In the aftermath of the Longhornsâ€™ heart-breaking fourth quarter loss to the UCLA Bruins last weekend, itâ€™s clear that the Texas fan base is split on the current state of the program. There are fans who feel hopeless about the future because of the loss, while others have been encouraged by the improvement they saw in a mere weekâ€™s time.
What Longhorn fans have to keep in mind is that this is Charlie Strongâ€™s third game at Texas. By now, youâ€™ve heard the words, â€œItâ€™s a processâ€ more often than youâ€™d probably like, but the fact is that itâ€™s true.
No one is happy with moral victories, but sometime there are positives that come from a loss. Such is the case from last Saturday, where there were some things that are encouraging.
First and foremost, letâ€™s begin with Tyrone Swoopes.
Swoopes has started a grand total of two games in his collegiate career, and it would be difficult to think of many other recent Longhorn quarterbacks who have looked as good in their first two starts.
Through two games, he is throwing the ball with nearly 70% accuracy and making some impressive completions. Additionally, he has shown he is capable of hitting receivers in stride.
Swoopes has also been poised in tough situations; for example, his 33-yard pass completion to John Harris on a fourth down play versus UCLA was a pass that many young and inexperienced quarterbacks could not make.
No, he hasnâ€™t thrown downfield much, but heâ€™s not entirely to blame for this. In addition to not having a large amount of time to pass the ball due to a weak offensive line, the receivers are having trouble getting separation.
Lastly, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has Swoopes on a tight leash. When Watson loosens the reins, Swoopes appears deserving of more trust in the passing game. Expect this to progress throughout the season.
Another concern of fans is that Swoopes hasnâ€™t impressed as a runner. Some amount of patience is required here and once Swoopes feels more comfortable running the ball, he will be a strong enough runner to pose a legitimate threat to the defense. You donâ€™t run for over 5,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in high school by being an average runner.
Once againâ€”this is only his second start. Yes, heâ€™s 0-2 as a starter, but anyone who has watched the games will tell you that the lack of offensive scoring is not because of Swoopes; in fact, he has been the best thing about the offense this season so far.
While they still have a long way to go, the offensive line, the teamâ€™s weakest unit, even showed some improvement against the Bruins.
Fans should also be encouraged by the changes made by Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline in regards to the play-calling. The coaches played to the strengths and weaknesses of the team by allowing Swoopes to roll out of the pocket to make plays.
The Horns still arenâ€™t going down the field, but I suspect that it will come. The Texas offense was never going to be a true spread offense like many fans are clamoring for, but I do think that once everything falls into place, it will be efficient and more open than many fans believe.
Special teams continues to be sporadic. Will Russ has been incredible punting the ball, and Nick Rose made his only FG attempt this week, but the coverage still has room to improve.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has also been inconsistent. The good news is that they look stout the vast majority of the time.
Against the BYU Cougars, the defense only had one poor quarter, but unfortunately, it was really bad. Against the Bruins, the unit had a fairly strong game, but the big play they gave up early in the second half was very costly, and the likely difference in the game.
The defensive front looks great, especially Malcom Brown, but the secondary needs to be more consistent. Theyâ€™ve shown flashes of greatness, but lack consistency.
So, while losses are never good, itâ€™s important for fans to look at how greatly things improved from the BYU loss to the UCLA loss.
Hereâ€™s what needs to happen: Watson and Wickline must continue to tweak the offense, Swoopes needs to be less timid running the ball, the offensive line needs to improve, and the secondary needs to be more consistent. Yes, thatâ€™s a long list, but not an insurmountable one. If these things happen, this could end up being a very good football team.
For this to happen, however, itâ€™s imperative that Charlie Strong and the rest of the coaches respond and implement on-the-field changes, as needed. They need to be open-minded in terms of play-calling, personnel and in-game adjustments.
While Strong needs to be open-minded on the field, most fans can appreciate what heâ€™s trying to do off-the-field. Itâ€™s been painful and costly losing some of the dismissed and suspended players, but in the long-run, itâ€™s going to be better for the overall program in terms of the types of players he brings in and the team mentality.
In conclusion, fans are witnessing a major change to the entire Texas football program. That level of undertaking requires time.
Itâ€™s also worth discussing that this is a major change for the coaching staff as well. What worked in Louisville isnâ€™t necessarily going to work at Texas, especially in a pass-happy, high-scoring Big XII. The staff will have to adapt on-the-field when needed, while simultaneously standing firm in their off-the-field expectations in order to find success on the Forty Acres.
Despite losing a close game to a top 15 team, Longhorn fans should be encouraged by the key changes that were made between their two losses this season. Continuing on a similar trajectory will result in the Longhorns being a very solid team by seasonâ€™s end.