the field position battle. The defense forced turnovers and quick stops, and even when the Longhorns didn’t score, they pinned Georgia deep enough to make life difficult for a struggling offense.
Ehlinger’s next step
Ehlinger continued to take steps towards becoming a Longhorn legend with a gutsy performance in the Sugar Bowl. While the stat line through the air wasn't eye-popping – 19-of-27 for 169 yards – it was his contribution on the ground that made the difference.
The Austin Westlake sophomore carried the ball 21 times for 64 yards and three touchdowns. None was bigger than the score on 4th-and-goal to put the game away. His Tebow-esque toughness and physicality running the football set the tone for the Texas offense. His elusiveness and quickness at his size is what gave the Longhorns their only three touchdowns of the night.
Ehlinger is the present and future of the program, and has showed up in big games on the biggest stage. With a conference title game appearance and Sugar Bowl win in hand, it looks like the stage may only grow bigger in the sophomore's final two seasons on the 40 Acres.