For the third straight season, the Oklahoma Sooners will face a first-year starter at quarterback when they line up against the Texas Longhorns. Even as a true freshman, Sam Ehlinger has come up big in some key moments when the Longhorns needed somebody to make a play. So what kinds of challenges does Ehlinger present for the Sooners?
From a purely physical standpoint, Ehlinger is a grown man. At 6’2” and 230, the Austin native is not afraid of getting hit in the pocket. In fact, when he takes off down field, he’s been known to dish out the punishment as well.
In his three starts, Ehlinger is averaging 3.6 yards per carry on 15.3 attempts per game. However rushing numbers for a quarterback can be a bit deceiving, as sacks factor into that equation. In order for the Sooners to combat Ehlinger on the run, tackling has to be at a premium, and the defense has to shore up its positioning. If OU can limit Ehlinger’s ground gains to force long second and third downs, that could spell a bounce-back performance for the Sooner defense.
There are two reasons Oklahoma should focus much of their defensive game planning on Sam Ehlinger’s legs. The first is because Texas head coach Tom Herman wants his QB to run. Ever since his days at Ohio State and Houston, Herman’s M.O. has been to make his QB a significant part of the running game. This element makes his offense more difficult to defend because of the added dimension of the running QB.
The second reason OU needs to focus on Ehlinger’s mobility is because he is still a true freshman. Yes, Ehlinger has played on the road against the USC Trojans, but that atmosphere will be nothing like the Cotton Bowl. This is as big as it gets in the Big 12 Conference. With the frenzied atmosphere and passionate play, many freshmen tend to get wide-eyed at some point as they battle against the speed of the game. If his first passing option isn’t open, you can almost bet Ehlinger will pull it down and look for a lane to scramble through.
The area of Sam Ehlinger’s game that he has struggled with the most is his passing accuracy. On the season, Ehlinger has only five touchdowns to three interceptions and a completion percentage of 56.4%. As he matures, you can expect this part of his game to improve, but for now this is how Oklahoma can take advantage of Ehlinger:
Don't think this is what Texas had in mind. Ehlinger under throws his target on the first play and K State picks it off. pic.twitter.com/zAKVp2Ttuw— TexasFootball.com (@dctf) October 7, 2017
Shane Buechele (last year’s starter) has battled injuries and inconsistent play this season, but one thing he has been known for is his knack for completing the deep ball. If Ehlinger can’t emulate Buechele in that regard, the Sooners should be able to stack the box and shut down Ehlinger and the Texas running game.
We’ll probably see a bit of Buechele as well, if I had to guess. However, Ehlinger poses the bigger threat to OU’s chances at a victory. Ultimately, this is a matchup that will test OU’s mettle. After underperforming emphatically two games in a row, Oklahoma’s defense will be under heavy scrutiny from this point forward. If the Sooners want to avoid another shootout, they have to contain Sam Ehlinger and force him to play their game, not his.
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