The older Sam Ehlinger gets, the better Texas’ offense gets. When he was a freshman in 2017, the offense ranked No. 66 in America. Last year? It jumped all the way up to No. 14 in total offense and No. 17 in scoring offense.
“He was a wide-eyed true freshman and the game was extremely fast for him that first year,” Tom Herman said. “But we knew he understood football and football made sense to him. We always knew that he had elite leadership abilities as well.”
Ehlinger ranks among the most valuable players in the nation. The year after he graced the cover of Texas Football, Ehlinger threw for the most yards at Texas since Colt McCoy, finished second on the team in rushing yards and accumulated 39 touchdowns during a sensational junior season. Heading into his senior season, expectations are even higher.
The offense is under new management after Herman enticed Mike Yurcich from Ohio State with the promise of full play-calling responsibilities. Yurcich worked closely with the Buckeyes’ pass game and helped turn Justin Fields into a Heisman finalist. However, the offense is still Herman’s at heart.
“MIke’s got a lot of good ideas, but there’s going to be a lot of carryover too,” Herman said. “We’re not going to the Wishbone or anything like that.”
The offense around Ehlinger is replacing key pieces. NFL draft picks Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson combined for more than 5,000 yards receiving and 30 touchdowns during standout careers. Now, the pressure shifts to junior Brennan Eagles and Michigan grad transfer Tarik Black, two big-bodied blue-chip receivers who hope to play on Sundays. The staff believes Jake Smith can replace some of Duvernay’s slot ability after a strong freshman year.
The offensive line loses anchor Zach Shackelford, but Derek Kerstetter expects to slide over to the middle. Willie Tyler, Denzel Okafor, Junior Angilau and several other talented linemen will compete for roles next to Kerstetter and All-Big 12 left tackle Samuel Cosmi.
If the line can improve, the running back room is suddenly intriguing. The Longhorns added Bijan Robinson, the No. 1 running back recruit in America. He’ll join Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson, who combined for more than 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019. Achieving a truly elite running game next to Ehlinger’s dynamic pass offense would make the Longhorns a formidable foe.
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