ANOTHER STEP FORWARD FOR SWOOPES
He might be 0-2 as a starter but Tyrone Swoopes has looked really impressive so far.
One week after completing his first eight attempts, he connected on his first 11 passes against UCLA with his first incompletion coming with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
“He just continues to get better and better,” Texas head coach Charlie Strong said. “You look at him this week, and he made really good throws and just managed to -- if you are offense and the team is all behind him and you like it if -- you know, he's big and strong enough where he can make the plays and with pressure, you can run. He has good enough people you can run away from it. But he's just getting better and better week-by-week.”
Shawn Watson put more on Swoopes’ plate this week but he appeared to shoulder the load with ease. Texas mixed in some zone read keepers for him, rolled him out of the pocket via bootlegs a ton, and let him test UCLA’s defensive backs on the perimeter, which he did a nice job of.
His ability to throw on the run with pinpoint accuracy was a sight to behold for much of Saturday, and his pocket awareness was equally as impressive in the first half.
None more so than on a fourth-and-8 from UCLA’s 38 midway through the second quarter when he felt pressure coming from his right side, stepped up in the pocket toward Texas’ sideline and found John Harris 33 yards down the field for a first down.
Later on that drive with Texas facing a second-and-goal from the Bruins 12, Swoopes rushed for 10 yards to set up a nice play-action touchdown pass to M.J. McFarland in the back of the end zone.
“I felt a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I played last week and with that I built confidence. I came in a little bit more confident and I can build off that next week too.”
There was never any doubt in Texas’ player’s voices that Swoopes couldn’t get the job done. But performances like Saturday’s only reconfirm what they already knew, despite the loss.
“He grew up a lot tonight,” Harris said. “He stood in the pocket with a lot of poise. He is just growing up real fast and that is a good thing. He can do great things here at Texas.”
You got the sense that Swoopes feels more comfortable when Texas is moving up-tempo. It worked, at times against BYU in the second quarter, and worked again at points against UCLA.
You’ve got to imagine that Watson will make that an even larger part of this offense moving forward if Texas can continue to finish these types of drives with points.
Otherwise, they’d be putting Texas’ defense in a bind by forcing them to go right back on the field.
It appeared like Texas had the game won.
The Longhorns had just scored a touchdown to go up 17-13 when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond thwarted a UCLA drive deep in UT territory by stripping Bruins RB Jordon James of the ball, which was recovered by Texas defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr.
The overly burnt orange crowd was going crazy, and rightfully so. Texas looked like it was about to pull off the upset when it took over with 4:17 left.
But then a three-and-out that took only 1:11 off the clock happened.
The Longhorns had scored their last touchdown using their up-tempo offense and decided to stick with it when all it needed to do, at the very least, was drain some clock.
Malcolm Brown started the drive with a five-yard run. OK, nothing wrong there. But he was then gobbled up for a five-yard loss.
Still OK, right? At least Texas could use up the play clock before snapping the next play.
Well, yes, in theory. But that’s not how it played out.
So when Tyrone Swoopes’ throw to John Harris on third-and-10 fell woefully short, Will Russ ended up punting the ball back to UCLA with just over three minutes left.
One play later, the Bruins found themselves on top 20-17.
“Well, what had happened, we'd been moving the ball, and that's how we were getting energy and we were moving and then we thought that's the way we could move the football and be -- establish a drive before that we went down and scored,” Charlie Strong said. “And you think about it, first run we hand off and we get positive yards, 5 or 6 or so. And then we end up getting -- but then you just missed a throw. But it's just -- that's the way we were moving the football.”
It was just a complete mess of a drive.
“We had been moving the ball with good tempo so we just felt like we could move the ball and get it done and take some time, because if we didn't get first down, we was going to milk the clock and run it down and didn't get the first down, but just the tempo of how was we moving the football, so we stuck to what had us going, and that's how our offense is,” Strong said. “People think we can go score, and it just showed this evening.”
But it didn’t show on that particular possession. Thing is, it didn’t even have to. Just slow things down and, at the very least, run close to two minutes off the clock.
That particular drive wasn’t the only time Texas mismanaged the clock.
The Longhorns only had one timeout left, and little chance of winning, when they gave UCLA the ball back on its final drive because they burned two on its first two drives of the second half after confusion on third downs.
Jason Hall has exited Texas’ doghouse and appears to be feasting on anything that moves.
That’s the type of thing you want to see out of your strong safety, sure, but not when it involves the opposing punter.
The freshman safety, who we were told was not in good graces with the coaching staff heading into the North Texas game, looked every bit the part that we’d heard he was coming out of fall camp when he finally stepped into Texas’ secondary on UCLA’s third possession. He made tackles on two of his first three plays, including a sack of Bruins QB Jerry Neuheisel.
But he also ran into Bruins punter Matt Mengel twice on back-to-back UCLA possessions.
Fortunately for Texas the Bruins couldn’t cash in on the extra set of downs it was given on Hall’s second penalty. But that’s clearly something he’ll have to control moving forward if he is to stay on punt return.
All that said, Hall was a difference maker for the Longhorns in the second quarter when he came in to replace Dylan Haines. As far as I could tell Haines didn’t come back into the game to replace Hall, who finished with four tackles.
Not all was good for Hall on defense though.
The most glaring hiccup came on UCLA’s first play of the second half when Paul Perkins appeared to make him miss on an open field tackle attempt that allowed UCLA’s back to pick up a good chunk of his 58-yard gain. The Bruins would finish that drive with a game-tying touchdown.
Charlie Strong touched on that miss tackle after the game.
“Well, we didn't stop the run, and you're right. If you look at the start of the second half, you have a big run missed, a tackle, and it turns into a big run,” he said. “We make that tackle, you know, 2nd and 7 and whatever, and that's the thing. You can't miss tackles. We missed a lot of them, and they were running the ball. And they was mostly boundary runs where we weren't getting our gaps in and getting off blocks and we just weren't able to establish the running game.”
Hall’s reckless abandonment while playing downhill is something that should excite Longhorns fans and Texas defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn. He plays with a bit of Kenny Vaccaro as far as his attitude goes, and hits like him to.
“Jason Hall did a good job,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “He needs to learn what to do but he’s going to be a heck of a player for us.”
And give credit to Dylan Haines. He earned his playing time and the admiration of his teammates. But Texas needs a difference-maker at the position and Hall is the closest thing to one on this roster.
WHERE WAS GRAY EARLY?
Was it just me or did anyone else find it odd that Johnathan Gray didn’t get his first carry until Texas’ third possession of the game?
Granted Malcolm Brown did average 6.7 yards per carry on his first seven carries during UT’s first two drives. But still, you’d think Gray would have been featured in those first two possessions, especially in the short passing game, no?
Gray finally got his first touch with 8:24 left in the second quarter.
But then Texas did something that I thought was also a bit head scratching. The Longhorns stuck with one back on each drive in the second half.
Brown started the first two drives of the second without Gray seeing the field while Gray didn’t get in until the third drive of the half… again.
I’m all for keeping these backs fresh but Gray is one of the better receiving backs in the Big 12. I just figured he’d factor into that aspect of Shawn Watson’s play calling a bit more.
It wasn’t until the fifth drive of the second half that both running backs got in at the same time. Call it a coincidence, or not, but the Longhorns scored a touchdown on the drive thanks to big runs by both backs.
Gray chewed off the biggest chunk behind a great block by right tackle Kent Perkins that sprung him free for a 31-yard gain down to the UCLA 10. Brown came in the very next play and rushed for 8 yards. Two plays later Swoopes hit John Harris for an 8-yard TD.
AT LEAST TEXAS PUNTED WELL?
I remember watching Will Russ kick in warm-ups during Texas’ open practice back in August and thought the Longhorns were in some serious trouble in that department.
Boy was I wrong.
Russ has been a rare ray of light on a series of special teams units that has left a lot to be desired.
All he did against UCLA was average 50.5 yards per punt on six punts. Three of those landed inside the 20 and his last three punts went for 58, 62 (sixth-longest punt in college game at AT&T Stadium) and 58 yards respectively.
But in close games like this, when every play matters, even a booming 58-yard punt can be the cause for some drawback. Well, not necessarily his punt but the punt coverage on his last punt.
He again launched one deep into the AT&T Stadium sky but it didn’t quite have the hang time he was kicking with throughout. Nevertheless, Texas’ punt coverage unit has to be better and help him out.
It did not on that particular play as Bruins returner Ishmael Adams broke free down the UCLA sideline for a 45-yard gain, which set them up at the UT 33.
“We weren't able to get him penned inside, so they were able to get down the sideline and then had a wall set up,” Charlie Strong said. “And then when that happened, you have them coming back and making blocks for him. You'd like for the ball to hang a little longer and give him a chance to get down there and cover it. It was a great punt, but just outkicked the coverage.”
Overall though you’ve got to be impressed with the way Russ looked today. This is a guy, mind you, that didn’t see the field last season and only kicked in two games in 2012.
His leg, combined with Nick Rose’s kickoffs, turned the field possession in Texas’ favor for most of the game. UCLA’s drives started from its own 25, 10, 8, 25, 25, 24, 12, 12 and 22 yard line before that last punt.