Weeks after redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard gave the Texas Longhorns program some much-needed juice with a huge game against the California Golden Bears, the shine was completely off following a 24-0 shutout by the Iowa State Cyclones that saw Heard struggle mightily in the passing game.
Heard threw for 364 yards against a Cal pass defense that now ranks No. 92 nationally in passing S&P+, but hasn't thrown for more than 120 yards in any game since. In the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma and in the monsoon at home against Kansas State, those limitations didn't matter.
Against a well-prepared Cyclones team, those limitations did matter.
A 6-of-9 performance that included an interception and two other near interceptions resulted in a fourth-quarter benching of Heard in favor of junior Tyrone Swoopes, the starter for almost all of the 2014 season and the disastrous 2015 opener against Notre Dame.
"We just felt like we needed some rhythm," play caller Jay Norvell said after the game. "Jerrod was struggling seeing the field and completing passes and we just felt like Tyrone deserved an opportunity to play, so sometimes it helps if a guy stops and looks at another guy play. So we thought that would be a good thing for Jerrod at that point."
Indeed, the ability of Heard to go through progressions and make on-time throws was a major problem. With Iowa State often dropping eight defenders into coverage and posting four zone defenders at the first-down marker, Heard was unable to take advantage of his feet to make plays, finishing with 13 yards on nine carries.
Swoopes responded to his opportunity by going 6-of-13 passing for 59 yards, hardly an impressive effort. A throw out of bounds intended for a wide-open Daje Johnson down the sideline illustrated all of the accuracy deficiences that sunk Swoopes as a starter.
Meanwhile, familiar issues surfaced at other positions.
Behind an offensive line that is still the worst in country at protecting the quarterback on passing downs, Heard often brought his eyes down quickly, mostly for good reasons.
On one third-down play, senior left guard Sedrick Flowers missed a simple end-tackle twist and gave up a quick pressure. On another play, Flowers and fellow senior Taylor Doyle, the starting center, allowed a defensive lineman a free path to Heard without even attempting blocks.
After the game, head coach Charlie Strong once again called out the team's senior leadership, mentioning Flowers and Doyle by name.
So the quarterback situation may not be the biggest problem for the team, but Norvell's post-game comments didn't exactly ensure that there isn't talk about a quarterback controversy, despite the uninspiring play from Swoopes outside of his work in the 18 Wheeler package.
"We'll look back at it and evaluate and see where he go from here, but we felt like it was the thing to do at the time," Norvell said.
While that attitude is hard to argue with, the lack of concrete plan going forward is a big problem for a now-reeling program that looked headed in a much more positive direction just hours ago.
"I don't know yet," Norvell said of who will start at quarterback against Kansas.
"We'll sit back and evaluate it and talk about and see what gives us the best chance to win. Obviously, it wasn't a good night for either of the guys tonight, so we'll have to evaluate that and as we go forward with Kansas, see who fits that game plan."