Mac Engel

Charlie Strong’s gamble hits on freshman quarterback Shane Buechele

The last time Texas had this much reason to be excited about a freshman quarterback he nearly led a comeback against Alabama in the national title game.

And the best news coming from Austin is that Shane Buechele looks much better than Garrett Gilbert. Or David Ash. Or Tyrone Swoopes. Or Jerrod Heard.

The bad news is Baby Buech is still an 18-year-old kid who is surrounded by a slew of college football children and a coach, who despite whatever perceived progress there is, is firmly coaching for his job.

Just in time to save said job, however, Charlie Strong has his passer.

Unranked Texas’ 50-47 double overtime win Sunday night against No. 10 Notre Dame in our state’s capital will keep the Tom Herman Relocation to Austin Fund inactive for a while. It should also scare the living bleep out of every other coach and every other program in the great state a Texas from Waco to Fort Worth to Lubbock to College Station.

“We are happy we came out with a win; we would have liked to have done it in only four quarters instead of two overtimes,” said Buechele, who completed 16 of 26 passes and jumped into the large dog pile of players after the OT game winning touchdowns. “My dad always told me not to get into the middle of a dog pile, but I couldn’t help myself.”

Bevo has his quarterback, and the University of Texas is no longer an embarrassment to the few athletic departments that have more money than Saudi Arabia. UT has players, and the newly unveiled Bevo XV has a player who can complete the ancient art of the forward pass.

Showing the type of confidence born from having a $15 million guaranteed buyout, Strong gambled his entire job by starting the true freshman quarterback from Arlington Lamar High School over the senior who can run but can’t throw - Swoopes.

I thought it was too much too soon to start Buech against Notre Dame on Sunday night, but it was apparent Strong had seen enough to know he was not going to advance this program another day with Heard or Swoopes as his starter.

Strong called Buechele’s mother on Saturday night to let her know his son was the starting QB at Texas, and then he told the player on Sunday a few hours before kickoff. The phone call to momma left her in tears.

Strong now has a quarterback who can throw, and he can go to Swoopes as his power running quarterback. The plan was not without flaw in Week 1, but it worked as Swoopes won the game on a touchdown run in the second overtime to conclude the most entertaining game of the first college football weekend.

“It was just amazing,” a relieved Strong said. “Just to see our crowd. I’m so happy for our fans, because they needed it. Our fans really needed that. We’ve been down for so long and people have been talking about it. It was a night for us to just make it right.”

With Buechele’s father, Rangers coach Steve Buechele, in the stands at the insistence of his boss — manager Jeff Banister — Shane did his nervous daddy proud and is the most exciting thing to hit DKR since Colt McCoy.

The Longhorn Network will have something to show other than 2006 Rose Bowl highlights.

Speaking of ... it was fitting that during halftime UT honored the 2005 team that won the Rose Bowl and this school’s last national title against USC. Former coach Mack Brown was in Austin to say thanks to this stadium’s first sellout crowd since the last time he was the head coach in 2013.

Also on hand was the quarterback of that 2005 team, Vince Young.

No, Buech is not VY and this team is not ready for a run to a title, but for the first time since VY was doing whatever he wanted and McCoy was throwing it accurately the second most important position in Austin - behind the Governor - is settled.

In his first game, Buechele passed for 280 yards with two touchdowns. He had at least one long gainer dropped, but overall he was impressive, considering the circumstances of the game.

“He’s going to do that,” sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “That’s going to happen a lot more. Get ready for it.”

Strong’s gamble was the right decision, but it does not change the reality that UT will continue to go through an assortment of frights and thrills all associated with playing babies in college football.

UT was blowing out Notre Dame 31-14 in the third quarter before the ’Horns’ preponderance of youth showed up. More than half of its two-deep depth chart comprises freshmen and sophomores and that was bound to pop UT.

For so much of the game, it felt like UT’s stunning win against Oklahoma last season in the Cotton Bowl. UT’s offensive line was pushing Notre Dame in whatever direction it wanted, and ran for 237 yards.

But then Buech threw a bad pick, and the familiar feelings of dread that encased UT last season returned when Notre Dame rallied for a 35-31 fourth-quarter lead. Despite so many superlatives from Buechele to linebacker Malik Jefferson, it felt a lot like 2015. Or 2014.

In the final minutes, however, Buechele led a long drive that ended with a D’Onta Foreman touchdown run with 3:29 remaining in the game. All UT needed was the PAT for a three-point lead.

Notre Dame blocked the extra point and actually returned it for the rare defensive 2-pointer to tie the game at 37.

In the span of several hours, UT went from underdog, to enjoying a blowout win to an epic choke to a spirited comeback to deflating loss to the finality of inspiring win.

They did so because Charlie’s gamble paid off.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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