UT Head Coach Charlie Strong speaks at his weekly news conference at Bellmont Hall on Monday August 29, 2016. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

BEVO BEAT Football

Charlie Strong’s Notre Dame presser: Is this game all about the QBs or what?

Posted August 29th, 2016

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Charlie Strong‘s first Monday press conference has come and gone, in advance of Sunday’s season opener with Notre Dame.

And yes, quarterback questions dominated the day:

  • Strong spoke for 35 minutes.
  • No depth chart or two-deep was released. Strong said there are still a couple of positions that are being decided upon this week.
  • Starting quarterback, however, isn’t one of them. Strong says he already knows who’ll trot out onto the field against the Irish. He’s just not announcing it yet.
  • The first four questions he fielded were on the decision to name/not name a starting quarterback.
  • Shane Buechele was not mentioned by name until 11:28, though obviously he and Tyrone Swoopes dominated Monday in terms of question topics.
  • On the injury front — and Strong was asked specifically about guys like Zach Shackelford, Bryce Cottrell and Tristan Nickelson — everyone is expected to be healthy enough to play on Sunday.

OK, on to specifics.

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Strong fielded lots of questions about the Buechele-Swoopes battle at quarterback. The highlights:

Does Notre Dame’s physical defensive front play into the decision?: “It’s not going to play in that decision. Our offensive line has to block.”

As far as psychology of the fans goes, why not go ahead and name a starter now?: “The fans will be fine. You just need to know so you can write it. The team’s going to know who the starting quarterback is.”

If it’s Swoopes, is there confidence that he’d trot out there and that fans would show him the love?: “So much is played into that quarterback position, but you’ve got to play well on defense, too. There are so many other positions where you’ve got to play well, but whomever gets the nod, they’re going to be prepared to play, they’ll have the game plan and be able to execute it.”

Will the quarterback competition continue to be played out into the game?: “Both are going to play. Whoever’s going to be the starter will be the starter. So we’ll see.”

When will the quarterbacks be told?: “They’ll be told way up before then. They have an idea who the starter’s going to be.”

What’s the most important deciding factor for deciding the quarterback?: “You’ve got to have someone who can win the team over. The players have to be comfortable with that player and then you’ve just got to execute the offense.”

In terms of quarterback fluidity, will you settle on a guy or will it be back and forth throughout the season?: “When we name our quarterback, he is our starter and he will be our starter unless he gets beat out or something happens. … I don’t need to announce it. There’s going to be a starting quarterback, so the next one, whoever plays, you package it for him to go in on the third series of the game, or the fourth series of the game.”

How short of a leash will there be for either quarterback?: “The starter’s going to be the starting quarterback. It’s not like we’re gonna put one on and pull him out if something goes bad for him. It won’t be one where if he goes in and something bad happens, you all of a sudden pull him out of the game. If something goes bad, you still have to be with that guy you go with. The other guy will get his chance and will play some, but whoever we named starter will get most of the work.”

The Notre Dame QBs were not thrilled when they were told both are going to play. Is that the challenge here?: “Our problem is a little different than their problem. You have two starters who have been there. Buechele hasn’t been there.” (And that was the first Buechele reference by name, by the way.)

That was it for quarterback questions. Others of note:

Are all of these true freshmen ready for the moment?

“They’re going to be all over the place. They can act like they’re not and say ‘we’re ready’ all they want. We had all the freshmen gather after practice and I asked what they were going to do on game day. ‘Oh we’ll be fine.’ They won’t be fine. I know they won’t be. You have to stay on top of them. I think once they get out there and get the one play or two, they’ll settle in. But they have no idea what they’re stepping into.”

True freshmen (outside of Buechele and Shackelford) that we should expect to see?

Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay at wide receiver. Lil’Jordan Humphrey will probably get some snaps, and Kyle Porter at running back. The offensive line will depend on how things work out. On defense, I’m just thinking with the freshmen, they will have limited roles. Some will play on the kicking game.”

And, big picture, what are fans going to see Sunday night?

“They should see a football team that’s excited and plays with passion, that are going to go out and compete and play hard.”

Is last year’s loss to Notre Dame more out of sight, out of mind — or motivational?

“We’ve seen some highlights … but you know what, we’re not that team anymore, and we’re a totally different team than we were last season. We’ve taken those steps to be a better football team. But every once in a while we will throw it at them just to get them going, to get them fired up a little.”

Sunday’s game starts at 6:30, on ABC. Texas has won its season opener in 15 of the last 16 years — the lone loss coming in last year’s 38-3 loss in South Bend. The Longhorns are 106-14-3 all-time in openers at home.

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