Tag Archives: Jerrod Heard

Texas Found Its Identity, But How Far Will It Take Them?

If you missed it last week, I wrote about how Sam Ehlinger should be the starting quarterback for Texas against Oklahoma and for the rest of the season. That came true on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to beat Oklahoma. But anyone who watched the game saw that Ehlinger wasn’t the problem.

Texas has been searching for their identity, especially on offense, for the first six games of the season. They finally had a little glimpse of what it could be against Kansas State, and the Oklahoma game solidified it.

This Texas team will go as far as Sam Ehlinger takes them. He is their identity.

The Longhorns totaled 452 yards of offense against the Sooners, and Ehlinger accounted for 392 of them. Add that to last week’s totals and Ehlinger has combined for a total of 871 yards of offense in the last two games on his own.

The only time Texas could run the ball against Oklahoma, Ehlinger had the ball in his hands. He ran for 106 yards on 22 carries. Chris Warren, Kyle Porter and Toneil Carter combined for 17 yards on 14 carries. That’s not going to take the Longhorns very far.

As a Texas fan, I’ve seen this scenario before. In 2015, Jerrod Heard took Longhorns nation by storm by accounting for the majority of the offensive production. But what happened when he had a couple of games under his belt? The opposing teams knew what to expect and shut him down.

The difference with Ehlinger is he is more capable of throwing the ball than Heard was, but this is still a one-dimensional team. Most of the time when you talk about a team being one-dimensional, it’s because they can only run the ball or only throw it, but can’t do both.

This team is one-dimensional because they only have one player who can do it all. But as we learned on Saturday, it’s not going to be good enough against top teams.

The running game woes boil down to having to use a patchwork offensive line. Only two of the five starters to begin the season are still in their same positions. Due to injuries, players are out for the season and forcing guards to move to tackles and vice versa. You never know what you’re going to get from the offensive line on any given play, much less any given game.

As good as Ehlinger has played these last couple of games, he’s not going to be able to win big games if he’s running for his life constantly. I honestly don’t know how Tom Herman is going to fix the offensive line with the lack of depth and inexperience throughout the group.

The thing that worries me most about Texas’ new found identity is it’s easy for good teams to key on. The thing I’m at peace with is Ehlinger doesn’t shy away from contact and can make things happen with his feet and his arm.

When you’re truly a one-dimensional team, you have to have a dynamic player to bail you out of circumstances. Ehlinger has shown he can be that player, but now he has four games of film on him. It’s going to change, and when it does, it could get ugly. Especially if the defense doesn’t play at a high level like they have been since week two of the season.

Herman’s biggest challenge at this point is adding another dimension to his team’s identity. It’s obviously not going to be in the traditional run game, but I’m not sure an unconventional run game will even work at this point.

Texas fans can’t expect this team to change much for the rest of this year. What you saw on Saturday is their identity. And I’m not sure yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Pexels

Texas May Be Forced To Rely On An Unconventional Running Game

It’s amazing how a single player can hide a lot of flaws on a team. It’s clear to me after two games that D’Onta Foreman single handily carried the Longhorns’ rushing attack in 2016. We thought it was the strength of the offensive line, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Texas couldn’t get anything going on the ground against Maryland, but ran for over 400 yards against San Jose State. Yes, I realize San Jose State isn’t the greatest team in college football, but it’s the way Texas racked up those 400+ yards that got my attention.

I do believe Texas has a formidable offensive line that will eventually gel together and allow for a solid rushing attack on a consistent basis. But they aren’t there yet, so Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck decided to go unconventional to open things up against San Jose State, and it worked.

I think we are going to see more runs out of the wildcat formation. Chris Warren took snaps from the formation, Jerrod Heard did the same, and LJ Humphrey did the same last week. It’s been the most successful way to get a running game going so far this short season, and it’s the only hope the Longhorns have of taking some pressure off the quarterback, whomever that may be.

And since I mentioned quarterbacks, I’ll say that Sam Ehlinger looked good for a true freshman, but there shouldn’t be a quarterback controversy starting up anytime soon. Shane Buechele should get the start against USC this weekend if he’s healthy. But that doesn’t mean we should see the same offense that rolled out on the field against Maryland.

It bothers me a bit that Texas can’t just hand the ball off to their stable of running backs and average 4-5 yards per carry, similar to how they did last year. But if there’s one thing I like about this coaching staff so far, it’s their willingness to adapt. Time will tell if the running game adjustments just happened because of Ehlinger getting the reps, or if the unconventional running attack will become the norm.

No matter who takes the snaps at quarterback against USC, Texas will get blown out if they aren’t able to run like they did last weekend. I’m not saying they have to run for 400 yards, but gaining 200-250 yards is a necessity if they want to stay in the game.

This is an important number not only because it helps take some pressure off the quarterback, but it also keeps the USC offense off the field. And that’s going to be huge against a team that just racked up 600+ yards of total offense against Stanford.

There are plenty of reasons why USC is going beat Texas this weekend. But being able to sustain a drive on offense by running the ball will help keep the Longhorns in it.

I want to see Jerrod Heard take more snaps in the wildcat formation, if that’s the route this offensive staff wants to take to develop a running game. I’m in no way suggesting Heard should be in the discussion for being the starting quarterback. But I do believe he has a high ceiling with multiple different package options due to his ability to throw and his breakaway speed.

I’m expecting a lot of creativity for this offense against USC, simply because it has to happen. It may be unconventional and only be a temporary fix for hiding a much larger issue, but if it leads to victories against top opponents, then I won’t be arguing against it.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Wikimedia

Lack of Depth and Discipline May Doom The Longhorns

Hopefully you survived this weekend of pretty bad college football games. Luckily, there were at least a few unexpected entertaining games to get us through the day. I was in attendance for the Texas-UTEP game and came away with some concerning observations that could be a problem for the remainder of the year for the Texas Longhorns.

Playing with virtually the entire second and third string offensive line proved to be a problem all game. The strong and dominant running game against Notre Dame wasn’t present against UTEP because there simply weren’t any holes to run through.

Shane Buechele didn’t have much time to get rid of the ball when he went through his progression because there were constantly defenders on his back. If this was a problem against UTEP, then what’s going to happen in a few weeks when the ‘Horns play back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma?

The good thing is the entire starting offensive line should be back for this week’s game against California. But now we know Texas is one injury to the o-line away from being in big trouble. Charlie Strong recruited some quality talent this year at the position, but they obviously still have some growing to do before they can make a serious impact and fill in the two-deep roster.

Depth at the linebacker position was my main concern entering the season, and it still is. Outside of Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler and sometimes Edwin Freeman, the linebackers just haven’t gotten the job done. That’s going to have to change before conference play starts. I expect it to still remain the biggest weakness on the defense.

Now, the discipline issue. Texas had 10 penalties for 115 yards against UTEP after having 11 penalties for 104 yards against Notre Dame. Some of these are just careless penalties that extend drives for the opposing offense. One series against UTEP had two personal foul penalties against the Longhorns’ defense on third down that kept the drive going. If they were playing anyone on their schedule besides UTEP, it probably would have led to points.

On a positive note, I wrote a few weeks ago that we need to chill out on the Jerrod Heard hype from his transition from quarterback to wide receiver. I’ll eat some crow on this one. I was wrong. Heard looks like a natural talent at the receiver position and he’s going to be a key weapon for Buechele and this offense this season and for two more years.

He makes the position look simple because of his athletic ability. He also doesn’t have to think as much as he did playing quarterback. It seems like he’s enjoying it:

There may be depth issues on the offensive line and at linebacker, but the receiver position definitely isn’t one of them. This is the most talented receiving corps wearing burnt orange I’ve seen in a long time, which bodes very well for a young quarterback.

Depth at every position will be tested this weekend against a California team that let’s the ball fly in the passing game. If the ‘Horns have over 100 yards of penalties again, Cal is going to turn them into points.

The offense and defense will have a big challenge on their hands. I have no doubt Texas is more talented than Cal from top to bottom, but depth, discipline and playing on the road for the first time are all against them.

The ‘Horns haven’t played well on the road under Strong during his tenure, so this game against Cal will be telling at how far they’ve really come. I expected them to win the game prior to the season and still believe that, but I need to see how they handle success. They took care of business against an overmatched UTEP team, but Cal’s a different animal. Stay tuned.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Ken Lund, Flickr

Texas Isn’t Back…Yet

If you didn’t watch the Texas Longhorns beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sunday night, you were one of the few, as the game attracted more viewers than any college football game on opening weekend ever.

When Tyrone Swoopes lunged forward to win the game in double overtime, viewers heard the commentator say “TEXAS. IS. BACK!”

Fans wearing burnt orange glasses liked what they saw and will agree wholeheartedly. The reality is there’s still a lot of football to be played before Texas can even be considered a contender for the College Football Playoff, or even the Big 12 Championship, for that matter.

This game against Notre Dame proved how bad the last few Longhorns teams have been. Last year, when Texas went down 7-0 against the Irish, the game was virtually over. They had no confidence in their offense to come back from any deficit, and it was evident by the body language on the field and the sideline.

Enter Shane Buechele. The true freshman showed he has ice water in his veins on the first drive, placing  a perfectly thrown football to Armanti Foreman in the corner of the end zone, where only his guy could catch it. It’s been about six years since Longhorns fans have seen anything like it.

Buechele wasn’t asked to do much in his first start, but offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert made it clear he isn’t going to be afraid to turn him loose. He completed two passes of 60+ yards on Sunday night, which matches the total from the entire 2015 season. That alone should give Texas fans hope for the year, but it doesn’t mean they’re back.

When Texas blew a 17-point lead, the game would have been over last year. When the extra point got blocked to turn a potential three-point lead into a tie game, the energy in the stadium and on the sidelines would have completely deflated. But not this time.

So who deserves the most credit? Gilbert, Buechele and running back D’onta Foreman all deserve game balls, in my opinion. But how about the play from Tyrone Swoopes?

You want to talk about a selfless kid that will swallow any amount of pride for the benefit of his team? Just look at the 18-wheeler himself. His performance was a thing of beauty as he punished any defender who got in his path. He wanted this game badly, and he picked his team up when it needed him the most.

Now, with everything good that happened on Sunday, let’s talk about why Texas isn’t back just yet.

Simply put, this program hasn’t played with a target on it’s back in a half decade. Teams haven’t been taking them seriously over the last couple years, which is why you see them upset teams like Baylor and Oklahoma last year.

I have no doubt that Notre Dame was ready for Texas, which is why the victory is even more impressive. The Longhorns have a tough schedule over the next month, though. We don’t know how good Buechele will be now that teams have some film on him.

Jerrod Heard was declared the next great Texas quarterback last September, but he was virtually ineffective at times when he faced a quality defense because they had film to study his tendencies. Now he’s part of a talented receiving group that Buechele has to work with. I have more confidence in Buechele because of his accuracy and overall demeanor, as well as Gilbert and the offensive coaching staff, but they all still have a challenging road ahead of them.

Big 12 defenses may not be the best in the country, but they know how to slow down the offense that Texas runs. Let’s not forget that this is a young Longhorns team, no matter how talented they may be. The attitude and overall confidence displayed against Notre Dame is different from what we’ve seen in at least the last six years from the team wearing burnt orange.

That gives me hope that Texas is on the right track, getting back to relevance but one victory doesn’t prove it. It’s easy to get up for a nationally televised game against a top-ten opponent, but what about the other 11 games?

Everyone will be talking about how great Texas is because of its huge upset over the Irish. How the players respond to those discussions will be telling when it comes to how good they can be. If they buy into the talk about how great they are, they will lose four or five games this year. But if they play with the same edge and attitude they had against Notre Dame for the rest of the season, then they could prove that they definitely are on the way back.

Don’t buy into the hype just yet, but there’s definitely something special brewing in Austin. Hopefully it wasn’t just the luck against the Irish.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Let’s Pump the Brakes on Jerrod Heard

Amid several reports from last week that Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard was taking reps at practice as a wide receiver, coach Charlie Strong confirmed those reports over the weekend. Not only did he confirm them, but he had some great things to say about the quarterback-turned-receiver.

I personally have a love-hate relationship when it comes to Heard. He was highly recruited out of high school and was rated as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. I thought he had the perfect skill set as a quarterback that Texas so desperately needed, but there’s one thing that I didn’t know he lacked: work ethic.

The coaches gave him every opportunity to win the quarterback job away from Tyrone Swoopes as a redshirt freshman. In fact, they practically begged him to win the job last fall and again this spring. But it never happened.

So how can someone with so much athletic ability and talent not win the job in a wide-open competition? The answer is pretty simple.

He thought his natural ability would be enough to win the coaches over. It wasn’t.

He thought he didn’t have to practice hard because he would ultimately shine the brightest when the lights were turned on. He didn’t (most of the time).

People are excited about the possibility of having his speed and athleticism catching balls now for whoever his quarterback is going to be. I understand that. But we are talking about the same potential he had coming out of high school.

We’ve seen what he’s capable of at the collegiate level, but we haven’t seen it consistently enough. In fact, once he gets hit with some adversity, his confidence is clearly shaken and he relies on his athleticism to get out of a hole. It works against below-average teams, but not against the top teams in the Big 12.

Now I’ll give Heard credit for seeing the writing on the wall and applaud him for being a team player. The QB competition has been between Swoopes and true freshman Shane Buechele ever since Heard sustained an injury in spring practice. Instead of complaining about his limited reps and being a cancer in the locker room, he volunteered to try out at wide receiver to hopefully use his talents in other ways and help the team win. It’s tough to find that kind of team-first attitude in college football nowadays, especially when you’re talking about a guy who arrived on campus with the expectations of being the next great Texas Longhorns quarterback.

Heard shouldn’t have a problem learning the routes to run since he’s had to throw to his receivers during his time at quarterback. The problem I can see is whether he will work enough with his QB and receiving corps to get on the same page. If he just relies on his athletic ability again without putting in work in the film room and the practice field, then it’s not going to work.

I don’t mean to be completely negative about the situation. In fact, I support the decision to move him to wide receiver if he’s not going to be the quarterback. That type of elusiveness and talent has to be on the field somewhere. I’m just worried the hype is going to get to him again and we will be vastly disappointed.

Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, and it wouldn’t surprise me terribly if he does end up being successful at receiver. All I’m saying is Texas fans need to chill out a little bit before declaring Heard a success at his new position. Most players that go through a position change have a learning curve, and based on the sample size we have of Heard’s work ethic, I have my doubts.

I’m pulling for the guy and I’ll gladly eat my words if he turns out to be an impactful player for the rest of his career at Texas, but you won’t find me on the hype train until I see some results.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Flikr

Charlie Strong Named His Quarterback Without Giving a Name

Big 12 media days are gone and they didn’t go without some notable highlights. From Mike Gundy’s mullet to a wardrobe malfunction to fueling yet another fire about conference expansion, there is plenty of stuff to talk about.

But what a lot of Longhorns fans wanted to hear was a confident leader who was gutsy enough to name a starting quarterback. And that’s exactly what they got…sort of.

When I heard Charlie Strong talk, I heard someone who is ready to name a starter, but doesn’t want to tip his hand. I heard someone who knows his best chance to win immediately is with a true freshman rather than a senior. I heard someone who is cautiously optimistic that he has built the exact team that he envisioned when he came to Texas two seasons ago. I also heard someone that didn’t feel comfortable talking about success since he hasn’t had any in Austin.

So what makes Strong think this year is going to be any different? And why do I think he virtually named his starting quarterback?

For one, he is confident in his new Offensive Coordinator, Sterlin Gilbert. That means he can focus more on what he is good at, which is the defense. The defense was one of the worst in the history of the school last season, despite the loaded roster full of talented freshmen. That has to change, otherwise, it won’t matter who plays quarterback.

With his full trust in Gilbert, he knows the right quarterback will win the job. Strong doesn’t want to commit to naming a true freshman quarterback the starter right now, but to anyone who can read between the lines, that’s exactly what he did this week.

And don’t think that I’m the only one that saw how clear and evident it was. Check out this series of Tweets from Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 5.59.36 AM

The fact that Strong was adamant about keeping Swoopes’ 18-wheeler package says a lot. That was one of the most effective weapons last season when Jerrod Heard was struggling to move the offense and was in need of a spark. Swoopes is great in that package. That’s where he belongs.

But if Strong truly believes Swoopes is his starter, then why would he put him in a position to get banged up on short yardage plays like he does with the 18-wheeler package?

Strong also knows that he is going to have an improved offensive line with a two-headed monster at running back with bruisers D’onta Foreman and Chris Warren. All he needs is a game manager at the quarterback position.

Swoopes has proven to be a momentum killer over the past few seasons, with the exception of the 18-wheeler package. Heard has shown flashes of brilliance, but has mostly indicated that he needs a lot of seasoning. We’ve only had a small sample size of true freshman Shane Buechele at the annual Orange-White scrimmage, but that was enough for a good chunk of Texas fans, including me. To me, there’s no question that Buechele needs to be the quarterback at Texas right now. He may not have done anything yet to deserve the job, but the other two haven’t either, even though they’ve been given plenty of opportunities.

The fans saw a quarterback make throws that they haven’t seen since the Colt McCoy days. They saw a quarterback that didn’t make any dumb mistakes. They definitely didn’t see a perfect quarterback, but they saw a game manager that can make plays with his arm and legs when needed. With the help of a solid running game, that’s all the Buechele has to do. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he has to be different than what fans have seen at DKR the last three years.

Strong sees it and likely knows that Buechele is his guy when his team faces Notre Dame on September 4th. Anyone who paid attention closely at media days heard it. To credit Mike Finger, we can only assume that Buechele is the starter unless something drastic happens in August.

I will be extremely surprised, and maybe even upset, if Buechele doesn’t get the majority of the snaps against Notre Dame. I’m also operating under the assumption that Buechele is the man when the season starts.

Strong didn’t say it, but we heard it loud and clear.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Zimbio

Texas Spring Recap: Time to Anoint Buechele

The Texas Longhorns’ muddy quarterback situation finally got some clarity last weekend at the annual Orange-White scrimmage. All eyes were on the quarterbacks in this one, and one of them clearly stood out.

Due to injuries and a shortened scrimmage because of bad weather, we were only able to see Tyrone Swoopes and Shane Buechele in action on Saturday. But what Texas fans really got to see was a little glimmer of hope that they finally have their future (and maybe current) quarterback.

When you look at the numbers, it’s easy to tell who the senior is and who the early enrollee true freshman is:

QB #1: 4-16 for 71 yards, 0 TD’s, 2 INT’s
QB #2: 22-41 for 299 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s

It’s clear that QB #1 still has some learning and growing to do. Oh wait…maybe not? You mean a guy who is supposed to be getting prepared for his high school prom (QB #2) completely outplayed a senior (QB #1) who has been a starter for the better part of three years? That just goes to show you how bad the quarterback situation has been at Texas.

Now let’s take a step back. Buechele looked great in his first organized action on the 40 Acres, but no one is getting overly excited in Austin. Yes, he made some throws that we haven’t seen since the days of Colt McCoy, but this was also just a scrimmage.

The major point here is that your three-year starting senior quarterback should be better than a high school senior. That’s not the case at Texas. Because of that, Shane Buechele should be named the starter of the Longhorns sooner rather than later.

The players already respect him and follow him. With his performance on Saturday, the fans now respect him. But there’s something different about Buechele when it comes to the fan base. Fans were quick to make Vince Young comparisons when Tyrone Swoopes came in. They always try to find the next VY or Colt McCoy, but those types of players haven’t been on campus in the last six years.

Buechele is the closest thing to McCoy because of his quick decision-making and pinpoint accuracy. Yet, not many people in Austin have been making outlandish comparisons to McCoy. Could it be that the fans finally realize that their quarterback doesn’t have to be like McCoy or Young?

Now let’s turn our attention to the man who has a big decision to make: Charlie Strong. Strong said before spring practice started that he wanted to be able to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring camp. However, when Jerrod Heard went down with an injury after the first week, he backtracked a bit. Did he secretly want Heard to win the job and expected to name him the starter by the end of spring practices?

That’s what I think, and that’s why I think he backtracked after Heard’s injury. Injuries can happen, but Heard’s also signifies that Texas quarterbacks haven’t seized the opportunity of taking over the job since the McCoy era.

But it happened on Saturday.

That could be why Texas fans aren’t praising Buechele as the next great quarterback to wear a Longhorns uniform. They simply don’t believe it. A quarterback seemingly took the job when he was given the opportunity, and it feels weird (but good). Strong doesn’t want to name him the starter yet, probably because he doesn’t believe it either. He probably wants to and knows he needs to, but it’s too hard to pull the trigger on a guy who was walking around on a high school campus just a few months ago.

The fact of the matter is that Buechele gives the Longhorns the best chance to win. I don’t care if it was just the spring game. Swoopes has had plenty of chances. Heard could have taken control of the job last year. Buechele deserves the chance to step out on the field on September 4 against Notre Dame.

Will he lead the Longhorns to a victory? Probably not. Will he win 10 games his first year if he is the starter? Very unlikely.

But will Texas fans be more forgiving if a true freshman shows some promise, grit and has the “it” factor every single game? You betcha.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo:  Hookemheadlines.com

Texas QB Roundup: What Jerrod Heard’s Injury Means for the Longhorns

Sometimes an injury to a quarterback can help clear up the position battle, and sometimes it can make it seem even muddier. In the case of the Texas Longhorns, it’s a little of both.

Through two weeks of practice, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard were taking the majority of the snaps, and were the clear #1 and #2 options, respectively. Then the news broke that Heard suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder that Charlie Strong said would sideline him for the rest of the spring.

Strong still wants to know who his quarterback is by the end of the spring game on April 16. That’s looking like an impossible feat at this point. What started as a battle among five quarterbacks is now down to three (Matthew Merrick is also nursing a back injury).

That leaves Swoopes, true freshman Shane Buechele and redshirt freshman Kai Locksley as the remaining scholarship quarterbacks competing this spring. Swoopes is going to get the reps because of his experience, but what does Heard’s injury mean for the other two guys?

Buechele has received considerable reps as the third-string QB this spring, but Locksley has been somewhat overlooked. There were even some rumors about a potential position change last week.

Now Locksley has moved into the third spot and is getting a chance to show his skills. He feels like he is a quarterback and doesn’t want to change positions. He’s got a chance to prove it now.

With Buechele now getting second team reps, he will also have a chance to prove his worth. The coaches have said that the best quarterback will start, and there’s no plan of red shirting Buechele if he’s worthy of playing right away. He has an incredibly high football IQ, which should help him develop in new OC Sterlin Gilbert’s offense. By all accounts, he’s nowhere near where he needs to be to step out on the field against Notre Dame on September 3.

Heard’s injury doesn’t appear to be too serious, but it is enough to keep him on the sidelines for a while. Texas quarterbacks haven’t exactly taken advantage of opportunities to take over the job in recent years, and that includes Heard. But with two of the three quarterbacks left this spring having zero collegiate game experience, they’ve got a chance to stand out.

As far as Heard himself goes, he will have plenty of time to study the offensive system and really try to get the vision of Gilbert’s offense. There’s no question that Heard is the most explosive quarterback on campus, and most people in and around the program would tell you that they want him to win the job. But the fact that he hasn’t grasped it means that something isn’t clicking. Maybe this injury will make something click for him. Or maybe he will feel sorry for himself and lose the competitive edge. I would doubt the latter would happen, but I’ve seen crazier things.

All I know is that the vast majority of Texas fans can’t stand the thought of Swoopes running out with the first team offense against Notre Dame. Nothing against the kid’s character or work ethic, but he just has a clear ceiling which won’t allow him to do great things that are expected when you are the quarterback at Texas.

If anything, Heard’s injury may have just guaranteed Swoopes will be the guy under center when the season kicks off. However, if that doesn’t happen, then Texas fans should be pretty excited, because that means a younger QB stepped up enough to earn the trust of the coaches and the players.

Swoopes is the main beneficiary of Heard’s injury, but Buechele and Locksley have the most opportunity. The next few days of spring practice and the spring game will tell us a lot about where the Longhorns stand, but for right now, it’s not looking very good for the burnt orange faithful.

E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Horns Illustrated

Cal shows grit and mettle in win over Longhorns

If you missed the Cal vs. Texas game this past Saturday evening, you certainly missed one of the more electrifying shoot outs you’ll see this season. Yes, the season is young, but it was a game for the ages. Just in case you were under a rock Saturday, Cal escaped by the narrowest of margins, bolting out of Austin with the 45-44 win. Texas would have tied the game at 45 with 1:11 remaining in the fourth after redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard sprinted 45 yards to the end zone to bring the Longhorns within one. But then the unthinkable happened. What should have been a routine extra point attempt and completion ended up sailing wide right. Replays examined whether or not the kick was blocked, but after review, it was just a missed kick.

It was a hotly contested match from the get go. Each team scoring the exact amount of points for the first and second quarters to head into halftime, tied at 24. Then the third quarter happened. The Golden Bears exploded for 21 points, taking a commanding 45-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter. As the fourth quarter began, Cal’s offense ended. The Longhorns, revitalized by the swag and grit of quarterback Jerrod Heard, scored the final 20 points in the game.

Cal had no answer for Heard throughout the game. He shocked the Bears deep with long gains at will. He finished the game 20-31, 364 yards, and no touchdowns. He also tacked on 24 carries for 164 yards and 3 scores. He was a one man wrecking crew. In some ways, he reminded me Vince Young. Heard just had the ability to out quick the defenders for large chunks of yards as well as sling the ball at will, finding open receivers in Cal’s exposed secondary. Despite the herculean effort, Heard’s costly turnovers (interception towards the end of the 2nd quarter and a fumble shortly after the 3 quarter began) led to 10 Cal points, shifting the momentum in the favor of the Golden Bears.

Offensively, Cal showed up to play. Junior quarterback, Jared Goff again proved why he’s one of the top signal callers in country. Goff went 27-37, 268 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was surgical out there. He completed passes to nine different receivers in route to becoming Cal’s all-time leader in passing yards. Pressured often, Goff stood in the pocket and picked the Longhorn secondary off at will. Goff’s primary beneficiary of his aerial assault was wide receiver Kenny Lawler; catching six passes for 79 yards and two scores.

Without running back Daniel Lasco (out with thigh injury), Cal’s running game didn’t miss a beat with junior running back Khalfani Muhammad. Muhammad finished the game with 10 carries for 164 yards and one touchdown coming off a blazing 74 yard run. Muhammad could have added another score coming off a pass underneath, but as he raced toward the end zone, he was blasted at the 5 yard line and fumbled into the end zone, where Texas recovered the ball. Short of that miscue, Muhammad played an outstanding game and in my opinion, makes Cal’s running game just as dangerous as their passing game.

Defensively, Cal still has some work to do. They were exposed by having to deal with a duel threat quarterback. Heard’s ability to scramble left receivers wide open which allowed Texas to score as early and as often as they did. If you subtract Heard’s rushing totals, Cal limited Texas to 123 yards on the ground. That’s actually pretty good. The next highest rushers had 47 and 46 yards respectively.

Cal’s secondary on the other hand, got worked. A significant portion of Heard’s yards came off down field passes to wide open receivers. I don’t know if it was the result of blown coverages, but the Texas receivers were open all evening. As Cal gets into conference play, this secondary will have to step their game up extensively to keep up with the explosive offenses of the Pac 12. On a brighter note, Cal secondary picked off their 7th pass of the season, ranking them #1 in the country. There’s potential there, but Cal still needs consistency. That will be the determining factor this season.

Next week, Cal heads up to Washington to open up conference play with the Huskies (2-1). Much like Texas, the Huskies have talented receivers and a quarterback more than capable of delivering the ball. Cal’s going to have to crank up the pressure from the defensive line in order to give the secondary a chance to slow down Washington’s passing game. Riding the high of a modest three-game winning streak, Cal won’t rest on their laurels or the opponents place kicker, and find a way to get the job done.

Bowl game is crucial to Longhorns’ continued growth

For fans of most major football programs, bowl games tend to be looked at as somewhat of a birthright. Come December, or in some cases January, fans of several teams across the nation assume their favorite team will be going bowling.

The Texas Longhorns are undoubtedly one of those programs. In Charlie Strong’s first year at the helm of what many say is the highest profile head coaching job in America, the die hard fans had to think that even qualifying for a bowl game this season was going to be a stretch.

It has been widely reported that Strong dismissed or suspended as many as nine of the Longhorns players that were holdovers from the Mack Brown era as he implemented his Core Values in a drastic attempt to change the culture of the program. With non conference games scheduled against ranked foes such as UCLA and BYU on the early-season slate, the coaches and players had to figure there were going to be growing pains with the depletion of the squad’s depth and experience at several key positions.

Strong stated early in his tenure at the Forty Acres that he wanted to put the T back in Texas – the T standing for Toughness. Under Brown, the team had bussed the mile from the locker room to the practice facility for workouts, but Strong scrapped that seemingly minor detail and everyone walked to work. The coaching staff also spent a portion of fall camp in the dormitories, living alongside their players to further perpetuate the close family bond of the team that Strong deemed to be of vital importance.

The grumbling from several corners of Longhorn Nation started following the team’s lackluster start to the 2014 campaign. While the defensive unit was among the best in the country, the Horns’ struggles on offense were uncharted territory for the program. It didn’t help that starting quarterback David Ash suffered concussion-like symptoms in the season opening victory over North Texas and sophomore Tyrone Swoopes was thrust into the fold.

Injuries are a major part of a violent sport such as football, but losing Ash so early in the season likely wasn’t on the minds of many people associated with the program. Swoopes held his own in the early going as the coaching staff trusted him with more and more of the offensive playbook each week, leading to the squad’s 2-4 start.

At that point, following a closer than expected 31-26 loss in the Red River Rivalry game against Oklahoma, most fans likely chalked the 2014 season up as a lost cause. But apparently those within the Texas athletic department did not, as the Horns have reeled off four wins in five games to push their record to 6-5 heading into the season finale on Thanksgiving night against No. 5 TCU.

That the team didn’t throw in the towel, so to speak, can be attributed to the impact that Strong and the other Texas coaches have had on this group of players. In recent years under Brown’s tutelage, the widely accepted view was that if you got the Longhorns down the players would tap out and just go through the motions. This reputation has changed under Strong, however, as Texas has only been outclassed on the field in the BYU game. Every other contest this season was a handful of plays away from ending up as a victory.

Texas (6-5, 5-3 in the Big 12) reached bowl eligibility on Saturday thanks to a 28-7 dismantling of Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Longhorns likely caught a bit of a break with regard to the weather, as early week forecasts predicted snow for the night game at Boone Pickens Stadium. Though game time temperatures were in the 40s, Strong and his coaching staff had one motivational ploy up their sleeves.

Strong entered the locker room prior to kickoff to find that his linemen had donned tights under their jerseys and his skill position players had hand warmers around their waists. Strong told his players, according to reports, that they weren’t going to use the cold as an excuse for not playing well. In addition to talking the talk, the coach also walked the walk, as he wore only gloves along with his trademark orange turtleneck. The linemen took off the tights and only Swoopes wore a hand warmer on the field.

Strong wore a white turtleneck earlier in the year, but switched to orange for the Iowa State game, which began his team’s current winning ways. He has said repeatedly that he doesn’t believe in superstitions and the Longhorns’ three-game win streak has nothing to do with how he dresses on the sideline, but it can’t hurt.

Earlier this week Strong was quoted as saying that a 5-7 season would have been a disaster for the future of the program. But he said the players and coaches are focused on knocking off TCU, not looking ahead to a potential bowl match up. Numerous bowl projections have Texas likely facing Florida or LSU in the Liberty Bowl or possibly the Texas Bowl.

One possibility that has been shot down recently is a Texas Bowl meeting with former in-state rival Texas A&M. That contest would definitely draw in the ratings, not only in Texas, but around the country. The teams haven’t met on the field since 2011, when the Longhorns edged the Aggies at 27-25 at Kyle Field. Texas A&M departed the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference following that season.

With a 5-3 mark in league play, Texas currently sits fourth in the Big 12 standings, trailing only TCU, Baylor and Kansas State. When you think about the state of the Texas program when Strong was hired, that is quite an accomplishment for this group of players and coaches. Qualifying for the bowl game, wherever it may be, will only help advance the program as the staff attempts to return Texas to its past glory.

Teams reaching a bowl game are allowed 15 extra practices in the weeks leading up to the game that non bowl teams are not allowed. Those practices could help the coaching staff decide if Swoopes is the signal-caller they want to lead the team in 2015 and beyond. At several schools the most popular athlete on the roster is the backup quarterback, as fans banter back and forth as to the impact the backup would have when a team is struggling.

For the Longhorns that backup is Jerrod Heard, a freshman from Denton Guyer, who is red shirting this season to give him another year of eligibility down the road. It is smart of the coaches to not burn Heard’s red shirt, because as Strong said when he took the job, “We are not going to be winning the national title this year.”

Strong seems to see the big picture as he continues to rebuild the program in his image. The extra practice time and game will go along way to putting Texas back in the national discussion as one of the top teams in the country. For a program that has won four national championships in football, it almost seems like a birthright.