The Tyrone Swoopes era is officially in the books on the winning side of the ledger after the shutout of the Kansas Jayhawks last week, but the Texas Longhorns will need more development from the sophomore quarterback to pull out another win on Saturday against the Baylor Bears.
Swoopes has already gotten off to a better start in terms of wins and losses than former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who lost the first three starts of his career with the Cardinals. The Texas starter did, however, have the benefit of playing some as a freshman, while Bridgewater got thrown into the mix against Kentucky in the third game of his freshman season and was the starter thereafter.
During Bridgewater's first three games, he completed 62% of his passes, but also threw four interceptions (4.6% interception rate) and only two touchdowns. In the area of decision-making, Swoopes has been much better with only one interception over his first 99 attempts (1.0% interception rate), without even throwing any passes that have had a chance to get picked off.
For a quarterback who was considered so raw entering the season and threw the bad interception in the Orange-White game, the ability to avoid turnovers has been one of the most impressive attributes of Swoopes' first three starts.
Interestingly enough, Louisville also had a relatively inexperienced offensive line when Bridgewater entered the lineup in 2011, having entered the season No. 114 in the country with only 25 returning starts.
Real growth happened for Bridgwater after those three straight losses as the Louisville running game improved, though he battled interception issues throughout his first season. On the year, he threw 12 interceptions at a rate of 4.0% before progressively eliminating those mistakes until he threw only four as a senior on 427 attempts, down to a rate of less than 1%.
Despite the interceptions, the Cardinals won five of six games to end the regular season that year and beat West Virginia behind an efficient 21-of-27 passing performance from Bridgewater that went for 246 yards and a touchdown, an average of more than nine yards per attempt.
Since Swoopes is only averaging less than six yards per attempt this season, increasing that number to at least eight or nine yards per attempt in a game would represent a major improvement in creating big plays. There have been some positive trends there, as he went from a 22-yard long in his first start to a 33-yarder against UCLA to a 48-yarder against Kansas that came on a scrambling launch down the field that showcased the significant ceiling that has always intrigued evaluators.
Play caller Shawn Watson said on Tuesday that he's seen a positive trajectory for Swoopes as well.
"He had a great day at practice today," Watson said. "Every week, I'm just amazed how much more he's taken on from what he just learned. I've used players from my past like, 'Here's how you do it, here's the experience they had, here's what they did with it, here's how we managed it and here's how we got through it.' It's fun coaching him. I love coming to work. I do. He's putting everything in to becoming a good football player."
The offensive line is probably the biggest limiting factor for the offense, but the ability of Swoopes to handle the entire offense has also been a part of that through the last three games. Watson said that Swoopes is now able to make most of the checks at the line of scrimmage.
"He does that for us. We keep it simple. Our system and those types of triggers are pretty easy for a quarterback but yet at the same time, he's got to be able to adjust on the move and that's not the easy part. That's been his development. It's easy when it's static and you're not at the line of scrimmage initially but when it changes during the cadence, not coming unraveled, staying poised and getting the communication laid, which is what he's gotten better at."
However, he's still not getting all of his pre-snap decisions right, as head coach Charlie Strong mentioned on Monday in relation to the speed option, which he said that Swoopes wasn't running to the correct side of the field against Kansas.
And when any quarterback takes over, the leadership question starts coming up. In temperament, Swoopes is probably closer to David Ash than Case McCoy, though Watson doesn't seem concerned about that.
"Yeah, that's one of the things I continue to work with him on. I think here's what's happening though, his teammates have a lot of trust in him and they really respect the work he's putting on the field. He's impressive with what he's doing in practice and the way he's managed himself in games. He's gained their trust and their respect and now it's time for him to really live his conviction. That's where I've got to step in and help him and teach him how to do that. It's a natural process. Be who you are and let what's inside of you out. When you put a lot into it, it should be easy to let it out. So my whole purpose with him is to put a lot into it, take pride in what he's put into it and let his conviction out."
Interestingly enough, leadership through living your convictions was the answer that Ash provided this fall when asked once again about how he perceived himself as a leader.
On the national level, there weren't any significant questions about the leadership ability of Bridgewater when he was at Louisivlle and Watson compared Bridgewater's demeanor to that of his current starter.
"In a positive way," Watson said when asked if Swoopes gets fired up. "He's no different than Teddy [Bridgewater]. Teddy was the same kind of guy. His example of leadership is by his production and he's a guy that if somebody drops the ball, you'll see him over there talking to him. He gets excited in a positive way. He's not out of control. I think you want your quarterback to have poise but have emotion and he shows that."
In terms of fiery nature, Swoopes certainly looked into the game after he scored his rushing touchdown against Kansas, so it's not like he's completely emotionless on the field.
For wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, it's about developing a rapport with the quarterback, through working in practice and on the side going against air, but also bonding on a more personal level.
"You've got to develop the trust with the guy and honestly a friendship," Shipley said. "That's the thing that I think is important, and we all feel like we have Tyrone's trust, and we trust Tyrone."
One thing that Watson inarguably did well at Louisville was molding the offense to Bridgewater, taking advantage of his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses.
"We're working Ty[rone Swoopes]," he said. "I think I've got Ty to a point where his decision-making has been on. He understands. He's had enough reps at what we do. I chart everything he does. I know exactly how many reps he's taken on every pass that we've made and I see his growth. I grade him every day and his grades have continued to grow, so he's allowed us to push forward and use some of those other pieces."
Watson specifically mentioned freshman wide receiver Armanti Foreman as one of those pieces and the offense could get a big-play threat on Saturday if the rumors prove correct about the potential reinstatement of junior wide receiver Daje Johnson, who has missed the first four games of the season due to suspension.
Even with all the talk about leadership and preparation, the bottom line on games days is creating the chunk yardage that Texas desperately needs offensively facing so many difficulties consistently moving the ball on the ground. The plays were there against Kansas and Swoopes left them on the field.
One thing that never happened with Bridgewater during his freshman season was consistently producing big plays, as only two passes went for over 50 yards on the season, a number that tied for No. 86 nationally that season.
In three games, Swoopes has already come close to hitting one of those plays with his effort to Shipley against Kansas and was close on several others.
Strong spoke this week of a deep commitment to throwing the deep ball, a deeper commitment perhaps than he had when he was coaching Bridgewater at Louisville.
Swoopes has a more live arm than Bridgewater and coaches that are at least talking about the need to take advantage of that skill, even if the accuracy isn't quite there yet.
And the Texas quarterback may even have more explosive weapons underneath than his Louisville counterpart in Foreman and Johnson if or when the latter returns.
In some important ways, he's already ahead of a quarterback who played for the same coaches and eventually became one of the best in college football.
For Swoopes' positive trajectory to continue, he has to translate the potential into production.
Maybe give that Wolf of Wall Street chant a chance before the game.