West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown called Texas junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger a Heisman Trophy candidate during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
That is likely true the more Texas wins. And with the way Ehlinger and the Longhorns are operating on offense, it will be a tall task for opposing defenses to slow down, let alone stop, UT. This week, it’s West Virginia’s turn to take on that task (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. on ABC).
Through four games, Ehlinger has been very good both through the air and on the ground. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Ehlinger has run for 191 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries while also completing 102 of 140 pass attempts for 1,237 yards with 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
“I think he’s special,” Brown said of Ehlinger. “He’s a tough kid and I think he has improved his passing ability. He has been extremely accurate thus far. He’s a tough tackle — he’s a dual-threat guy and they use him in the run game as well. He’s really tough to get down.
“I think his personality is what that team has taken. He’s a tough guy, and he’s a winner. Obviously you can tell by watching him he loves everything that Texas represents.”
The quarterback is far from the only weapon Texas has playing at a high level right now. Consider this — the Longhorns have three wide receivers with four touchdown catches. Then remember senior Collin Johnson has missed wins against Rice and Oklahoma State with a hamstring injury.
Johnson’s status for Saturday’s game against WVU in Morgantown remains uncertain, though Texas coach Tom Herman did say the receiver was going to attempt to practice this week.
“It sounds like he may be back this week and he’s a big-play threat. He has been solid in his previous two years there. He’s well over 6-foot-5, has an opportunity to go and impose some deep balls. He’s won a lot of one-on-ones.”
In Johnson’s absence, Devin Duvernay has shined. The senior is one of Ehlinger’s favorite targets with 39 catches (third-best in the country) for 377 yards and four touchdowns. Duvernay has caught 12 passes on third down this season, with 10 of those turning into first downs for the Longhorns.
“[Duvernay] is a guy that has been in the program for a while, so when you watch him, he’s really heady,” Brown said. “They move him around to a bunch of different spots, and I think he’s got a real good feel for just football in general. If we weren’t playing this week, I’d just like to watch him play because he does a really good job of settling zones. He understands when it’s man and runs away from man coverage. He catches the ball, and just like I was talking about our guys needing to, he catches and gets vertical. He has the ability to make a guy miss, and they’ve done a great job of getting the ball too — especially when they had some other guys out.”
COWAN EASING BACK IN
West Virginia has been looking for someone to increase the production at its “bandit” linebacker position, and VanDarius Cowan might just be the man for the job.
Cowan transferred to WVU from Alabama and sat out the 2018 season, then was suspended for the first four games this season. He’ll make his Mountaineers debut this week against Texas, and Cowan has impressed coaches and teammates in practice.
Practice and live games, as you are probably aware, are very different.
“Our expectations have to be reasonable,” Brown said. “He hasn’t played a football game in well over two years. At Alabama, he played special teams and a little bit of defense.”
WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said Cowan has good football instincts, but time will tell what the linebacker is best at.
“Sometimes it’s important to have a guy that just has good instincts,” Koenning said. “If I’m fitting off a lineman, I’m not just running up the lineman’s tail end, but fitting the gap. I think he has some good feel and good vision.”