Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard has shown remarkable running ability. UT coach Charlie Strong said the team can't turn the corner until the offense can pass with more consistency. Shelby Tauber / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: No reason to worry over the passing numbers just yet

QB Jerrod Heard hasn't thrown for more than 100 yards in 3 games as Texas goes to the ground

Posted October 29th, 2015

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Story highlights
  • Texas' current passing totals are the lowest since 1991.
  • Charlie Strong: 'If we can win at the line of scrimmage, let’s continue to pound people.'
  • And as long as we’re talking about the quarterbacks, take a bow, Shawn Watson.

There are certain benefits to being a run-oriented team crafted in the head coach’s vision. You don’t have to worry too much about the passing game.

If Texas was a pass-happy group like Baylor or Texas Tech, then you’d be well within the boundary to question quarterback Jerrod Heard’s recent passing numbers.

Heard threw for 48 yards against TCU and for only 53 against Oklahoma. And those were on sunny, warm days. The redshirt freshmen threw for 99 yards last week in a messy downpour against Kansas State.

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Freshmen receiver John Burt celebrates a 69-yard touchdown catch against Rice at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Freshmen receiver John Burt celebrates a 69-yard touchdown catch against Rice at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Through seven games, Texas has thrown for 990 yards. The Horns are on pace to have their lowest passing output since 1991.

“No, we have not lost any confidence (in Heard) at all,” UT coach Charlie Strong said early this week. “We’ve been able to win at the line of scrimmage, so if we can win at the line of scrimmage, let’s continue to pound people.”

There’s a decent chance the ground-and-pound approach beats Iowa State this week and Kansas the next. But what happens at West Virginia? Or the final two games against Texas Tech and Baylor?

Strong himself said on Monday that for this team to truly turn the corner, the offense must get better at throwing the football. Those paying close attention will remember this was the supposed knock on Heard last spring and August. He’s a fantastic runner, but struggles with throwing accuracy, according to the whispers.

Judging from Jay Norvell’s recent play-calling, you wonder if the coaches prefer to run the ball as much as possible. Strong clearly doesn’t want to gamble right now. That play-calling against OU was all about staying conservative, eating up clock and limiting mistakes.

The Horns did just that against the Wildcats, too. The passing game didn’t open up until the second half, when it became so obvious that K-State packed the line of scrimmage, Heard had to throw.

Heard completed 3 of 4 “passes” — those short, under-handed flips to Daje Johnson — in the first half. He was 5 for 8 for 57 yards in the third quarter and 2 for 3 in the fourth.

UT wide receiver Daje Johnson takes a look back while running down the field during the game against Rice at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT wide receiver Daje Johnson takes a look back while running down the field during the game against Rice at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 12, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“I think we’ll show improvement in the passing game. I’m not overly concerned about it,” Norvell said. “For us, it’s more about finding ways to win one game at a time and doing what we need to do. We’re less concerned about balancing out our yearly stats at this time.”

Optimists can take comfort knowing that this team’s confidence level is rising. That goes for the players and coaches.

Think about this: How many coaching staffs would be confident enough to put in a new, albeit small, set of plays the morning of a game? Texas did just that last Saturday morning at the hotel. The net result saw Tyrone Swoopes run three times for big yardage late and score from 10 yards out to ice the 23-9 win.

“We’re able to make an adjustment in the morning and execute,” Heard said. “That shows a lot with the coaches that they have total trust in us, and we have total trust in them.”

And as long as we’re talking about the quarterbacks, take a bow, Shawn Watson.

When Watson was demoted as the team’s play-caller after the Notre Dame fiasco, Strong insisted things would be fine internally.

Who knows how the coaches — grown men with egos of their own — truly handled the assignment shuffle? Strong, Norvell and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are the only coaches who speak with reporters. Maybe they’re OK with tight ends coach Jeff Traylor getting more say in the running game, maybe not. These are all professionals, Strong said.

But few can argue with the production totals from Watson’s department.

Heard is a dynamic, potentially game-changing runner. Tyrone Swoopes has found a wonderful niche in the short-yardage “18 Wheeler” package that has energized the junior and given UT a new weapon.

The entire football team is getting better, so by deductive reasoning, the passing game should get better over time, right?

“We’re prepared to throw the ball,” Norvell said. “I think we’ll show improvement.”

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