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Anatomy of failure: How the Tyrone Swoopes fumble/touchdown happened

Breakdowns by the quarterback and a blocker allowed the Red Raiders to make a big play early in the game.

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There's something hypnotic and emblematic about the fumble by Texas Longhorns sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes that was recovered for a touchdown by the Texas Tech Red Raiders early in the game on Saturday.

On 1st and 10 from the Texas 15-yard line with just over four minutes left in the first quarter, the Horns try to take a shot down the field with a play-action pass showing a hard and flat outside zone to the right with a double move to senior wide receiver John Harris.

Keep in mind that Swoopes came under significant criticism last week from his coaches for bringing his eyes down to the pass rush instead of keeping them downfield.

Since there is a double move on the outside, the play takes some time to develop. Unfortunately, Swoopes doesn't have the opportunity to let that happen, as right about when he needs to get rid of the football, he has a defender in his face.

So he starts to scramble to his left, securing the football in his left hand, which is technically correct since coaches want it in the outside hand.

The problem is that Swoopes is reverting to an old tendency of trying to scramble to pick up yardage -- his best option at this point is to get himself in a position to throw the ball away, as he's unlikely to take the edge and pick up positive yardage.

Instead, he makes that decision too late, when there's a defender already at his legs.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But even though there was some poor decision-making by the Texas quarterback on that play, he should have had time to throw the football. What happened up front?

That's junior tight end MJ McFarland at the top of the screen. Since the play fake is an attempt to convince the defense that it's an outside zone play, McFarland has to get his head across his defender and keep his feet moving upon contact.

Instead, he allows the defender to slant across him, at which point he's beaten and can merely try to hang on to give his quarterback a little bit more time.

It's an absolutely fundamental breakdown and one that shouldn't happen with a player who has been in the program for four seasons -- McFarland couldn't really get beat any more quickly than he did.

If the El Paso product can merely make an adequate block, Swoopes might have been able to find Harris for a big play that would have turned the game in the favor of the Horns early.

Instead, it was a momentum-swinging touchdown for the Red Raiders, a play that encapsulated the struggles of this mistake-prone team, one that proves nearly every week that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

After the play, Swoopes received some encouragement from his senior wide receiver, John Harris.

"We told him to calm down and play the game that you know to play," Harris said after the game. "He's been in tough situations this year so that was nothing new to him so all he had to do is relax and get in a rhythm and make some plays for them and we did that and he was fine the rest of the game."

Swoopes was able to do that in rebounding to throw for 228 yards and a touchdown at 9.1 yards per attempt, so that was a positive sign moving forward. Remember how much former quarterback David Ash struggled to recover from similar plays during his career?

But even after playing nine games this season, the Longhorns are still seeking that elusive consistency.

"Well, I told our guys, and I told our quarterback, especially, it's going to go as he goes," head coach Charlie Strong said. "If the quarterback has a good game, the team's going to play very well. The quarterback needs to play well. Then on defense, it's all about just playing great defense, and that is the way a team is built."