AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Sam Ehlinger threw a 78-yard touchdown to Joshua Moore on the first play and had a career-high five scoring passes in the first half, as No. 14 Texas rolled to a 59-3 season-opening win over UTEP Saturday night.
Ehlinger finished with 426 yards. He left the game midway through the third quarter with Colt McCoy's single-game records for yards (470) and touchdowns (six) easily within reach had he stayed on the field.
Moore's first touchdown since 2018 came on an inside route when he burst past one diving defender and outran two more with an easy path to the end zone. Ehlinger's final touchdown pass came on a 6-yard toss to walk-on Kai Money in the final seconds of the first half.
Texas' original schedule had the Longhorns visiting defending national champion LSU this weekend, in a rematch of a 2019 classic. But that game was scrapped as the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference retooled their schedules amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Texas coach Tom Herman called just getting on the field after an offseason dominated by the virus disruptions “cathartic.”
“We had zero COVID issues leading up to this game ... Hope it stays that way," Herman said. “Really proud of the way our team handled their business leading up to this game.”
With social distancing rules and limits in place, Texas announced a crowd of 15,337 at a stadium that typically holds close to 100,000. The school required students using a special student season ticket package to pass a rapid COVID-19 test on Friday before they could go to the game. The school paid for the tests and reported 95 positives out of 1,198 administered. No other ticket holders were required to be tested.
“Obviously, it didn't feel normal, but I’m thankful to be out there with my teammates,” Texas junior safety Caden Sterns said. “It felt really good to get out there.”
And while the crowd was small, it still gave a full-throated sing-along to the traditional school song “The Eyes of Texas,” which had came under intense scrutiny over the summer amid social justice protests on campus and around the country.
Some Texas athletes had demanded the school drop the song because of its history involving minstrel shows and actors in blackface decades ago. The school administration met other demands to rename some campus buildings and other measures, but refused to drop the song.
Once the game started, Texas was dominant. The Longhorns led 45-3 by halftime and rolled up nearly 700 yards of total offense. The Longhorns didn't allow a sack in 47 pass attempts. The defense allowed only 233 total yards in new coordinator Chris Ash's debut.
The “Eyes of Texas” was played again after the game when the Longhorns traditionally gather and sing it together as a team, but most players appeared to head straight to locker room tunnel without stopping.
“I don’t know that that was any kind of voice or demonstration," Herman said. "We were just saying our good games and pleasantries to the opposition and it was over and now we’re heading to the locker room.”
UTEP: The Miners (1-1) came in feeling pretty good after a season-opening victory that matched their win total of each of the previous two seasons. But they were overpowered at the line of scrimmage and overwhelmed by Texas' speed while Longhorns receivers zipped through and around the UTEP secondary.
Texas: Ehlinger is still the engine that will drive the offense under new coordinator Mike Yurcich, but he's got some new weapons, They include a quick-tempo attack that moves even faster than anything Texas has used in recent years. A touchdown pass to tight end Cade Brewer and second quarter TD throws to graduate transfers Brenden Schooler and Tarik Black show he's got a lot of targets to choose from despite losing his top two receivers from a year ago.
“I hope we can continue to spread the ball around to those guys,” Ehlinger said. “There’s too much talent not to.”
Texas has nowhere to go but up. Not everyone ahead of Texas played this weekend, but of the ranked teams that did play, the Longhorns were among the most impressive. They overwhelmed an inferior opponent and avoided any serious missteps.
UTEP: The Miners host Football Championship Subdivision opponent Abilene Christian on Sept. 19
Texas: The Longhorns take a week off before going on the road to Texas Tech to start the Big 12.
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