AUSTIN — Tyrone Swoopes has spoken – and you could have heard a pin drop. If you listened closely Monday, you’d also hear that Texas’ QB competition remains fluid heading into Saturday’s season-opener at Notre Dame.
“People are going to think what they want to think,” junior Tyrone Swoopes said. “I can’t control that. All I can do is control my play on the field. Hopefully, I will play a lot better than I did in the past.”
As promised, Swoopes topped Texas’ initial depth chart of the 2015 season. As always, Swoopes was so inaudible with the media that you wonder if he has the bluster to bark audibles at the line. Swoopes insists he is more outspoken in the locker room than he is at press conferences. And it is among his teammates, coach Charlie Strong said, that Swoopes has stated his case.
“The guy who wins the quarterback (position) has to win over the team,” Strong said, “and he’s won over the team.”
So, how did a soft-spoken, deferential QB with a losing record win over the locker room?
“He just has an air about him that shows confidence,” said Taylor Doyle. “He’s rallied the team. We’re happy to get behind him. He’s taken ownership of his position.”
It appears to be a rent-to-own plan. The fact that Texas’ untested, backup QB has been assured of more than just mop-up duty, on the road, against college football’s most storied program, indicates that Swoopes may be sharing the owner’s manual with his understudy.
RS-freshman Jerrod Heard will log quality snaps Saturday, Strong reiterated. He knows exactly when Heard will enter the fray at South Bend, but Strong ain’t talking.
“There is a plan for when Heard is going to come in,” Strong acknowledged. “He’s going to get a chance.”
A chance to unseat the incumbent?
“Tyrone is the starter for now,” said Dylan Haines. “If he plays up to his potential, he’ll remain the starter.”
And that is the biggest ‘if’ of the Longhorns season.
Heard may have the ‘it’ factor while Swoopes has the ‘if’ factor. Just last spring, Swoopes acknowledged he was still adjusting to the spotlight big-time college football. Moments later, Heard proclaimed that he thrives on the big stage.
On Monday, Swoopes admitted that the game hasn’t really slowed down for him.
“But I’m reacting faster because I know where everybody is (on the field),” he added.
Players have said, in so many words, that Heard has more of the Alpha personality. Swoopes said nearly much Monday (in so many soft-spoken words).
“It’s very fair to say Jerrod has more of an outgoing personality. Jerrod is really outgoing. I’d say that’s one of the big differences between him and me.”
Rarely has the ‘difference’ between a starter and a backup been so mitigated by 12 career starts. To be fair, Swoopes was thrown into the fire without much of a supporting cast last season. By all accounts, Swoopes has come a long way in the past eight months.
“Last year, he made so many not-smart throws,” Haines said. “He overthrew receivers, he under-threw and he threw into coverage.
This year, he’s not making bad throws. He’s gone to the next level. He’s going to his check-downs.”
Swoopes has made a concerted effort to be a vocal leader and to encourage teammates. But it is the extra time spent in the film room, he believes, that has made the biggest difference in his game.
“(Confidence) comes from knowing what you’re supposed to do and what other guys are supposed to do,” he said.
Surprisingly, Texas will boast the most experienced QB at South Bend. But that’s like saying you’re married to the prettiest girl in Scranton. Notre Dame’s Malik Zaire is coming off a bowl win against LSU following his first career start; meanwhile, Swoopes imploded with season-ending blowouts at the hands of TCU and Arkansas to see his record fall to 5-7.
In a classy move, TCU QB Trevone Boykin put his arm around the Longhorn QB after Swoopes tossed four INTs in a 48-10 loss. Boykin told him: “Keep your head up. I was in the same situation as you. Keep playing, keep growing, keep learning.”
Swoops keeps repeating the encouraging words. After all, Boykin was similarly thrown into the fire and, after suffering through a 4-8 campaign in 2013, engineered a 12-1 turnaround to emerge as a 2015 Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
“I took that to heart,” Swoopes said. “I keep it in my mind to see him grow from where he was to where he is now.”
The emphasis on the 40 Acres this month as been for players to grow up and take the pressure off the quarterback. For now, Texas’ QB will be a game-manager for than a game-changer.
Strong wasn’t going to hand the reigns to an untested challenger. He has often cited Swoopes’ experience and subsequent improvement to justify his place on the depth chart. That’s why it came as no surprise Monday that Swoopes is penciled-in to start Texas’ most high profile season-opener in 25 years.
Just keep an eraser handy.