Monday, September 1, 2014
Swoopes put on the spot for first start
By Max Olson
AUSTIN, Texas -- Thirteen months ago, David Ash had a vision for how this would someday play out.
At Big 12 media days in July 2013, Ash was asked about his relationship with Tyrone Swoopes, the freshman who'd enrolled early and was battling to become his backup. He talked about Texas' proud history at the quarterback position -- Vince Young, Colt McCoy, even mentioned Major Applewhite. Then he reflected on what he wanted to leave behind when his playing days at Texas were over.
"Coming in, Texas kind of took a nosedive for a year, and we've been trying to get back up," he said. "With Tyrone, my goal is that whenever he steps in, I've got the program where he can just keep it rolling and Texas can be good for a long time."
While Tyrone Swoopes' ability to run gives the Longhorns another dimension, their success will depend on his ability to make key throws and good decisions.
The passing of the torch wasn't supposed to go down like this. Ash has played in just four games since then. Concussion-related symptoms have once again benched him and put his football future in doubt.
The time for Swoopes to step in is right now and when he least expected it. The sophomore played two snaps against North Texas -- the final two kneel-downs of the ballgame -- but must start his first career game Saturday against BYU.
Swoopes' resume is fairly blank to this point. He's completed nearly four times more passes in spring games (19) than in real ones (five). But he showed enough in fall camp to make this a clear-cut decision for Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson once Ash was ruled out.
"I'm very confident in Tyrone. I am," Strong said. "I'm confident with any player on this football team."
The 6-foot-4 sophomore isn't easy to bring down at 245 pounds, and Watson will surely implement more run options into the game plan this week to accentuate what Swoopes does best. Strong went so far as to compare Swoopes's ability on the perimeter to BYU's prolific quarterback Taysom Hill.
He is not the fleet-footed Young clone that fans expected during Swoopes' recruitment out of Whitewright (Texas) High School, but his legs do give the Texas offense an asset and a chance for some new wrinkles.
What Texas needs from Swoopes, above all else, is a competent passer capable of making key throws and sound decisions. He throws a nice deep ball, but how will he handle the intermediate throws? What about third downs and passing downs? Watson has seen improvements both in Swoopes' knowledge and fundamentals during their time together. A long offseason of training will soon be put to the test.
"Once Tyrone gets a couple completions in, he'll start getting a little rhythm and he'll be fine," running back Malcolm Brown said. "He's a guy that I've seen work since he's been here. I know as a backup, you always feel like you have to go above and beyond, but that's not the case at all. Just have to be consistent."
The presence of Brown and Johnathan Gray, two of the Big 12's best backs, certainly helps. Strong insists he does not demand greatness of Texas' quarterbacks. He just needs a game manager.
"What you have to look at, it's not all about one position," Strong said. "If you have the defense play well like we played the other night, you have two good running backs, your offense line protects well, you can function."
Strong said Swoopes executed the Texas offense effectively during practice Sunday, but he must also prepare a contingency plan. Swoopes' backup will be freshman Jerrod Heard, the former ESPN 150 recruit and two-time state champion from Denton (Texas) Guyer. Walk-on Trey Holtz figures to be the No. 3 option, and there are no other scholarship quarterbacks available.
Had Heard been able to enroll early at Texas this spring, he might've had a better chance to beat out Swoopes. After Watson told reporters this month that Heard was "in China" when it came to his understanding of the offense, a redshirt seemed likely. That might not be possible now.
"It's got to move very quickly for him," Strong said. "You're always a play away."
The opponent for Swoopes' first start, while familiar, is no less scary. BYU forced an Ash-led Texas offense to punt eight times in the 40-21 beatdown in Provo last season. He might struggle early, Strong admitted, but Swoopes needs to maintain his composure. He needs to find confidence.
And Texas will need everybody else to chip in if they're going to pull this off and, as Ash hoped, keep rolling.
"Other players have to step up, other players have to go play," Strong said. "You look across the country and it can happen to any team at any second. Now it's happened to us."