Sam Ehlinger, Texas Cruise to Upset Win over No. 11 Utah in 2019 Alamo Bowl

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2020

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger celebrates a touchdown against Utah during the first half of the Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game in San Antonio, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Austin Gay)
Austin Gay/Associated Press

The Texas Longhorns won't remember the 2019 campaign fondly, but they at least ended their season with an impressive bowl victory.

Texas defeated the Utah Utes 38-10 at the 2019 Alamo Bowl on Tuesday at the Alamodome. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger led the way with four total touchdowns, helping his team bounce back from a 7-5 regular season with a win in one of the most high-profile bowl games of the year outside of the New Year's Six and College Football Playoff.

As for Utah, this loss is another step back for a team that was likely a victory over the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game away from playing in the CFP.

           

Notable Player Stats

  • Texas QB Sam Ehlinger: 12-of-18 passing for 201 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; 11 carries for 73 yards and one touchdown
  • Texas RB Keaontay Ingram: 13 carries for 108 yards and one touchdown
  • Texas WR Devin Duvernay: three catches for 92 yards and one touchdown
  • Utah QB Tyler Huntley: 15-of-23 passing for 126 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions
  • Utah RB Zack Moss: 16 carries for 57 yards

     

Sam Ehlinger and New-Look Defense Provide Texas Optimism for 2020

The narrative of whether Texas is "back" is always a talking point in the Big 12, and this bowl game could be looked at as more of a jumping-off point for 2020 rather than a saving grace for 2019.

It is not a stretch to suggest Ehlinger could challenge for a Heisman Trophy as a senior next year—assuming he comes back—after he made a jump statistically nearly across the board with 3,462 passing yards, 590 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns during the regular season.

He needs more overall consistency against notable opponents considering he threw four interceptions in the loss to TCU and no touchdown passes in losses to Oklahoma and Baylor.

The inconsistency was on display at first against Utah when the Longhorns largely dominated the first half but were only up 10-0 because they settled for a field goal and saw Ehlinger throw an interception inside the red zone on two separate possessions. That's normally asking for trouble against a talented foe, but the defense helped them seize control.

That defense that was playing its first game since Texas fired defensive coordinator Todd Orlando stuffed Tyler Huntley on fourth down at the start of the second half, swarmed the holes against Zack Moss, attacked the football on underneath routes and didn't allow meaningful separation on deep balls.

It set the stage for Ehlinger to take over, and he did just that with a touchdown pass to Keaontay Ingram, a score on a keeper and a beautifully placed touchdown pass to a leaping Devin Duvernay to essentially put the game away.

It is important to note that Texas also earned an impressive bowl win over Georgia to end last season and was unable to parlay it into anything meaningful in 2019. It will look to avoid a similar fate in 2020, but Tuesday's display provides plenty of optimism heading into the new year.

          

Utah's Offense Goes MIA Until It's Too Late

Offense was not a problem for Utah for much of the season with the Huntley and Moss combination in the backfield.

However, the Utes put up a measly 15 points against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game when they were in a position to make the CFP during their first season with more than 10 wins since joining the league prior to the 2011 campaign.

It was fair to wonder with losses to USC and Oregon if Utah was not quite ready to compete with marquee programs. It didn't provide many answers against Texas, which is nowhere near the powerhouse of old but still one of college football's true blue bloods. In fact, the Utes didn't even get on the board until Jadon Redding's field goal in the third quarter.

It didn't help the Utah offense that its defense began to unravel in the second half with personal fouls, key facemasks and the inability to prevent Ehlinger from breaking free.

Still, Huntley, Moss and Co. could not keep up with the Longhorns' firepower. That put far too much pressure on the defense in the second half and forced the Utes into comeback mode until it was far too late.

Just like against the Ducks.

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