QB Sam Ehlinger spreading the TDs around in Texas offense
By JIM VERTUNO AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas keeps adding to the offensive firepower around quarterback Sam Ehlinger with some big early results.
The No. 12 Longhorns (2-1) will need everyone to chip in if they plan to keep up with Oklahoma State (3-0) on Saturday in the opening week of the Big 12.
Ehlinger is off to one of the best start in school history with 11 touchdowns and 956 yards passing through three games. He is also one of only three major college quarterbacks with no interceptions in at least 100 pass attempts. The way the Longhorns keep giving him more targets for potential touchdowns has certainly grabbed Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s attention.
“The quarterback is considerably better than he has been, in my opinion,” Gundy said “They’ve got big and tall receivers and they want to throw the ball down the field … They are throwing the ball more than they’ve ever been.”
Wide receiver is Texas’ deepest position. After losing last season’s standout playmaker, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, to the NFL draft, Brennan Eagles and Malcolm Epps stepped into the role of big-body receivers who can physically dominate smaller defensive backs.
Eagles, who is 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, has three touchdowns on nine catches with a whopping 22.6-yard average per reception. Epps is even bigger at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, and made his first career start last week against Rice with four catches for 53 yards. Texas also has 6-5 senior Collin Johnson, who is expected to return after sitting out last week against Rice with a sore hamstring.
The bigger impact is coming underneath with smaller, faster slot receivers Devin Duvernay and Jake Smith, who have combined for six touchdowns.
Oklahoma State will bring an offense that features wide receiver Tylan Wallace, who leads the nation with six touchdown catches, and running back Chuba Hubbard , the nation’s leading rusher. But Duvernay is tied for the lead nationally in catches with 27.
“I think highly of myself and think I’m one of the best in the country,” Duvernay said.
He scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter as Texas mounted a rally in a loss to LSU. On the first one, he broke two tackles on a 41-yard catch-and-run on fourth down.
“The anger that he runs with when he has the ball in his hands and his physicality is just so impressive for a slot receiver,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.
The LSU game was also a breakout for Smith, who caught his first career touchdown and then followed it with two more last week against Rice .
Smith was the Gatorade national player last year as a high school senior with 2,349 all-purpose yards. With his speed and running skills, Herman had to resist the temptation to move Smith to running back when injuries were piling up there.
Moving Smith would have “stunted his growth significantly” at receiver, Herman said. “You know, he was not an early enrollee. His first taste of college football was training camp, and it certainly hit him like a shovel to the face. But he made it through those dog days of training camp.”
The touchdowns are making the transition a lot easier.
“I was kind of surprised the first game how, you know, I was expecting something so much different,” Smith said after the Rice game. “And at the end of the day, it’s just football, the game I’ve been playing for so long.”
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