Shane Buechele

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

It isn’t square one, but it might as well be.

As much as head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns learned about their quarterbacks during the 2017 season, they still won’t have a starter when spring football rolls around. But the battle won’t be any easier this go-around — especially since two four-star quarterbacks committed to Texas and have already arrived on campus due to early enrollment.

Herman has never been one to jump the gun when it comes to announcing a starting quarterback, but here’s what each of the four scholarship quarterbacks must do in order to be named the starter come August.

Ehlinger has the highest ceiling with the lowest of basements

Longhorn fans’ emotions toward freshman Sam Ehlinger changed like the seasons last year. Whether it was due to his confidence, his Westlake High pride or his ability to run over Big 12 defenders, Ehlinger earned some love from Texas fans, but he never quite earned their trust.

Ehlinger’s performances remained fairly inconsistent all season, exhibiting game-changing plays — both good and bad. The 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound quarterback pounded his way to a double-overtime victory over Kansas State, only to throw a game-ending interception in overtime against Oklahoma State two weeks later.

If Ehlinger can eliminate those crucial mistakes throughout spring football, it will be no surprise if No. 11 runs out with the offense against Maryland at FedExField on Sept. 1.

Buechele has a shot, if he remains healthy

Sophomore Shane Buechele experienced multiple injuries last season. His injury woes began in the season opener against Maryland when Buechele sustained a bruised throwing shoulder. The sophomore missed the next two games before returning against Iowa State, only to sprain his ankle.

But Buechele’s injury bug didn’t stop there. On Jan. 17, the Longhorns confirmed Buechele was set to undergo surgery on a torn adductor (hip)/abdominal muscle that he sustained during the Texas Bowl against Missouri. However, after treatments and rehab, Buechele is still expected to return in time for spring practice.

Buechele’s first task is getting healthy and staying there. If he can do that, don’t count him out of this battle.

The new kids on the block

This is where the quarterback battle gets fuzzy. A pair of four-star quarterbacks in Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson both look to make an immediate impact in burnt orange.

Thompson, a dual-threat quarterback, appears to be the best rusher of the four guys competing. The Oklahoma native threw for over 2,500 yards and added over 1,000 rushing yards during his sophomore year of high school.

Rising, however, brings with him what many are calling the strongest arm in the 2018 recruiting class. The Californian threw for over 3,000 yards in his sophomore season and rushed for another 756. Rising signed with Texas despite receiving offers from Alabama, Miami and Oklahoma.

How these two highly sought after recruits adapt to the college game is yet to be determined, but not too many people in the state would be surprised if their talent outweighed their inexperience once the quarterback battle and spring practice begin on March 5.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Tom Herman doesn't care to look and see what the betting line is on his upcoming game.

The Longhorns were 33-point favorites heading into Saturday night’s meeting against Kansas, a bottom-feeder program that is now 1-9 after Texas’ 42-27 win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“I didn’t know we were — I don’t ever know what favorite we are, no,” Herman said. “That’s a lot, though.”

Perhaps it was a lot for a Texas team entering Saturday with a 4-5 record, fresh off its worst offensive performance of the season last weekend against TCU in Fort Worth. Never mind the fact that the Longhorns shockingly lost to Kansas last November in Lawrence.

Kansas proved why it was a 33-point underdog from the opening kick, when it attempted to catch the Longhorns off guard in their own house.

After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Jayhawks boldly tried an onside kick. The plan didn’t work, however, as the Longhorns were ready for it and recovered the ball at Kansas’ 49-yard line.

“We’re always prepared for stuff like that,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “Going into this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

On Texas’ first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele delivered a 49-yard touchdown pass to Joe, who got behind the Jayhawks’ secondary.

The Longhorns were up 7-0 just nine seconds into the game. But fans would’ve been remiss to not draw flashbacks to last year’s meeting in Lawrence. Texas scored on its first play from scrimmage in that game as well to take an early 7-0 lead over the Jayhawks. The Longhorns went on to lose 24-21 in overtime, one of the worst losses in program history.

This night would not prove haunting for the burnt orange, though. Texas received boosts from a host of players in the first half to grab control of the game, never letting Kansas get firmly within striking distance.

Fifth-year senior defensive back Antwuan Davis needed just one half to turn in the best performance of his Texas career. Davis intercepted the Jayhawks twice, including a pick-six to put Texas up 14-0, and recovered a Kansas fumble on a punt return.

“It’s a great feeling to be out there with this defense, with this team,” Davis said. “I don’t want to be a missing piece. I want to be a part of this puzzle.”

Freshman running back Toneil Carter and sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey each rushed for scores in the first half. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who didn’t start despite being cleared from a head injury, came in late in the first quarter and tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Cade Brewer.

Early in the second quarter, Texas tried its hand at a 44-yard field goal, but senior Mitchell Becker missed wide left, another chapter in the Longhorns’ kicking woes this season.

Texas scored more points in the opening quarter on Saturday night — 28 — than it has total in five of its games this season. The Longhorns led 35-17 heading into halftime.

But the second half saw mostly offensive ineptitude.

“I think with such an inexperienced (offense) that we have right now, we’ve got to do a better job of not worrying about what the score is and not worrying about how the defense is playing and not worrying about ‘Oh, dang it, they stopped us, we have to punt,’” Herman said.

The biggest story out of Saturday night was simple — the Longhorns (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) got one win closer to bowl eligibility. One more win can help salvage what has been an erratic first season under Herman.

“There’s no lack of confidence, or there’s no issue with perception,” Herman said. “Winning for us right now is going to be hard, and that’s OK. That’s OK. As long as we win.”

Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

Hours before his team took the field at McLane Stadium in Waco and routed a winless Baylor team, 38-7, head coach Tom Herman had already seen exactly what he needed to see.

For a team coming off back-to-back, gut-wrenching losses, with its season teetering on an unstable pendulum, Texas could not afford to look past the now 0-8 Bears.

“We had talked all week about this being the most important game of the season,” Herman said. “Not because of what had really happened in the past or who we were playing or what their record was but the fact that it was the next one.”

And so at 5:45 a.m. at Texas’ team hotel, Herman saw words put into action.

“I was shocked,” Herman said. “A 5:45 a.m. wake-up call — there was no dopey-eyed guys, there was no ‘wipe the sleep out of their eyes.’ None of that stuff. They were intense and ready to go from the word ‘jump.’”

In a game that they could not afford to lose, the Longhorns (4–4, 3–2 Big 12) wore down Baylor with another solid defensive outing coupled with a relatively steady offensive performance.

The Longhorns’ defense came up huge on just the third play from scrimmage.

Baylor quarterback Zach Smith’s pass over the middle on third-and-8 was a little high as it tipped off of his intended receiver’s hands, which left safety DeShon Elliott in the right place at the right time. The ball fell right into Elliott’s hands for his team-leading sixth interception of the season. The junior returned it to the house for a touchdown to put the Longhorns up 7-0 early.

From there, Texas stayed in control in a game that was never really close.

“I don’t know if you can get started any better than that,” senior safety John Bonney said. “We took that momentum that DeShon gave us and just kept rolling with it the rest of the game.”

Texas took a 21-7 lead into halftime after two more touchdowns in the second quarter. Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele — who made his third start of the season in place of injured freshman Sam Ehlinger — scrambled to find sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Later, after a fumble by Baylor punter Connor Martin set the Longhorns up at Baylor’s own 28-yard line, Buechele kept the ball on a zone read, sprinted up the middle and raced past Baylor defenders for a touchdown, putting Texas up 21-7. Buechele even sprinted all the way up the tunnel in the northeast corner of McLane Stadium.

“He showed us a little speed,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “He kept on running through that tunnel. We started joking around calling him Forrest Gump. That was big for him.”

A couple of freshman running backs helped put things completely out of reach in the second half. Toneil Carter and Daniel Young each dashed for touchdowns, and junior kicker Joshua Rowland tacked on an 18-yard field goal to help the Longhorns shut the door in Waco.

While Saturday was a step in the right direction for the Longhorns, it was a small one in the grand scheme of things. But Texas avoided what it couldn’t afford to do — suffer a colossal letdown against a struggling opponent — and handled business. Next Saturday is another big one, as the Longhorns head to Fort Worth for a showdown with No. 10 TCU.

Asked after the game where he thinks the Longhorns are headed with four games left on the schedule, Herman avoided any bold prophecies. He just stuck to his mantra.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just want to go 1-0 this week,” Herman said. “The big picture is irrelevant right now.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Head coach Tom Herman said he won’t announce Texas’ starting quarterback anytime soon during Monday’s press conference. He has stuck to his word so far, and so has offensive coordinator Tim Beck.

Here’s what Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had to say during Wednesday night’s media availability.

Beck discusses Ehlinger, Buechele

The foggy quarterback situation hasn’t fizzled out after five games, but it seems like one quarterback currently has a much stronger case than the other. And it’s not sophomore Shane Buechele.

Buechele’s last appearance came on Sept. 28 when the Longhorns left Ames, Iowa, with a 17-7 win over Iowa State. Texas later confirmed that the sophomore quarterback sustained a sprained ankle during the victory over the Cyclones, and Longhorn fans haven’t seen him since.

Two weeks have passed since then, and the Longhorn faithful isn’t exactly begging to see Buechele in Saturday’s AT&T Red River Showdown in Dallas. They seemingly want more of the 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who put his best foot forward with his most recent performance in Texas’ double-overtime victory over Kansas State last Saturday.

“At this point, (Ehlinger)’s played really well,” Beck said. “I’m not down on Shane’s play. I don’t think that Shane has played bad. I think right now Sam is the hot name. I know all the media and the fans and everybody feels that he is the guy.”

Sam is the “hot name” for a reason. Throwing for 380 yards and rushing for 107 more in a double-overtime victory will do that.

“He made a lot of plays and plays with a lot of passion,” Beck said. “That’s one thing, a lot of juice, he brings that to the offense, and I like that.”

Although the majority of Austin seems to be on the Ehlinger bandwagon, don’t expect Herman or Beck to announce their starting quarterback until game time.

Jefferson continues to make strides

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson’s job is secure. That isn’t up for debate.

Jefferson’s 10-tackle performance on Saturday night against Kansas State doesn’t even tell the full story. Orlando said Jefferson is simply carrying himself in a different way, becoming more of a vocal leader and taking pride in the physicality of the Longhorns’ new defense.

“Those are the things that I’ve seen improve the most out of him, just the way that he’s carrying himself and the respect that he’s starting to get with his teammates,” Orlando said. “When he sees something that he doesn’t like, whether it’s on the practice field or in a meeting room, he’s gonna say something, and those kids will respond to it.”