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Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes steps up in big performance against Oklahoma

The Horns may not have come out with the victory, but the sophomore starter made major strides.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the best quarterback in the Cotton Bowl was Texas Longhorns sophomore Tyrone Swoopes.

Entering the game, that wasn't supposed to be the case with Oklahoma Sooners starter Trevor Knight the possessor of a big-time Sugar Bowl win last fall and a significant advantage in experience.

When the day was over, Swoopes had thrown for 334 passing yards at 7.6 yards per attempt and Knight had managed only 129 yards on 6.5 yards per attempt. Swoopes also won the battle on the ground with a rushing touchdown and 50 yards against only two yards rushing for Knight.

A week after admitting to being nervous at home against Baylor, Swoopes stepped onto a bigger stage and proved that he could handle the moment, a significant accomplishment for a young player.

"Ty took a major step today, because, last week he wasn't satisfied and I wasn't either," said Texas play caller Shawn Watson. "What I saw in his style of play was he was trying to be perfect. When you start doing that, you start guarding your play. You aren't playing, you're processing and thinking."

Not only did Swoopes prove that the moment wasn't too big for him -- he also proved that he could both be confident enough to succeed and at ease enough to let the game come to him.

"I had a simple message for him this week, I said, 'Listen, we are going to prepare you in every situation known to man. Them defensively, situational football, so when you arrive on Saturday, you just go out and compete.' It comes out like one-on-one basketball, that's how I tried to equate it for him. Just go play, and he did that today."

One of the best developments for Swoopes was with his pocket presence. Strong noted how poor it was after the Kansas game and the nervousness from the Texas quarterback contributed to more of the same against Baylor.

When the Horns were in danger of falling out of the game in the second quarter after the kickoff return and interception return, Swoopes came up big with a 38-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver John Harris to cut the 17-3 deficit to 17-10 just three minutes after the interception return for a touchdown.

The pressure hadn't quite gotten home into the face of Swoopes when he let go of the football, but it wasn't far off either. Even while dealing with dangerous Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker, who comes from wide angles and with momentum at the snap, the pass protection mostly held up well and Swoopes said that he merely wanted to reciprocate by doing his job as well.

"I felt like I kind of stood in there instead of getting nervous and running out before the pocket truly breaks down," said Swoopes. "I feel like I stood in there and made a couple of throws that I might not of made last week or the week before."

As a runner Swoopes also appeared to have some issues knowing exactly when to keep the ball and when to give it on the zone read over the last several games. Against Oklahoma, the speed option was still a play that was mostly ineffective, but there could have been a eureka moment for Swoopes late in the game when he started keeping the ball and picking up significant gains up the middle, including the final touchdown run.

Former quarterback Colt McCoy had similar issues as a young player and he didn't appear to truly get the timing of the play in game situations until he had to come out for several plays against Nebraska in 2007 and seeing John Chiles pull several times on the zone read seemed to flip the switch for him.

Whether the same thing happened for Swoopes won't be apparent until at least next weekend against Iowa State. If it did happen, it could be significant for Texas because the calibration of the upside for the Texas starter revolves around the extent to which he can make himself a threat in the running game by getting north-south quickly and using his size.

The 73-yard sweep from the diamond formation early in the game that was called back because of the hold on Harris was certainly an example of how much ground Swoopes can cover when he gets a head of steam and a seam.

Swoopes isn't a true, dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but he's not entirely a pocket passer either.

As always, though, there's still plenty of room for improvement. Taking a football off the face mask near the goal line isn't the best look, for instance.

So the issues there continued, as did the problems with the offense stalling in the third quarter. Texas had five possessions in the quarter and the longest drive went for only 12 yards.

The bigger mistake for Swoopes was on the interception. Sophomore wide receiver Jacorey Warrick was running a curl and didn't come back to the football enough before Swoopes compounded the mistake by throwing into a small window and then not appearing to hustle especially hard on the return to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

Some of the problems that existed weren't on Swoopes.

Swoopes also didn't get as much help as he could have from his wide receivers in dealing with some drops. After the game, senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley took responsibility.

"We had some drops at the wide receiver position and that's not okay and doesn't help him out at all. Some key drives that were cut short, if we could have got some of those, there's no telling how it would have ended up."

As that goes, most likely the game would have ended with a Texas victory.

Stone-faced Eric Striker was asked if Swoopes had shown him anything on the day and the speedy edge rusher simply said, "No."

An understandable statement given the rivalry, but make no mistake -- for anyone actually paying attention and willing to admit to actual state of affairs, Tyrone Swoopes made major strides on a big stage.

Early performances of a quarterback are about establishing a possible upside and Swoopes proved that he can out-play a worthy opponent when it matters.