Texas has been tested all year, but losing senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger to a shoulder injury was an obstacle the Longhorns never anticipated.
The same spirit that pushed the team through this entire chaotic season helped the Longhorns thrive without him.
Sophomore signal-caller Casey Thompson came off the bench and passed for 170 yards and four touchdowns, and No. 20 Texas overcame Ehlinger’s injury to beat Colorado 55-23 in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Tuesday night.
Freshman running back Bijan Robinson had 183 yards on 10 carries with a TD for Texas (7-3). He was selected the bowl’s offensive MVP.
“We had a lot of young guys that stepped up in this game,” Robinson said.
The Longhorns are undefeated in four bowl games under Tom Herman, unbeaten as a head coach in five bowls overall.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by some really dedicated young men that 10 months ago made a decision that they were going to go to work every day and do whatever it took to get through this season together,” Herman said. “And they did. We had our ups and downs, but they never wavered. They never gave up hope. They never gave up confidence. They kept playing for each other. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
More adversity developed against the Buffaloes (4-2).
Ehlinger missed the second half after sustaining a shoulder injury in the second quarter. Herman said he was uncertain when the injury occurred, but Ehlinger returned to the field in the third quarter in warmups, with his right arm in a sling. There was no immediate word on the extent of his injury.
“I hated that he couldn’t finish the game, but we wouldn’t be here without him,” Herman said. “He was the leader behind this senior class. I don’t know what the future holds for him, but I know that I’m thankful for him being on our team, being on my team each and every day. What he means to us is indescribable.”
The NCAA is offering athletes an extra year of eligibility given the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unknown if Ehlinger will return.
He played the entire first half Tuesday, completing 10 of 16 passes for 160 yards and a score.
Colorado was playing its sixth game of the season due to the coronavirus. The Pac-12 initially canceled its season only to reverse the decision and delay the start until Nov. 7.
The Buffaloes had two games canceled due to virus issues, but competed in the Alamo Bowl despite failing to reach the traditional six-win threshold required for the postseason.
The Longhorns appeared more polished throughout, striking quickly to open both halves.
Fueled by a 39-yard pass from Ehlinger to Joshua Moore, Texas drove 74 yards on four plays in 50 seconds on its opening possession. Robinson dove in for an 8-yard TD run with 12:51 left in the opening quarter.
Robinson scored again two possessions later, catching a 14-yard pass from Ehlinger with 5:28 remaining in the first.
The Longhorns didn’t take a step back without Ehlinger.
Thompson started the second half in place of Ehlinger and led Texas to a touchdown on its opening possession. Thompson completed a 13-yard scoring pass to Moore just 37 seconds into the third for a 24-10 advantage.
Thompson added a 25-yard touchdown pass to Moore, a 23-yarder to Robinson and a 73-yarder to Kelvontay Dixon. The backup was 8 of 10 on the night.
“I’m really proud of the young guys,” Herman said. “I’m really, really excited about the future. What these last two games playing so many young guys has shown is the trajectory of our program and what we’re capable of with these young guys.”
Cameron Dicker set an Alamo Bowl record with a 53-yard field goal late in the first half that extended the Longhorns’ lead to 17-7.
Colorado’s only sustained drive of the first quarter ended in an interception when Sam Noyer threw into a group of four defenders. Texas linebacker DeMarvion Overshown made his second interception of the season, picking off Noyer at the Buffaloes 11-yard line. Overshown had six tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery
Jarek Broussard rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries for Colorado.
Colorado: Despite the lopsided loss, coach Karl Dorrell’s tenure with the Buffaloes is off to a good start. Colorado went 3-1 in the Pac-12 under Dorrell, who signed a five-year contract in the offseason.
Texas: The Longhorns found a capable replacement for Ehlinger in Thompson. The 6-foot-1 sophomore displayed his elusiveness, escaping a heavy rush early in the third quarter for a 22-yard run. He also demonstrated his arm strength by throwing over the defense for a 73-yard touchdown to Dixon in the fourth.