A few short weeks ago, Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was a player who had never started a game at quarterback and appeared he could possibly be in danger of switching positions.
During the Orange-White game last spring, Swoopes was inconsistent with his accuracy and made some bad decisions with the football, spurring claims that he could be better off at tight end.
"You think back to the spring game and we all said, 'oh, my God, it's like, wooo.' And he comes in -- and then he comes in and he plays well against BYU, and then UCLA he gets better," said head coach Charlie Strong on Monday.
All of a sudden, Swoopes has proven that he's a quarterback, that he can deliver the ball on short routes with accuracy, and that he can get out of the pocket to make plays in the passing game.
The confidence of knowing that he's the guy with former starter David Ash now retired due to his concussion issues has helped Swoopes, according to Strong.
"He's realized it's his offense, and his confidence is just building each and every day," said the head coach. "And that's what you like out of him."
Strong later cited Swoopes as one of the players who has shown a great deal of progress. The new-found confidence for Swoopes has been a result of better preparation, an area where many young quarterbacks struggle to put in the necessary time.
"And yes, the thing he's doing now is he's become a student of the game, which he never did before," said Strong. "He never put his time in. Usually if you don't think you're going to play you're not going to put your time in. But he realizes, hey, this is my team now, this is my offense now, and I really have to put my time in and that's what he's doing."
Moving forward, though, confidence and better preparation have to pay off on the field for Swoopes with more yards every time he throws a pass. In fact, his 5.7 yards per attempt wouldn't rank among the top 99 quarterbacks in the country if he qualified for the list.
It won't happen this week against Kansas, as the Jayhawks remain a poor football team despite Strong offering some praise on Monday, but Texas is about to get to the part of the conference schedule featuring high-scoring offensive attacks like Baylor and Oklahoma. Keeping pace with those schools will require more risk-tasking that play caller Shawn Watson has evidenced to this point.
The Horns are going to need more big plays and Strong is well aware of that fact.
"We are going to have to squeeze them somehow, because you're right, it's a scoring matchup, and you look to some of the games, and one score, and then the next, follow up with another score," Strong said. "We know we are going to have to score points and know we are going to have to generate some offense and generate some big plays.
One of the significant questions surrounding Swoopes two full games into his career is just how much he can handle in terms of reading defenses. Strong believes that the offense is ready to continue expanding after the UCLA game plan featured a less conservative strategy than the one that was so ineffective against BYU.
"Well, you look at the quarterback position, and he's had two games under his belt, and playing a lot better, so now you can open it up some. And then you just have to win outside at the wide receiver position. With Marcus [Johnson], he's fast enough where he can get on top of people and get the ball down the field."
Johnson finally made his first significant appearance of the season against the Bruins, showing well on the run-pass option plays that featured Johnson getting open inside on slants, plays that could set up a double move for Johnson in future games.
Strong believes the explosive plays are coming.
"You would like to see just more explosive plays, where we can get the ball down the field," he said. "And it will happen. It will eventually happen, because the more the quarterback plays, the more confidence he will gain. And then he can feel like, you know what, I stand back here and just deliver the ball without feeling pressure."
Against UCLA, the pressure was real on the obvious attempt to get a vertical pass play early, as Swoopes was under pressure extremely quickly when Bruins defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes beat Horns center Jake Raulerson.
But pocket presence in an area where Swoopes could stand to improve.
"A lot of times, the quarterback whenever he feels pressure, you want to get rid of it quickly. But now, he can feel like, you know what, I can stand back here and take a hit and let the ball be delivered down the field."
The introduction of the jet sweep game, some more misdirection in the running game, and some run-pass plays that put defenders in conflict all benefitted the offense against UCLA and could eventually force teams to bring another player down into the box. Of course, improvement by the offensive line in the running game could have that effect, too.
If Texas can get two deep safeties out of the middle of the field, Swoopes will be more likely to his wide receivers coming free into open spots downfield.
"But the opportunities will come now," said Strong. "As long as you -- because with our play-action game, it will open up and cause people to start sitting on the play-action game, and then you will be able to get the ball down the field."
Swoopes has the arm strength, now he just needs some pass protection, pocket presence, and some open receivers.