AUSTIN — This young season for Texas is a small three-game sample set, but there is a marked improvement for sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
A small sample set for a Texas offense which is averaging 31.3 points per game, but the overall production is steadily increasing as Ehlinger continues to progress. His statistics so far this season include: 723 yards passing, 116 yards rushing, eight touchdowns, two interceptions and 57.6 percent of completed passes.
"I think it's the experience and growing in situations where I don't need to force the ball necessarily, just understanding the game and what we're trying to do," said Ehlinger.
The sophomore from Westlake High School showed signs of maturity against the University of Southern California Saturday, a 37 to 14 win in which Texas scored 34 unanswered points.
"I think last year I was maybe gun shy in the pocket and feeling a little bit of pressure," said Ehlinger. "I think I'm working through progressions and the first guy (receiver), isn't always going to be there and it's not time to tuck the ball," he said. "I think it puts a stress on defenses because they have to account for a quarterback running the ball. I don't think it helps our offense because we have such great running backs and we've been successful in the running game. I think it adds an extra thought for the defense."
He did tuck the ball for one rushing touchdown against the Trojans. Ehlinger spread the wealth to six different receivers resulting in 223 yards passing and a pair of touchdown passes.
"I think its the confidence level, which will help everyone in every aspect," said Ehlinger.
Confidence is the most important element. According to Ehlinger, the lack of confidence collectively on the offensive side of the ball was the issue prior the win against USC.
"When you have a substantial amount of confidence in what you're doing in playing the game, you don't think and I think that might've been the problem in the past," said Ehlinger.
Despite falling six yards shy of 400 total yards of offense against the Trojans, it looked and felt different compared to the first two games against Maryland and Tulsa.
"As an offense, we just had fun. There was no hesitancy. We weren't worried about a three and out, we weren't worried about stalling out," said Ehlinger. "When we go full speed and we have confidence and we have fun, we're really good."
There were signs of Ehlinger having fun last season, but not on the same level as we witnessed last Saturday against USC.
"Everything felt like it was moving 100 miles an hour. I was more prone to leaving the pocket in certain situations I didn't necessarily need to," said Ehlinger.
Outside of natural progression and maturity, it's the principals he absorbed as a quarterback from coach Todd Dodge at Westlake High School.
"I had a great foundation of football knowledge coming out of high school because of what coach Dodge taught me," said Ehlinger.
Dodge also prepared Ehlinger for the rigors and pressure the starting quarterback at Texas faces. Dodge knows all too well about that. He played quarterback at UT from 1982 to 1985. When asked if Dodge let him know about the downside of being quarterback for UT, Ehlinger asked, "Is there a downside?"
Ehlinger is only 153 yards shy of passing Dodge for 15th on the all-time passing yardage list in UT football history. Ehlinger currently has 2,638 yards passing in his young Longhorn career.
The Longhorns will host Texas Christian University in the Big 12 Conference opener Saturday at 3:30 p.m.