Texas’ quarterback decision to be defining moment for Strong

Nick Castillo

Charlie Strong didn’t create the Longhorns’ quarterback mess ­— it was built over six years, after misfortune on the field and in recruiting. But it’s his job to fix it, or his time at Texas will be short-lived.

The Longhorns’ head coach named Tyrone Swoopes his starting quarterback for the season opener against Notre Dame. But it’s no secret Texas will play both its quarterbacks against the Fighting Irish — Strong said it himself. Now, the outcome of Strong’s decision may define his era at Texas.

In 12 starts in 2014, the Longhorns saw what they have in junior Tyrone Swoopes — a quarterback with a strong arm, who fizzled when the lights were the brightest. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, the quarterback who dazzled his way to two consecutive 5A state championships at Denton Guyer High School, is the unknown.

Texas has been searching for a quarterback for six years, since Colt McCoy went down with a shoulder injury against Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Garrett Gilbert followed the Longhorn legend, only to be run off the field, boos raining down from the stands of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 

Gilbert, a spread passer, was partially the victim of former Texas coach Mack Brown’s attempt to imitate Alabama’s power running game after it gashed the Longhorns for 205 yards in the national championship game. In response, Gilbert transferred to SMU.

Next, Case McCoy and David Ash fought to stabilize the position. McCoy, who lacked the physical attributes of a Division I passer, made up for it with his moxie. He pulled through in big moments, helping the Longhorns defeat Texas A&M in the final game of the rivalry and taking down Oklahoma in 2013. Ash hoped to lead the Longhorns during his first season at Texas, but he ultimately retired from the game after suffering a concussion in the first game of 2014.

Now, Swoopes and Heard have their opportunity to leave their mark on the Longhorns. Swoopes showed promise last season. And for Strong’s sake, he hopes the junior quarterback from Whitewright, Texas, can replicate his performances against Oklahoma and Iowa State. Swoopes threw for a combined 655 yards and three touchdowns and added 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners and Cyclones.

But Swoopes struggled against Baylor, Kansas State, TCU and Arkansas. Against the Horned Frogs and Razorbacks, he threw five combined interceptions. He rushed for -32 yards against Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.

Strong knows how Swoopes has handled the brightest lights. But after Ash’s concussions, Swoopes was thrown into the fire last season. An offseason of preparation could lead him in the right direction.

It’s unknown how Heard will handle the pressures of being a quarterback at Texas. His high school accolades bode well for him. Heard’s athleticism could help supplant the incumbent Swoopes.

After a 6–7 season in his first year, Strong has to fix the mess he’s inherited, or he’ll be run out of town in no time. 

Pick the right quarterback, coach. Your job depends on it.