History will render its verdict on the significance of Texas defeating Notre Dame in double overtime to open to 2016 season. If it turns out that the victory becomes a marker in the resurgence of the Longhorns, the two players most responsible are fitting then-and-now representatives.
Jan. 7. 2010 was when UT started to lose its way. Senior quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out of the Bowl Championship Series title game with Alabama on the first series and the Longhorns lost, 37-21.
Coach Mack Brown and the program were never the same because the quarterback position went from stellar (McCoy and Vince Young) to cellar. Brown was questioned on several recruiting whiffs that included Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. The fact that Brown reportedly wanted to move two Heisman Trophy winning QBs to the defensive secondary further damaged the Texas brand.
Sept. 4, 2016 brought Brown and the 2005 national championship team back to Austin to be honored at halftime of Sunday’s game. It also marked the debut of Shane Buechele. He was recruited by coach Charlie Strong as a quarterback to play quarterback. His only seasoning for a college football start involved enrolling early and participating in spring football.
The 18-year-old Buechele is accustomed to the unexpected. The freshman’s first interviews came after Sunday’s game and Monday during UT’s weekly media session. That allowed reporters to ask about him being an “oops” baby.
“I don’t know what you’d call that,” Buechele said. “I’m just glad to be here.”
Shane’s father Steve, an 11-year major-leaguer and current bench coach of the Texas Rangers, had a vasectomy in 1995. Two years later, his wife Nancy made the unexpected “I’m pregnant” phone call.
Vasectomies are 99 percent successful, so victory-starved, quarterback-deprived Orange bloods will be convinced that Buechele was destined and born to be the Longhorns’ quarterback savior. If so, that’s ironic because more than a few fans probably wish that Tyrone Swoopes, who is sharing the QB job with Buechele, had never wound up in Austin.
When Swoopes made his first appearance Sunday night, the predominant roar from the record crowd was “OOOOOOOOOOOO.” It required an interpreter to decide if that was booing or Swoopes-ing.
“The Swoopes chant and booing,” he said, “I can’t really tell the difference.”
Swoopes has unfairly come to symbolize the wilderness through which Texas has been wandering. He was the last quarterback recruit of the Brown Era. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Swoopes was unfairly compared and expected to be Young, the driving force of the 2005 title team.
A 4-star recruit, Swoopes played for a Class1A high school in Whitewright, a small town in North Texas. His senior year, the team went 1-9.
Swoopes is not a fan of the spotlight. The limited competition and lack of craving attention is not a great combination for saving an iconic program.
Brown burned Swoopes’ redshirt late in the 2013 season, as he attempted to win enough to save his job. In 2014, Strong’s first season, senior quarterback David Ash suffered a career-ending concussion in the opener and Swoopes again had to swim with the sharks. Last season, he flopped in a season-opening blowout at Notre Dame and lost his starting job to freshman Jerrod Heard.
Heard, though, had the same issues at the position as Swoopes – when called on to pass, each had trouble hitting the ocean from the beach. Swoopes started to find traction as a short-yardage specialist, running the “18-Wheeler” package named after his uniform number.
Now, it appears that UT’s quarterback garage houses a Ferrari and a Mack truck.
Buechele, despite his inexperience, has the moxie and the “arm talent” that the Longhorns’ offense has been lacking. He’s also familiar with, and a fit for, the up-tempo spread attack favored by new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. The scheme works if there’s a quarterback who can make accurate throws to keep the chains moving; incompletions are like driving with the parking brake on.
“I love this offense I’m in right now,” Buechele said.
“I expected us to have this kind of success in this offense,” said sophomore wide receiver John Burt, a deep threat who caught a perfectly thrown Buechele bomb for a 72-yard TD in the third quarter after a first-quarter drop on a similar play and pass. “They weren’t ready for it. We were popping plays, and they didn’t know what was going on.”
If Buechele is the starter Texas has lacked since McCoy, then Swoopes is the Mariano Rivera closer. He scored three touchdowns driving the 18-Wheeler, including the game-winner in OT where he zigged and zagged through a worn-out Notre Dame defense.
“I think we can make it work,” Strong said Monday of the dual-QB offense. “We can spread people out, but we have a physical aspect to us. We can pound people when we want to. We can go vertical.”
Strong was Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2006 when the Gators won a national championship with senior Chris Leak as the “thrower” and freshman Tim Tebow as the “runner.” The Leak-Tebow partnership was more simple because Leak was the senior starter and Tebow was the freshman specialist. Swoopes, though, apparently has no ego to bruise.
“It’s just the person I am,” Swoopes said. “It’s the way I’ve been raised. I’ve never checked out or given up on anything I’ve done. (Transferring from Texas) never crossed my mind. I just stuck with it and tried to tough it out.”
His teammates and the coaching staff have noticed.
“Things don’t always go his way. But this man, I never see him pout,” Texas junior running back D’Onta Foreman said. “I’ve never seen him throw attitude or a temper tantrum. I just see him go out there and work hard every day.”
At Big 12 media days, a reporter started a question about how Texas Tech has had a glut of quarterbacks while UT can’t find one. Coach Kliff Kingsbury, who offered Buechele a scholarship, interrupted. “They’ve got one now.”
Actually, they’ve got two.