On Monday, a depth chart finally emerged from the Texas Longhorns program, with sophomore Shane Buechele listed as the starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against the Maryland Terrapins.
The news came out later than head coach Tom Herman had anticipated when preseason camp began, with Herman noting at one point that Buechele was making too many mistakes in practice after ending his freshman season with five interceptions in his last three games. Three of those interceptions came in the embarrassing loss to Kansas.
Herman’s relatively tepid public comments about Buechele and the fact that the competition lasted longer than most expected raised questions about the sophomore’s fit in the new offense and the head coach’s confidence level in his only experienced quarterback.
“We’re not dynamic there,” Herman said in mid-August when asked about the position.
The Texas head coach even bristled a bit that day when asked whether the team had a starter yet.
On Thursday, however, Herman provided the most effusive praise of Buechele that he’s offered during preseason camp. Perhaps since arriving in Austin.
“He's dialed in mentally, physically, again the physical stuff is not an issue,” Herman said, noting that Buechele has had a “really good” week of practice. “He's the most accurate guy I've coached. So throwing the football is not an issue.”
For anyone who watched Buechele closely during his historic freshman season, that assessment from Herman doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it is still high praise. Consider, for instance, that Greg Ward Jr. completed more than 67 percent of his passes during Herman’s two seasons in Houston.
The growth for the Arlington Lamar product has come in other areas — he’s getting stronger and is growing into a leadership role this season.
“Last year, it was difficult just being a young guy and trying to be a vocal leader,” Buechele said. “Getting guys behind me, that’s hard being a young guy. This year, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable being a vocal leader, which I think is really important for our offense and our team.”
However, there’s also important on-field growth, too, especially in knowing when to run the ball and how to protect himself.
“He's been running it when he needs to run it,” Herman said. “He's been doing a really good job of protecting himself when we're throwing the football and getting us out of bad runs into good runs. Going through all of his game plan checks, so it's been good.”
Given that the offense is significantly more complex under coordinator Tim Beck than it was last season under Sterlin Gilbert, Buechele’s natural progression as a second-year player has helped him gain a command of it heading into the season.
There were some struggles during preseason camp, though, with Herman noting that Buechele sometimes reverted to the muscle memory of last season’s offense, which often led to mistakes.
But it sounds like the young quarterback mostly moved past that stage and is ready to build on the nearly 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns he produced last season through the air. Given the growth trajectory of Herman’s quarterbacks throughout his career, it’s reasonable to expect Buechele to improve this season.
“He’s our starting quarterback,” Beck said this week. We’re going to ride with him as long as he’s going to drive us... I think he’s going to play lights out. I really do.”