Longhorns score in all three phases, play with serious energy to snap three-game losing skid
Posted September 13th, 2015
Freshmen are supposed to be naive and ill-equipped to play right away. They’re supposed to be quiet, yield to the veterans and generally stay out of the way.
Freshmen don’t know what they don’t know, supposedly. But even the most popular freshman at Texas believes quarterback Jerrod Heard should’ve been playing more than he was.
“All the guys wanted to see him play,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “He’s been held back, like in a prison cell.”
Texas coach Charlie Strong gave Heard the starting nod just before kickoff on Saturday. That decision energized the locker room and 86,458 fans inside Royal-Memorial Stadium. The youngsters went out, had a field day and played with real energy in a 42-28 win over Rice.
The Longhorns (1-1) scored in all three phases to snap a three-game losing skid. Strong made it clear that Heard, the redshirt freshman, will remain the starter. Junior Tyrone Swoopes, who was 5-8 as a starter, is now the backup.
That’s music to Jefferson’s ears.
“I’m glad he got to play in the playpen and have fun,” Jefferson said of Heard. The linebacker loved seeing the quarterback go half-stepping down the field after throwing a 69-yard touchdown pass to freshman John Burt. Jefferson laughed when he saw Heard doing pushups on the field after a long run.
“That’s swagger right there, you know what I’m saying?” Jefferson said. “That’s what we needed. We needed that fire. People need to get excited about what we’re doing around here.”
The full-blown youth movement is here, if Saturday’s game is any indication. Heard, Burt and offensive linemen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe played the entire game. On defense, defensive backs Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and P.J. Locke were out there in the fourth quarter. Several other freshmen played key roles all night long.
“I feel like this is the class,” said Burt, who had Texas’ biggest catch for the second straight week. “There’s always a little bit of bias, and I’m in this class. But I really feel like this is the class that’s going to change the program. A whole bunch of freshmen were out there making plays.”
Jefferson had a team-high nine tackles, and he led the team in near-sacks, if statisticians kept such a thing. He was in Rice’s backfield all night, but quarterback Driphus Jackson proved incredibly slippery.
Jackson’s bunch put on an impressive offensive show in the second quarter when the Owls gobbled up more than 11 minutes and got within a touchdown by halftime.
The Owls were 8-for-12 on third-down conversions in the first half as they simply ran straight at the Longhorns’ defensive front, a group loaded with veterans.
Samuel Stewart scored on a 22-yard run when he rolled over redshirt freshman John Bonney and kept his legs moving. Then, he scored on a 16-yard run by diving over Bonney and plunging into the end zone.
So much for Texas’ 21-0 lead. The Longhorns scored more points in the first quarter than they’ve scored in any 15-minute period so far in the Strong era. Heard threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman. Daje Johnson had an electric 85-yard punt return, and Johnathan Gray scored from 1 yard out.
But all that energy evaporated by halftime because of how Rice controlled the clock.
“Somebody has to go make a play in the backfield,” defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway said. “We have to take it personal. When they run right at us, that’s a statement saying we can’t defend it.”
The Texas freshmen went and did something about it. On the first play of the second half, Heard fired deep and found Burt for his 69-yard touchdown catch.
Later in the quarter, Boyd rushed up field and blew up Jackson, forcing a fumble that bounced right into Jefferson’s hands. He scampered 26 yards on a room-service turnover for a touchdown. In two collegiate games, Jefferson has 18 tackles and a touchdown.
“We all said it was a perfect bounce. He’s a lucky dude,” Ridgeway said.
Jefferson said, “Yeah, I know it.”
Texas pushed its lead to 42-14 when D’Onta Foreman, a sophomore who really didn’t play much last season, punched it in from 2 yards out.
Rice put together an 18-yard scoring drive in garbage time. Then the Owls scored again when Luke Turner caught a 14-yard touchdown pass right in front of Locke. But that’s OK, Strong figures. Freshmen are going to make mistakes.
More than anything else, the freshmen gave the Longhorns a real spark. Now, they’ve got to build on it.
“Well, that’s where your future is right now, with those young guys,” Strong said. “They more they play, the better they’re going to get.”