Texas hits the only open week the Longhorns receive this season riding a six-game winning streak, propelled by four victories in four outings in Big 12 play and its highest ranking — seventh — since 2009.
As good as the Longhorns have been since taking down Southern Cal in September, there are some questions to be answered during their open week.
When Texas returns to play next week, these are the key questions coach Tom Herman hopes to have answered:
1. What’s the status of quarterback Sam Ehlinger?
Texas’ long-term prospects to remain in the Top 10 and battle for the Big 12 title rests on Ehlinger’s quick recovery from a Grade 1 AC sprain in his right (throwing) shoulder. Ehlinger was injured Saturday in Texas’ win over Baylor.
Say what you will about backup quarterback Shane Buechele and his guile and willingness to do anything for the team. It remains a given that Ehlinger is the engine that makes the Longhorns a top-10 threat.
Herman said after Saturday’s game that the team hopes have Ehlinger throwing the ball by the end of this week. He had no update on Monday.
And there’s this for the optimists out there: According to a recent study by the NFL, AC injuries are extremely common among quarterbacks. The average time missed due to the injury is 10 days. Less than two percent of all AC injuries require surgery.
And stuff this in your back pocket just in case: Herman said Buechele prepares as well as he’s ever seen a backup quarterback prepare.
2. Why has Texas struggled offensively in the second half of recent games?
Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have played things close to the vest late in the last three games, as the Longhorns have won against Kansas State and Baylor despite offensive swoons in the second half. Add to that the conservative play in the fourth quarter in the victory against Oklahoma, when Texas led by 21 points with eight minutes to play but had to kick a late field goal to win, and you’ve got a bona fide trend.
Herman’s plan for each week is not to run up the score, but to score just enough to win. So far, so good.
The scoring drought in the aforementioned games was all part of “managing the game.”
Asked about the issue after Texas’ 23-17 win over Baylor last week, Herman said what was going through my mind in the second half was to put a victory in the garage.
“You know, you’ve got a 13-point lead and your defense is playing great,” he said. “You know you’re not going to throw it in that situation. We did a couple times, threw a boot pass and a couple quick gain stuff on third down, but you’re not going to take any chances when your defense is playing that well.”
3. Will the open date kill momentum Texas built in its recent stretch?
The Longhorns welcome their open date.
It will allow Ehlinger to work his way back to full health.
It will also provide Buechele an opportunity to dial in on what Herman and Beck want from him, as well as give the team as a whole to get a bit of a rest from the 11 weeks of football (including preseason camp) it ran through since the last break.
“The off-week comes at a very good time,” Herman said. “We need the time to rest. We need to heal. This week couldn’t have come at a better time for us.”
Every one of the players asked after the Baylor game about the open date, choed Herman’s statement – they’re ready to rest for the stretch run.
Asked on Monday if Texas is good enough to win the Big 12 and get to the College Football Playoff, Herman said he hasn’t studied every team in the country, adding that the Longhorns’ best is good enough to beat anybody and that his team is not at a point where they can play a “C” game and win.
4. What’s the biggest game for the Longhorns on their remaining schedule?
That would be the next one if you buy into the mantra of “next up” that’s led to the Longhorns’ success.
Herman said again Monday that this team is sticking to its “we want to go 1-0 this week,” even on the open week.
But with bowl eligibility already in their back pocket — after going the past four years into the final weeks of the season needing to win for the postseason to be assured — it’s only human nature for the Longhorns to be looking ahead to the opponents that stand between it and a potential spot in the CFP.
Texas will return to the field for a road game at Oklahoma State on Oct. 27. Then it will be West Virginia (currently ranked 13th) at home, always dangerous Texas Tech on the road, upstart and surging Iowa State at home and the regular-season finale with Kansas on the road the afternoon after Thanksgiving.
–Field Level Media
–Field Level Media