What seems to have been lost a bit in all of the post-game commotion regarding penalties, special teams woes, premature coaching-search talks, etc. this past week has been the way in which Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, play caller Jay Norvell, and the rest of the offensive staff deployed a could-have-been forgotten man, Tyrone Swoopes, the junior who began the season as the team's starting quarterback.
After a dismal start to the season in South Bend, combined with the redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard's splash onto the quarterback scene the following week, most of us were ready to put Swoopes on the shelf and let the dust begin to collect. But, to Strong and the staff's credit, they had other plans.
First, some background -- earlier this week, I was contacted by a former Texas athletic great. For now, I'll leave the identity of the former Longhorn athlete anonymous, though, I will say he was part of a National Championship team during his time at Texas.
During our time on the phone, we skimmed over a few different topics; one being that we both agreed it was very much too early to start closing the book on the Strong era at Texas. But while discussing Strong and his situation with his team, we naturally progressed to the quarterback position.
As we began talking about quarterbacks, the Longhorn alum highlighted the fact that Strong is seemingly a loyal coach who also tries to get the best from his athletes. Though loyalty can sometimes have a negative effect in certain situations (see former play caller Shawn Watson), loyalty can also create another chance for someone to find success in the right situation.
The more we learn about Strong, his strengths, and his ambitions as a coach, the more evident it is that he (with the help of his staff) will work to try to get the most out of his players by highlighting what those players strengths are and what they can bring into a game. The best example from last season was wide receiver John Harris. And this season, senior wide receiver Daje Johnson has become the main subject of that story.
But another example that could continue to develop before our eyes each week is the way the Strong and his staff deployed Swoopes against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
After benching Swoopes for Heard, Strong and his staff simply could have left Swoopes on the sideline as an afterthought. Instead, Swoopes was deployed in a Belldozer-type roll at quarterback against Oklahoma State that the staff installed during the week of practice leading up to the game. And it appears that the "Swoopesdozer" (for lack of a better name) is here to stay.
If the series looks familiar to Texas fans, it's because it's the same look that Norvell used at Oklahoma to help Blake Bell score four touchdowns on 11 carries back in 2012. Here are the two plays the Horns used in the package last weekend:
Texas has shown two plays from the Storm Swooper package so far. First is QB Power, shown here: pic.twitter.com/7cvPGeDDC3— Ian Boyd (@Ian_A_Boyd) October 1, 2015
The other play Texas has used in the Storm Swooper package is QB counter (the TD run) shown here: pic.twitter.com/0CPxEuRote— Ian Boyd (@Ian_A_Boyd) October 1, 2015
It's pure, smash-mouth football that forces an opponent to win blocks at the point of attack or give up first downs. Or touchdowns, as the case may be.
Regardless of how you personally feel about Swoopes, deploying him in this type of role is a smart move. Walk with me as I discuss my thoughts below.
1) This allows the Longhorns to add another wrinkle to their playbook. Having a big quarterback back there, like Swoopes, forces the defense to defend against a different running style than the quick and elusive Jerrod Heard.
2) Used in the right situation, the Longhorns could also catch a defense off guard and use Swoopes' strong arm to throw a bomb to a streaking receiver on a run-fake or some form of a play-action play.
3) Having Swoopes out there to pick up some tough yards on the ground also a) gives Jerrod Heard a breather and b) reduces the amount of times he is getting hit in the open field (this helps, even if it's just a few plays each game). Listed at 244 pounds, Swoopes has about two inches and around 50 pounds on the current starter, so stopping him in an 11-on-11 situation with a jumbo package that includes an extra offensive tackle and all three healthy tight ends/H-backs is extremely difficult.
4) Deploying Swoopes successfully engages him back into the offense. And it instills confidence back into a quarterback that needed his confidence back (who at any point could still be called upon to take ahold of the starting job should Heard get injured).
Strong and his staff are not inventing the wheel with their new usage of Swoopes. We see this type of package across college football. But they are giving all of us more reason to believe that he and his staff will not give up on their athletes as long as they are willing to continue put forth the effort and put in the work.
With Swoopes, it's already paying off -- he looked more demonstrative after his three carries than at any other point in his career.
More than that, it's energizing for the team that Swoopes supposedly won over during fall camp.
"When he got those first downs and that touchdown, it was a really big spark for the team," Heard said on Tuesday. "I get so excited when I see him go out there and run everybody over. It's exciting for us."
There's no question that Heard is still the man at quarterback. But used with the right frequency and in the right situations, a player many of us had written off will likely continue to be given the opportunity to make a positive impact in games the rest of the season.