AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tom Herman has his first win at Texas and now faces a quandary that has dogged Longhorns coaches before him: who to start at quarterback. Texas (1-1) heads to No. 4 Southern California (2-0) this week with Herman evaluating whether regular starter Shane Buechele will be well enough to play or if freshman Sam Ehlinger, who won his college debut last week, should start.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tom Herman has his first win at Texas and now faces a quandary that has dogged Longhorns coaches before him: who to start at quarterback.
Texas (1-1) heads to No. 4 Southern California (2-0) this week with Herman evaluating whether regular starter Shane Buechele will be well enough to play or if freshman Sam Ehlinger, who won his college debut last week, should start.
Buechele has a sore shoulder and if he's not ready, the decision is easy. But if he heals, the coach will have to pick between Buechele, the more accomplished passer who is just 5-8 as a starter, and Ehlinger, who Herman describes as an "alpha" and provides an extra dimension with his ability to run.
Even if Buechele is healthy, Herman made clear it's an open competition.
"He's got to prove that he's also competent in practice," Herman said Monday. "He's got to have a really good practice to make sure that he stays with the (first team)."
Ehlinger is a work in progress. He threw for 222 yards during last weekend's rout of San Jose State but also missed reads and held the ball too long. His ability to run got him out of danger and picked up first downs, and he didn't give up a sack. He gained confidence passing as the game went on.
But throwing Ehlinger into the national spotlight against heavily-favored USC would be a tall order.
Herman predicted Ehlinger could handle the emotional roller-coaster, noting he has come through the adversity of losing his father while still a teenager. Ross Ehlinger died while competing in a triathlon in 2013.
"From the day I met him, this is an extremely mature guy. You don't go through what he went through ... all of a sudden have to be the man of your household, and not mature very quickly," Herman said. "He's a bit of an old soul. I think that's what has allowed him to step into this role maybe a little bit easier than most."
Texas running back Chris Warren III said after the game that Ehlinger rarely seems rattled: "Sam's a baller. He'll come out and play regardless. I don't think he's the one to get nervous about this kind of stuff."
Herman has another wrinkle to work into the game plan. Ehlinger shared snaps last week with Jerrod Heard, a former Texas quarterback turned wide receiver. Heard was used primarily as a runner and scored twice. He could also factor into the game plan against USC and beyond.
Herman called Tuesday and Wednesday practices critical to determining Buechele's health. The coach could find himself with a full-blown quarterback controversy by midweek.
Much of Mack Brown's coaching career swirled around quarterback decisions, from the Major Applewhite-Chris Simms drama from 1999-2001 to the Garrett Gilbert-David Ash-Case McCoy years of 2010-2013. Even Vince Young heard griping from Texas fans until the unbeaten national championship season of 2005. Only Colt McCoy really enjoyed four full years of not looking over his shoulder.
Charlie Strong had his quarterback drama too. Ash got hurt in Strong's first game, leaving fans to bicker between Heard and Tyrone Swoopes.
Fan reaction is one thing. Keeping peace in a locker room is another. There's always a danger that an abrupt change at quarterback could disrupt team chemistry. Buechele was a bright spot in a bad season last year and clearly had established himself as the starter for 2017. Then Texas lost the opener to Maryland in a deflating performance and Buechele finished the game hurt.
Herman dismissed the idea that a change — Ehlinger beating out a healthy Buechele — would split his team if it happens.
"The locker room wants to win," Herman said. "If you've done a good job in the nine months at place earning their trust and the players trust you, whatever you think we need to do to win, we'll do. That's never really crossed my mind. Our starting quarterback got hurt. We're not at that point."