Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard shined in his first Red River Showdown game, rushing for 115 yards and throwing a touchdown.

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: What’s scarier for Texas — no playbook or no quarterback?

Posted March 30th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Texas QB Jerrod Heard suffered a shoulder injury in practice Tuesday.
  • The Horns scored 24 points or fewer in seven games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989.
  • Senior Tyrone Swoopes appears to be leading the race for the starting QB position.
  • New offensive coordinator Sterlin hasn't seen film of his quarterbacks. He likes the "clean slate" method of evaluation.

Jerrod Heard will be fine.

Just thought I’d place a little piece of hope on your heart since we’re still five months from a meaningful football game. That’s plenty of time to heal and get ready for the Irish, Texas fan.

Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert got hit with his first major piece of bad news Tuesday. Injuries will always be part of the landscape. In this case, Gilbert can ill afford to lose the player most capable of leading this program out of the wilderness of offensive futility.

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How he handles this will largely determine whether the 2016 Longhorns show up as a program on the rise or a team continuing a steady decline in a conference that’s made its mark as an offensive league driven by quarterbacks.

Gilbert met with the media Tuesday and gave us a first glimpse into what can best be described as an unorthodox approach to running an offense.

He calls it a clean slate.

First of all, he hasn’t watched any game film of quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes, Heard or the others on the roster.
In short, he hasn’t seen Swoopes’ heroics against Oklahoma last season or Heard’s school-record 527 yards against Cal.  He’s pretty much relying on what they show him during practice and in the film room, which will lead to speculation surrounding the viability of freshman  Shane Buechele as a starter this fall.

And how about this?  Gilbert doesn’t even use a playbook. This fast-break offense is all based on feel, instinctive reads and decision-making. Makes sense now after hearing they ran 70 plays in 10 minutes this spring.

OK, it’s borderline refreshing upon first glance. Newness was needed, especially with a moribund offense that has rarely made it past second gear over the last couple of seasons.  The Horns ranked eighth or worse in five offensive categories in the 10-team Big 12 last season. Call it a record-setting campaign, but not in a good way.

Texas scored 24 or fewer points seven times for the second straight year. That last happened in 1988 and 1989. The Horns went 9-13 over those two seasons, a bit worse than the 11-14 we’ve witnessed over Charlie Strong’s first two years, but definitely in the same area of ineptitude.

So Tuesday (before Heard’s injury became public), your man on the street asked Gilbert the question we’ve all been asking one another: Who’s leading the race?

“Nobody.”

Typical spring football answer, I thought, until the news broke Wednesday that  Heard had suffered a shoulder injury Tuesday.  The fact they released a statement is more than enough to let us know that it isn’t something as minimal as a dead arm or a stinger.  It’s serious enough to warrant a press release, so it’s safe to say that Swoopes is winning the race as of March 31 even if Gilbert isn’t biting.

From what I hear, Swoopes was already outplaying Heard before the injury, so there isn’t a whole of shock value attached to the news. The real issue will come down to the Horns getting above-average to good production from the position. You may not agree, but  Gilbert’s up-tempo philosophy and the fan base’s renewed hopes of getting these receivers much more involved in the mix will rank second on the priority list behind Strong’s unwavering  philosophy of establishing the run first.

Ground Chuck 2.0, if you will.

That still gives Heard — assuming surgery won’t be needed on his shoulder — the edge in the long-term. To be honest, I’d be much more bummed out about a high ankle sprain or a knee injury than a shoulder. Heard wasn’t setting the world on fire with his arm anyway.

Take it for what it’s worth, but Swoopes was a wire-to-wire guy in the spring and summer of 2015 before getting demoted after the 38-3 blowout loss to Notre Dame in the opener. He appears to be the leader once again for the same reasons he was the leader in the spring and summer of 2015.

For his part, Gilbert isn’t anywhere close to making an announcement. They’re still installing a new offense, after all.

“What we want is for these guys to be right,” he said, “make sure we have the right guy, and make sure the other guys understand exactly what we want to do and how we want to get it executed and they go do it at a high level.”

Sounds so simple on the surface.

 

 

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