The three most recent quarterbacks West Virginia has faced this season had combined to make just two starts prior to playing the Mountaineers, both belonging to Kansas State freshman Will Howard.
WVU will see the other side of the spectrum Saturday when they face off against the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12 in Texas’ Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger will be making the 40th start of his career when the Longhorns host the Mountaineers Saturday. He ranks second in program history in career passing yards (10,520), passing touchdowns (88), total offensive yards (12,445) and total touchdowns (120), trailing only Colt McCoy in all categories.
WVU football coach said Ehlinger is unquestionably the leader of Texas’ team and the Longhorns go as he does.
“I think they take on his demeanor. When they’re playing well, he’s definitely their leader,” Brown said Tuesday. “I think he’s gotten to where he’s really comfortable in the pocket. He gets the ball out on time, his accuracy has really improved. He is a capable runner, without question, and they will run him but I think he’s plenty efficient in the pocket too.”
Ehlinger has been playing some of his best football for Texas (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) this season. Through six games, he leads the conference in passing touchdowns (20) and is third in passing yards (1,650) behind WVU’s own Jarret Doege and Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler. He is also the Longhorns’ leading rusher with 284 yards and seven touchdowns.
Number aside, when talking on Tuesday about the challenge of facing Ehlinger, WVU’s coaches specifically mentioned the attitude he plays with.
“Watching him, especially the last two years, I think he’s the best competitor in our league,” co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “The talent speaks for itself, but a lot of the things that he does, a lot of plays he makes it’s almost like he wills them and that’s competitiveness. I’ve got a lot of respect for that kid, he plays hard, he makes them go, he’s a huge challenge.”
“They’ve been a group that plays really, really well from behind and I think that just speaks to him,” Brown added. “You think about how many games he’s played in his career, how many close games, games that have come down to the wire. He’s a guy that just comes off to me as a winner and he’s got some mental toughness about him. He’s been able to step up in those crunch-time moments and make plays.”
The Longhorns have already played in three overtime games this season, winning two, which required some late-game heroics from Ehlinger. In the second game of the season, the Longhorns trailed Texas Tech by 15 points with just 3 minutes left. Ehlinger threw two touchdown passes and a two-point conversion to force overtime. He also threw the game-winning touchdown in overtime, his fifth touchdown pass of the day.
Two weeks late, Ehlinger orchestrated another 14-point, fourth-quarter comeback against Oklahoma to force overtime. That game went four overtimes before the Sooners eventually won. Ehlinger finished with 287 passing yards and two touchdowns and 112 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
WVU co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae said part of what makes Ehlinger difficult to defend is his ability to create a “second play”.
“We always talk about two different plays,” Addae explained. “There’s the first play that’s the called play and then the second play which is the scramble, the offense on accident, him going and making a play on his own.”
Addae said preparing for a quarterback like Ehlinger, who they have dozens of games worth of film on, it is important not to overload his players with information.
“What you don’t want to do is, you don’t want to give too much information. As a coach, you want to draw as much information as you can from film, the media, anywhere you can get it from but when you pass it to your players, you want to make sure that you filter it and you give them what’s necessary,” Addae said. “What we do is we get a skeleton of what the opposition is going to be and then from there we pick and choose what we think is most important in terms of our preparation and what they need to know.”
The Mountaineers will kick off at noon on Saturday in Austin, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ABC. WVU opened as touchdown underdogs against the Longhorns.