Column: A Texas-sized quarterback conundrum

Drew Lieberman


That is the record Texas compiled during a seven-year span when it started legends Vince Young and Colt McCoy at quarterback. Texas played for two national titles — winning one — in addition to winning two more BCS bowls in 2006 and 2008. Young beat teams with his feet and arm and made the team “inVINCEable” during the latter part of his career. McCoy was one of the most accurate passers in NCAA history and the winningest BCS-conference quarterback.

But over the past four seasons, with the quarterback carousel of Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy and David Ash in full swing, Texas has gone just 30-21. During this time, the Longhorns missed a bowl game while only winning two of three minor bowls from 2011 to 2013. Gilbert was highly touted but flamed out. McCoy will be remembered for his late game moxie but struggled in his last few games. Ash can play brilliantly when healthy, but his durability appears to be a nagging concern. 

The quarterback position at Texas has been a mess lately and will likely remain so in 2014. The Longhorns will play their spring game Saturday with three active quarterbacks who have completed 5 of 13 passes for 26 yards in their careers combined.

Only sophomore Tyrone Swoopes got reps at quarterback in a game last season, playing in six games after a controversial burning of his redshirt against TCU. With such limited opportunities, it’s hard to tell whether Swoopes will be successful at this level, but it’s encouraging that head coach Charlie Strong sees Swoopes already taking advantage of Ash’s absence.

“He did a really outstanding job last Saturday,” Strong said. ”I know I don’t know his numbers, but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs. It was a big throw, but he did a really good job, and he settled in and had the confidence and just a different air about him when leading the offense.”

Texas’ other quarterbacks Saturday will be former wide receiver and tight end Miles Onyegbule, a senior, and sophomore Trey Holtz, both of whom should play to give Swoopes time off the field.

Many fans believe salvation is on the way with the enrollment of touted recruit Jerrod Heard on campus this summer. Heard led his team to two state titles in high school, but, while there could be temptation to play him early, Texas’ smartest move may be to redshirt him this season. Young and Colt both redshirted during their first seasons on campus, and that may be the best way to set up Heard for a successful career. 

Texas’ best hope in 2014 is to keep Ash healthy, but it should be prepared in the likely event he misses time. Perhaps it will nab USC transfer Max Wittek, who is a talented quarterback looking for a change of scenery. The Longhorns are thought to be the frontrunners for Wittek’s services, which would provide them with a solid backup in the likely event Ash suffers yet another setback.

The team will likely struggle until assistant coach Shawn Watson can develop his quarterback, but Heard may be the answer in 2015 or 2016. Until then, Texas fans need to remain patient as the Longhorns search for their next world-beating signal caller.