Tom Herman, Sam Ehlinger Revive Texas Football in Red River Showdown Win

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystOctober 6, 2018

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger celebrates a win over Oklahoma
Texas QB Sam Ehlinger celebrates a win over OklahomaCooper Neill/Associated Press

Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw two touchdowns and rushed in three more while leading No. 19 Texas to a 48-45 thrill-a-minute victory over No. 7 Oklahoma on Saturday in Dallas.

Even though the Sooners have been drastically better than the Longhorns in recent years, this series has still delivered the goods. It was the fifth consecutive rendition of the Red River Showdown decided by a one-possession margin, and this iteration produced more total points (93) than any previous matchup between the programs.

For a while, it seemed like Texas would break that streak of close games with a blowout victory. You weren't alone if you grabbed the remote control and started looking for a more intriguing game after the Longhorns took a 45-24 lead late in the third quarter.

Kyler Murraywho also finished with five combined passing and rushing scoresled the Sooners on three straight touchdown drives to tie it. But that merely set the stage for Ehlinger to orchestrate a game-winning drive to cement his spot in Longhorns lore and keep his team on the fringe of the College Football Playoff conversation.

A sentence like that was beyond unimaginable one month ago.

Sam Ehlinger and head coach Tom Herman
Sam Ehlinger and head coach Tom HermanPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Take a trip down short-term memory lane and you'll find Texas reeling from its second consecutive season-opening loss to Maryland. The hot-seat hot takes came fast and furiously, as the loss left Tom Herman with a 7-7 record as the head coach of the Longhorns.

Not only did Herman have a .500 winning percentage, but his QB was viewed as a big reason for that particular loss to the Terrapins. Following a pair of back-breaking, fourth-quarter interception throws from Ehlinger, many began to not-so-quietly wonder if Shane Buechele should get another chance to win the job he performed admirably as a true freshman the year before Herman's arrival.

(Truth be told, Ehlinger looked solid for the first three quarters of that game. It was only when a lengthy weather delay turned the field into a water-logged mess that he understandably began to fall apart. But angry mobs never much care about the details.)

Since that rocky start, though, Ehlinger has thrown nary an interception while leading the Longhorns to five consecutive victoriesthree of the last four against ranked opponents.

Just like that, the mood in Austin has progressed from "Here we go again..." to "We're back, baby! Hook 'em Horns!"

Before facing a high-octane Oklahoma offense capable of putting up points against any foe, Texas already asserted itself as an elite defense. Its last four opponents had averaged 16.3 points and 314.8 yards of total offense—this after a respectable 21.2 points allowed per game in Herman's first season at the helm.

The big question for the Longhorns was the offense.

Emphasis on "was."

Texas entered the Red River Showdown with a meager 5.29 yards-per-play averagegood for 99th nationally and miles behind Oklahoma's FBS-leading 8.90 mark. Even Kansas (5.39) moved the ball better than Texas. On top of that, the Longhorns were getting worse on offense, bottoming out in last week's 19-14 win over Kansas State in which they didn't score for the final 37 minutes.

But perhaps Ehlinger and Co. were conserving energy for this game, because they made moving the ball look easy against the Sooners.

Excluding the inconsequential one-play drive at the end of the first half, Texas scored on seven of its first eight possessions. Five of those were touchdown drives that went at least 75 yards, resulting in a season-best 501 yards of total offense. Ehlinger finished with 314 passing yards and 72 rushing yardsboth season highs for him.

Now the big question is: Can it last?

Given the amount of sheer talent on the roster and the confidence with which Ehlinger has been playing, it's hard to argue that Texas isn't here to stay. But whether this renaissance ends in heartbreak or jubilation, there's no question that this is the best this program has looked in the 2010s.

In each of the past four years, the Longhorns didn't get their fifth win until at least November. The last time they started 5-1 or better was in 2009 when they made it to the BCS title game. And they already have as many wins over ranked opponents (three) as they did in that season.

Don't get it twisted. I'm not saying this six-week start means Texas is destined for the College Football Playoff. Heck, with West Virginia still sitting out there with an undefeated record and a Heisman Trophy candidate at QB (Will Grier), it probably wouldn't even be right to suggest this win over Oklahoma makes the Longhorns the Big 12 favorites.

But it's early October, and it's not the least bit absurd to dissect the remaining schedule and consider those possibilities.

That's the sign of a job incredibly well done by both Herman and Ehlinger in just a season-and-a half in burnt orange.

        

Kerry Miller covers college football and men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.

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