In a game that featured several wrinkles by the Texas Longhorns offense against the Baylor Bears, one of the most surprising developments was coordinator Sterlin Gilbert using senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes as a running back alongside freshman quarterback Shane Buechele.
Lined up in the pistol formation, Swoopes had some success early with a nine-yard run, eventually forcing a Baylor timeout, the experiment was largely unsuccessful, as Swoopes was stuffed several times and fumbled an exchange with Buechele.
Still, head coach Charlie Strong indicated on Monday that the staff will continue to use the 6’4, 250-pounder in that role with sophomores Chris Warren and Kirk Johnson both currently out with injuries.
“He will play some,” Strong said. “He'll get his snaps because you have him and Porter just giving D'Onta a spell.”
Strong said that he would be willing to give star running back D’Onta Foreman the ball 50 times a game, but even though the junior is carrying the heaviest load of his career so far, the ‘Horns run so many plays that the offense needs another effective back.
The problem is that Swoopes is hardly a natural fit at running back and showed some of the limitations of his vision on the failed two-point conversion late in the Baylor game.
“If you look at it the other night, and Tyrone will tell you, he missed -- if he just goes outside, it's there,” Strong said. “He's going to get the two points, and he just tried to bang it up in there and one of the linebackers slipped and then hit him. But if he'd just go ahead because we had it sealed because Beck had sealed a guy inside because he came — they all crashed down inside. He hadn't sealed him inside, and he could have walked in. They'll tell you, and he will admit, I missed — I totally missed that hole.”
And the staff clearly doesn’t have much trust in Porter, the freshman from Katy who had a remarkable career at the Texas high school football powerhouse. He’s averaging just over four yards per carry thanks to three big runs, but he’s largely been ineffective even though running backs typically transition easily from high school to college.
Then there was the apparently ill-fated experiment of moving former high school running back Lil’Jordan Humphrey from wide receiver to his old position at Southlake Carroll. While the news of that move broke on October 10, he’s yet to receive a carry or even line up at running back.
So there just aren’t many options for Texas with redshirt freshman Tristian Houston not looking like a contributor and junior Roderick Bernard’s career likely over after a major knee injury during the offseason.
However, the lack of success in using Swoopes as a running back illustrates the need for a few more wrinkles and just how much losing Warren hurts the team.
In the package with Buechele, attempting play-action passes, as Texas did on one play, can result in issues because Swoopes isn’t used to pass blocker and it can be difficult to pick up overload run blitzes, even in mass protection. In fact, the particular play referenced ended in a sack when Buechele was flushed from the pocket.
In the 18-Wheeler package, attempting to use Porter as a blocker isn’t an effective strategy for the now mostly abandoned 18-Wheeler package since he struggles in pass protection, leaving the Longhorns without a good pairing for the senior in that look.
As a result, the plays have become extremely predictable — Texas hasn’t thrown a pass out of it since the Notre Dame game and only one all season, so even though Strong promised some wrinkles this week for Swoopes, it’s easy to remain skeptical. And when Andrew Beck lines up at running back, as he did in a recent game, it clearly telegraphs a run, even if there are three receivers split wide.
The bottom line is that there aren’t a lot of easy answers here, but Gilbert repeatedly ignores the most obvious — throwing the football or running a constraint play like a jet sweep to former quarterback Jerrod Heard or speedy wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who has something of a running back’s build.
There have been some different formations and personnel packages for Swoopes this season, just not a lot of variety in the actual play calls, including the absence of trick plays entirely.
Is this the weekend that Gilbert finally opens things up?
Eh. Don’t count on it.