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Tyrone Swoopes, Texas Offense Still Limited But Improving

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The immediate forecast for the Longhorns offense is pretty grim, but the long-term outlook is sunnier after Saturday night.

Ronald Martinez

Although his developmental curve is likely too gradual to avoid a rough showing in the standings this season, Tyrone Swoopes' second career start was impressive and encouraging in a number of different ways -- and very nearly enough to steal the upset when UCLA lost Hundley for the game. Swoopes has a good ways still to go and right now he's still operating within a pretty limited range of reads, but dat arm tho... The kid fires bullets, and as a result of the progress he's made throwing from a more over-the-top, repeatable motion, the throwing accuracy that just a few months ago was on the "Must Improve" list is looking like a legit asset.

Swoopes made a handful of throws against UCLA that caused me to raise my eye brows in pleasant surprise, pump my fist, or both.  For his first touchdown pass, the sophomore delivered a terrific ball in terms of both touch and location, lofting a catchable ball high and soft where his tight end (but no defenders) could go get it. He threw his second TD strike on a rope, finding John Harris just across the goal line with a bullet that was thrown exactly when where it needed to be. And the throw that won't make anyone's highlight films but caught my attention was a swing pass to Jaxon Shipley on Texas' second touchdown drive. It only netted Texas 7 yards, but it would have gone for no gain at all had Swoopes not led Shipley with a beautiful ball that forced his wide receiver to turn up field and run with the pass.  It was a small thing, but not a gimme throw and one that tests the quarterback both physically and mentally. Swoopes earned a solid A.

As for the limitations, Swoopes is still operating in a highly simplified passing scheme that shelters him from the dangers that accompany having to make multiple reads. That's not a concern if we're talking about the long term -- a perfectly natural step for a young quarterback to take in the early going -- but more immediately, it's a big part of the reason Texas' offense is such a limited one right now.  Combine Swoopes' inexperience with an offensive line that struggles to slow a pass rush and there's simply no viable downfield passing game with which Texas offensive coordinator Shawn Watson might pressure a defense. I've heard some criticize Watson and Strong for being "too conservative" on offense, but at least with respect to downfield passing, we're talking about an arrow that simply isn't in our quiver.

Watson did, however, make one important adjustment when he got Swoopes going with the hurry up no huddle ("HUNH") offense. The tempo enabled Swoopes to play rather than think, but just as important it limited UCLA's ability to substitute and forced the Bruins defense to simplify, mitigating some of the costs of the simplified offense Texas is forced to run right now.

More than anything else, the Texas offense would benefit from a breakthrough in the running game. Watson and Wickline did some nice things mixing up the approach on the ground, but it shows that we want to be an offense that builds off of and around a strong inside zone ground game. Our offensive line just doesn't have that capability yet, and neither Gray nor Malcolm Brown excels as a rusher who can create his own production; both Brown and -- at least after his injury -- Gray take what's there for them, but neither of them is going to rescue our offense with runs like this:

Okay, that felt really good to watch. One more?  One more.

If you're having trouble snapping out of it, just say "Greg Davis" out loud three times and you should come to pretty quick.

So where does that leave us? Unless Jamaal Charles is going to start suiting up for us again, we're likely left with a test of our patience. The rebuild on offense needs time -- time for Wickline to recruit and coach up the offensive line, time for Strong to fill out the 85-man roster, time for Swoopes to develop his raw skills into a more diverse and dangerous attack. Texas still has a long way to go, and with the rest of the Big 12 unlikely to sit by politely and wait, we may not be able to measure this year's progress by wins.

For now, Texas fans will have to settle for encouraging improvement.  And on Saturday night, Tyrone Swoopes gave us a good bit of that.

Hook 'em