AUSTIN, Texas -- Calling Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ performance in the Orange-White spring game “inconsistent” or “up-and-down” doesn’t suffice. It’s too simplistic a summation of what was really a tale of two performances.
So we reviewed the film. Here’s a closer look at the plays that stood out from the second-year QB’s critical day.
We have to start off here only because of Swoopes’ rocky start. Facing a second-team defense, his first four drives as Texas’ QB went like this: Interception, punt, three-and-out and a missed field goal after three plays netted zero yards.
His only first-quarter completion was a screen pass. So was his second completion of the day. When Shawn Watson appeared for a quick in-game interview on Longhorn Network, he admitted Swoopes had “a little deer-in-the-headlights look” early on.
In fairness, his offensive line should take some of the blame for his early mistakes. Desmond Harrison ignored defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway on Swoopes’ first dropback, leading to an 11-yard sack. In a real game, Swoopes would’ve been flattened on that one.
On the next snap, right tackle Kennedy Estelle didn’t slow down a blitz from the slot by Naashon Hughes, who got good pressure. Dalton Santos did an impressive job of dropping back deep into coverage, leading Swoopes to try throwing the pass high. It sailed past his receiver and into walk-on Dylan Haines' arms.
Swoopes got oh-so-close on two potential touchdown balls to Jaxon Shipley. On the first, Shipley beat Chevoski Collins for an easy third-down TD over the middle if the pass was even chest-high. Instead, another overthrow that seemed more a product of Swoopes’ footwork.
He had a heck of a throw later when Shipley was fading to the right corner of the end zone. Swoopes put it in the perfect spot, right where Bryson Echols and Adrian Colbert had no chance to make a play, but just one yard too far from Shipley’s outstretched hands.
One more play to note, because it came right before Swoopes started to get rolling: The ugly conversion on fourth and 4 in the second quarter. Texas lined up in a power set with two tight ends and a fullback and went with a play-action pass that was well-protected.
But Swoopes looked right and didn’t find what he wanted. So he rolled left and fired a pass off his back foot. He was fortunate Shipley broke off his comeback route toward the sideline. The sophomore QB fit the pass into traffic for a difficult but important completion.
The response from Watson? Screaming. He threw down his headset and ripped into Swoopes, presumably for making the wrong look off the run fake and turning a tricky play into a much more difficult one.
From there, Swoopes got better. Texas found the end zone three plays after the fourth-down pass to Shipley. Then, after a quick takeaway from the No. 1 defense, came the play that turned the tide for Swoopes.
He rolled to the right and all the way to the sideline on the final play of the first half. With Caleb Bluiett in close pursuit, Swoopes loaded up and fired a pass off his back foot that traveled at least 50 yards. The diminutive Daje Johnson pulled it down in a crowd of three defenders.
That, in one shiny nutshell, is what you can get when Swoopes’ raw tools are put to good use. A lucky completion, obviously, but one that still requires a cannon.
The Texas coaches were wise to simplify from there. Swoopes got in a zone by hitting some easy stuff, comebacks and passes over the middle and two bootleg passes to tight end Geoff Swaim. It’s also good vanilla ball for a spring game on TV.
Swoopes ended his day with a magnificent throw. Clean drop, looked off a safety, made the right read and threw a perfect ball that fluttered nearly 45 yards to Shipley. He pulled it down in between Collins and Colbert and finished for the score.
That gave Swoopes reason to celebrate. He watched, waited, even leaned in as he watched the ball. When he knew it was good, he threw up his hands and let out a shout. Plays like that build confidence, no matter the setting.
There’s a lot more work to be done here. Watson will work with Swoopes on his mechanics this summer, though he says those fixes won’t need to be significant. He’ll get stronger -- though the physical tools are all there -- and he’ll spend a lot of time studying the scheme the summer.
But how far Swoopes advances by the end of summer and into fall camp will depend on what he puts in. With Jerrod Heard and, potentially, Max Wittek arriving in the summer, and David Ash returning from his foot fracture, reps with the No. 1 offense won’t be handed to Swoopes by default like they were over the final week of spring ball.
This isn’t to say Swoopes will be some forgotten man. Not at all. But if he wants to seriously contend for the job this fall, he’s going to have to master this offense and outwork everyone else.
If his rally on Saturday means anything, perhaps it’s this: Don’t count him out just yet.