Texas started spring practice with a quarterback duel and ended it with last season’s starter, Tyrone Swoopes, entrenched as the No. 1.
Swoopes went 17-of-31 passing for 159 yards and ran for a touchdown Saturday as Texas ended spring drills with the annual Orange-White Scrimmage. Jerrod Heard was 20 of 29 for 177 yards and also ran for a score, but threw an interception and tapered off after two early flashy drives.
In his postgame comments, coach Charlie Strong at first suggested the competition for No. 1 was still open, but later made it clear it’s still Swoopes’ job to lose between now and a trip to South Bend, Indiana, for the Sept. 5 season opener at Notre Dame.
“I hope I don’t have to go in there and start a redshirt freshman,” Strong said. “I don’t want to turn this into a quarterback controversy … I don’t if Heard has done anything yet to unseat him as the starter.”
Texas went 6-7 and lost the Texas Bowl in Strong’s first season in 2014. Swoopes started 12 games last season and took the brunt of fan criticism as Texas struggled offensively all season.
“I feel good,” Swoopes said. “Overall, I think I did pretty well.”
Swoopes led a touchdown drive on the opening possession, scrambling 14 yards for a touchdown. Heard also drove his team for two scores on his first two drives. His tuck-and-run scamper for a 12-yard touchdown capped the first, and he used his legs to convert a fourth down that set up a field goal. He also completed his first nine passes.
Had his day ended there, fans would be clamoring for him to start. But a fumbled snap killed one drive and an interception thrown under pressure into coverage stopped another. Then another throw into coverage was dropped by a defender.
Strong said he expects Swoopes, a junior, will be better next season because the team around him should be better, most notably in the offensive line. And Texas has tinkered with its offense, trying to move away from its pro-style offense to an up-tempo spread attack favored throughout the Big 12.
“I see an offense now that he'll have an opportunity to show his skills,” Strong said.
Heard said he’s still learning.
“The game is still fast for me,” Heard said. “I really do have to have the team’s confidence in me. My job is to show them that when my number is called, I'll be ready.”
A few other takeaways as Texas wrapped up spring practice:
TEMPO: Texas showed some signs of pushing the tempo and spreading out the defense. Play-calling has been simplified to help the quarterbacks get the call faster, but none of it was sharp enough for Strong on Saturday.
“I want it to be quicker,” Strong said.
PASS CATCHERS: Texas is still looking for a big play receiver to step up. Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe were the most consistent with 11 total catches for 142 yards, but neither produced the field-stretching play Texas has lacked.
Marcus Johnson, who was a disappointment in 2014, didn’t play Saturday because of an injury and Dorian Leonard had three drops and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, all in the first half. Daje Johnson, widely considered an exceptional athlete, continues to struggle to make plays. He had two fumbles, one of which was scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
DEFENSE: The defense was the strength of the team last season but lost key starters from the line to the backfield and has the biggest holes on the team to fill. Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, a highly touted recruit who enrolled in January, had the best play of the game when he broke out of a blitz to tackle Johnson from behind and force the fumble.
KICKING GAME: After struggling through an inconsistent 2014, placekicker Nick Rose made four of five field goal attempts Saturday, with the only miss coming on a 43-yarder that bounced high off the right upright. Rose’s biggest kick came when he nailed one from 52 yards in the second quarter, the kind of distance that gives Texas a valuable scoring option in a close game.