As the first Texas quarterback to be pictured on a Sports Illustrated cover since 2008, Sam Ehlinger bears heavy pressure to thrive for the 10th-ranked Longhorns. BILL HAISTEN/Tulsa World

ARLINGTON, Texas — It was a question everyone expected, and it was delivered by Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman.

Davis: “Tom, when you heard Baker Mayfield and Terry Bradshaw’s comments, were you excited over the moon — like this is the best thing that could have happened for someone to crap on your quarterback like that?”

“Tom” is Tom Herman, the third-year Texas football coach whose quarterback — Sam Ehlinger — recently was targeted for shots of criticism.

Essentially, Davis asked whether Herman would expect Ehlinger’s resolve to be doubled after having been jabbed by former Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and NFL Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw.

Herman’s response to Davis: “The irrelevancy of it was at an all-time high, (but) I do know that our guys file certain things away.

“We had a bowl game recently where the other team was very disrespectful and that gave us motivation. Sam loves to play with a chip on his shoulder, and I’m sure he will use this to crank it up a notch. It is, again, it’s pretty irrelevant in terms of how it affects our program.”

When it was time for Ehlinger to speak Tuesday — during Day 2 of the Big 12 Media Days event at AT&T Stadium — he attracted by far the largest group of reporters. It might have doubled the gathering for any other player.

Of course, Ehlinger also was asked about the Mayfield and Bradshaw statements.

“I think the moment you start believing the hype — or believing the hate — that’s when you can deviate from the path you’re supposed to be on,” he said.

Mayfield attended Austin’s Lake Travis High School. Ehlinger starred at Lake Travis’ rival school — Westlake. The Mayfield disdain for Ehlinger has roots at the high school and college levels.

On June 19, during a segment on a Norman sports-talk radio station, Mayfield turned his focus to Ehlinger: “Westlake is a great program, but the two best quarterbacks to come out of there are Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Sam can stay down there in Texas.

“That will stir the pot. He doesn’t like me and I hope he knows I don’t like him, either.”

In the Aug. 31 opener, Louisiana Tech visits Texas. Bradshaw is the best player in Louisiana Tech football history, but he didn’t do his alma mater any favors when he decided to take a shot at Ehlinger.

About a week after Mayfield fired his shot at the Texas QB, Bradshaw got involved while speaking at a Louisiana Tech function: “He ain’t that good.”

While Ehlinger says he isn’t bothered by “outside noise,” this is a certainty: he will want to score 100 points against Louisiana Tech.

During a span of 50 years — FIFTY YEARS! — the mighty University of Texas football program had only three undeniably brilliant college quarterbacks: wishbone master James Street in 1969, the dazzling Vince Young in 2005 and Colt McCoy (who was a freshman starter in 2006 and by 2009 had become a historically accurate passer).

Within that 50-year span, OU has a pronounced advantage on the quarterback scoreboard. For the Sooners, there were Jack Mildren, Steve Davis, Jamelle Holieway, Josh Heupel and Heisman winners Jason White, Sam Bradford, Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

On deck, possibly, for greatness at Texas: Ehlinger, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior who was voted the Big 12’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and the preseason all-conference QB.

Ehlinger’s 2017 season included a bad-decision, end-zone interception that gave visiting Oklahoma State a 13-10 overtime victory. Ehlinger opened 2018 with two fourth-quarter interceptions in a loss at Maryland. In a loss to USC, he lost a fumble near the goal line. In a loss to Texas Tech, there was another dagger of an interception.

“When Sam was a freshman, he didn’t have a great grasp of the offense,” Herman said Tuesday. “The defenses were moving extremely fast. It was survival mode. Fast-forward to his sophomore year. He had a great offseason, and then the Maryland game happens.”

During Texas’ 2018 season-opening loss at Maryland, Ehlinger was intercepted twice during the fourth period.

“We decided we were going to stick with him,” Herman recalled. “He thanked us for that. He told me, ‘That gave me a ton of confidence.’ He knew what happened his freshman year.”

Ehlinger recovered beautifully from his Maryland mistakes.

In a 48-45 conquest of the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl, he passed for 314 yards and two scores. He wasn’t intercepted while also keeping the football 19 times for 72 yards and three TDs.

Ehlinger and the Longhorns came up short in the OU rematch for the Big 12 title, but Texas closed with a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia. Ehlinger’s overall season numbers included 65 percent passing and only five interceptions.

After the Sugar Bowl, Ehlinger took the public-address microphone and electrified long-suffering Longhorn fans with four words: “Longhorn Nation — we’re baaaa-aaaack!!!”

Before Ehlinger is reunited with the Sooners on Oct. 12, however, he and the Longhorns get a huge Sept. 7 challenge — a home clash with LSU.

With that challenge comes a physicality test that should reveal whether Texas actually is back and whether Ehlinger really has a chance to join Street, Young and McCoy on the Texas list of dynamic, championship-level quarterbacks.

By mid-September, Bradshaw might have executed a 180-degree turn on his opinion of Ehlinger. As in, yeah, this guy is pretty good.

Bill Haisten


Twitter: @billhaisten

Sports Columnist

Bill joined the Tulsa World in 1990. Prior to having become a sports columnist in 2016, he was the only sports writer in Tulsa World history to have covered OU, OSU, the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts sports on an everyday basis. Phone: 918-581-8397