AUSTIN — Notre Dame game film has streamed nonstop this month on television monitors inside the Texas football complex. Now, the Longhorns begin scheming in earnest for Notre Dame, coach Charlie Strong said Saturday.
First and foremost, QB Tyrone Swoopes would take the first snap at South Bend if the game were today, Strong added.
Swoopes has 12 collegiate starts (albeit with seven losses) on his resume but continues to fend-off a steady challenge from RS-freshman Jerrod Heard.
“When you talk about that (QB) position, you have to win the team,” Strong said. “Tyrone is trying to win the team, and he’s doing a good job. He’s not thrown interceptions and he’s putting the ball in the right people’s hands. We’re trying not to put it all on him.”
In fact, Strong recently told defensive coordinator Vance Bedford that he was putting the season on his side of the ball. But Strong is also determined to run the ball, control the clock, protect the QB, and play good special teams.
“If you do those things, then you’re not asking your quarterback to do a lot,” Strong added. “But we can’t be playing from behind. If we always have to drop back and throw the ball, then I don’t think we’re giving (the QB) a chance.”
Texas has devoted a segment of practice to the Fighting Irish since drills began two weeks ago but, understandably, most of the focus has been on fundamentals. Now, the eyes of Texas focus squarely on the big stage on September 5th for the season opener.
“Starting Monday, it will be all Notre Dame,” Strong said, before adding, “We can’t lose sight of our fundamentals. I told our players that it’s one of those games where you have to walk into and play…I don’t want to put it all on them right now because we’re still two weeks away. You don’t want the team all amped-up. Let’s calm down: we still have to go play this game.”
The offense had the upper hand during Saturday morning’s scrimmage after the defense flexed its muscle during the middle of the week.
“I’m really happy the offense bounced back today because the defense really dominated them on Wednesday,” Strong said.
The roster has been thinned at TE (due to ACL and ACT) but has been fortified along the defensive line. Sophomore TE Blake Whitely’s torn ACL appears to be season-ending while freshman Devonaire Clarington must retake the ACT test after NCAA officials flagged his previous score. Meanwhile, the loaded d-line received a boost with DTs Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson emerging from nagging injuries.
Sophomore TE Andrew Beck is working with the 1’s while versatile freshman DeAndre McNeal is expected to get quality snaps early in his career.
“Those are the two guys who are taking care of the position,” Strong said.
Beck is looking for his first collegiate start but is Texas’ only TE with gameday experience. He saw action in all 13 contests last season and has taken half his snaps in the backfield this month. His next catch will be his first. Meanwhile. Strong continues to laud McNeal for what he can do in the open field.
“He creates mismatch problems for the defense,” Strong said. “He’s a big receiver is what he is. You can move him outside, and he can be a guy who can float for you.”
Senior Alex De La Torre has mainly worked at FB but has worked more at TE this past week.
Saturday was the second 2-a-day of August Camp, but that’s not the only reason Strong is giving players Sunday off. They’ve earned it, he said.
“We’ve been practicing so well that they need the day off.”
It’s quite a statement. Last year, Strong fumed early and often over his team’s inconsistent effort. He repeatedly said Texas wasn’t good enough to waste any practices. Now, players are familiar with concepts and his expectations. As important, they’ve bought-in.
“We’ve been around them (on year) now and we now have an idea of who we have. What I see is a total change with some of the upperclassmen.”