AUSTIN, Texas — It’s hard to imagine No. 14 Texas having a better debut than it forged Saturday in a 59-3 stampede over hapless UTEP before a socially distanced crowd of 15,337 folks at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Yes, the Longhorns’ season was delayed two weeks and attendance was limited to the smallest ever at a Texas football game because of COVID-19.
But Texas fans will insist that, first, they were darn happy to see some college football on the 40 Acres, and secondly, if this is the kind of production they can expect from the Longhorns, then, well, it might have been worth the wait.
“I'm really proud of our players — really, really proud of them,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “We've won some games around here in the past, but this one's special, to do it the way that we did it, and because of all the things that we overcame over the last six months.
“You know, we had zero Covid issues leading up to this game, and knock on wood, hopefully it stays that way.”
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger has been pining to show what he can do while in charge of UT's new offense, and he put on quite a display, throwing for 426 yards and touchdowns to five different receivers, all in the first half.
Ehlinger had a game for the ages, going 24-of-32 through the air over the first two quarters while staking Texas (1-0) to an overwhelming advantage in its season opener. He posted the third-best passing day in school history, and had a career-high in scoring passes, and he did it in one half.
The Longhorns racked up a school-record 481 passing yards, eclipsing the program’s single-game mark set in 1987 (476 vs Houston).
“I think today was a step in the right direction for our receivers,” Ehlinger said. “There’s so much talent in that room that those guys should be making plays. Especially with the new system, it was important to have the early success we had tonight.
“To tell you the truth, I’m pretty disappointed in how I played. I left a lot of things out there tonight. I can’t wait until to get to the bye week to get better.”
Ehlinger, the Longhorns’ erstwhile Heisman Trophy candidate, hit Joshua Moore for a 78-yard score on the game’s opening play and never looked back.
The 78-yard touchdown pass Sam Ehlinger to Moore on the first play from scrimmage marked the first time since 2004 that the Longhorns scored on the first offensive play of a season. That year, Cedric Benson went 38 yards for a score versus North Texas.
Tight end Cade Brewer hauled in Ehlinger’s second touchdown pass, from 20 yards away, before Roschon Johnson plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter. Ehlinger then hit Brenden Schooler, a grad transfer from Oregon by way of Arizona, for a 40- yard score.
By the end of the half, Ehlinger added scoring tosses to Tarik Black, a grad transfer from Michigan, and a fifth scoring pass to walk-on Kai Money from 6 yards out.
Cameron Dicker kicked a 31-yard field goal for the Longhorns while Gavin Baechle countered with a career-long 47-yarder for UTEP, both in the second quarter.
Nine different receivers caught passes for Texas in the first half as the Longhorns outgained UTEP, 498-121, over the first two quarters before turning over the game to their reserves.
“Spreading the wealth is probably going to be a common theme throughout the season,” Herman said. “We've got a few guys that are plenty good enough to make a difference in a game and (offensive coordinator) Mike (Yurcich) and the offensive staff had a really good plan.
“We wanted to make a point to get the ball to them early and often, (to) give them some confidence, find out who's made of what. I was really, really proud of the way that unit stepped up.”
Ehlinger played the first series of the third quarter, ending up 25 of 33 before heading to the bench.
Longhorns backup quarterback Casey Thompson threw the first two touchdown passes of his career in the second half, finding Brennan Eagles for a 35-yard scoring hookup in the third quarter and Marcus Washington for a 17-yard touchdown with 13 minutes to play.
The Miners (1-1) were led by Gavin Hardison’s 141 passing yards and Deion Hankins’ 34 yards on the ground in 11 carries.
“We did a good job of getting off the field, of stopping the run and of getting off the field on third down,” Texas jack Joseph Ossai said. “There are some things we will see on film that we will need to improve on, but we are pretty happy with the overall performance and with the win.”
UTEP, which was a 43-point underdog in this game and competes in Conference USA, has lost all six of the games its played against Texas in a series that dates back to 1930.
Texas will take next Saturday off before traveling to Lubbock to face Texas Tech Sept. 26. The Red Raiders needed to stop a two-point play at the end of the game Saturday to hold off Houston Baptist, 35-33.