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Enemy at the Gates: The Sam Ehlinger Special

The Texas quarterback presents a unique set of challenges for the frogs.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This season when TCU plays one of the blue-blood programs in the Big 12, the Frogs will have to face a hotheaded quarterback with all the elusiveness in the world, a bevy of talented receivers to throw to and a sharp offensive mind at head coach.

Sound familiar? You’d think Sam Ehlinger and Baker Mayfield were cut from the same cloth if they didn’t hate each other so much.

Ehlinger, the Texas Longhorns’ junior quarterback, is on the cusp of becoming both a superstar and a weekly meme. He treats the Horns Up with the utmost sincerity, has a Twitter feed that borders on abstract art and can act like an un-self-aware goober. He is also inarguably one of the top two quarterbacks in the conference and a top 10 quarterback in the country, and is a game-planning nightmare.

Earlier this offseason, this very author ranked Ehlinger as the second-best quarterback in the Big 12. He doesn’t yet have the resume of Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, but statistically you could make a very good argument that Ehlinger is the best quarterback in the conference and the best quarterback TCU will play this year. At the very least, he’s going to be the hardest single player for the Frogs to plan against.

There are a myriad of reasons for that, but luckily, the stats help illuminate just what makes Ehlinger such a dangerous foe. Last year, he was handed the keys to the Texas offense, and he exceeded expectations. As a sophomore, he threw for 25 touchdowns against just five interceptions, completing 275-425 passes (a 64.7 percent completion rate) for 3,292 yards. That’s an average of 7.7 yards per attempt, which is a very solid output.

But he was even better running the ball, and that’s the scary part. Ehlinger isn’t a big-play threat when he totes the rock, but in goal line situations, he’s borderline unstoppable. He ran for 482 yards and 16 touchdowns on 164 carries. Ehlinger checks in at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, which is a big body for a quarterback. Texas coach Tom Herman knows Ehlinger’s size and fearlessness are perhaps his best attributes, and the Longhorns take full advantage.

He also rises to the occasion. The best example of that is last year’s Red River Shootout, when Ehlinger tallied 314 yards and two TDs on 24-35 passing and 72 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Texas won 48-45, handing a CFP-bound Oklahoma its only loss of the season. There was an eerie air of inevitability that entire game — when Ehlinger had the ball, you just knew something good was going to happen for Texas.

Against TCU in 2018, Ehlinger went 22-32 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and added a touchdown on the ground. The Frogs actually did a decent job limiting him running the ball — Ehlinger had 11 yards on 11 carries. But Texas won the game, and Ehlinger was a major part of that.

The receiver corps for Texas will also provide great targets for Ehlinger. Collin Johnson (985 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Devin Duvernay (546 yards, 4 touchdowns) will form a formidable partnership on the outside, and Jordan Whittington, one of the most talented recruits in Texas high school football history, should provide an immediate impact. Keontay Ingram is on hand to provide support in the run game.

These are all tangible reasons why Ehlinger is such a threat. But, as cliche as it sounds, it really is the intangibles that make him exceptionally dangerous. He’s cocky (justifiably so), fanatically devoted to the University of Texas and plays without regard for his own personal safety. He lives to make statements, if that makes sense, and beating TCU two years in a row would make a very grand statement.

The Frogs’ linebackers will have their hands full spying on Ehlinger to keep him from running. The pass rush will be crucial, and players like Ross Blacklock, Corey Bethley and Brandon Bowen are going to have to put pressure on Ehlinger in the pocket, because if he has time to throw, one of the many 5-star players that litter the Texas roster is inevitably going to get open. And the TCU secondary will need to improve from last year, when the Frogs failed to pick off a pass and allowed a 68.8 percent completion rate.

All of that is easier said than done, of course. Ehlinger is a truly talented quarterback that is going to give Texas its best chance at a return to national prominence since Colt McCoy was behind center.

And he won’t let you forget it, either.