Jerrod Heard walks, talks, lives, breathes and acts every bit like a starting quarterback should.
Does he want to be Texas’ starter the next four years? “I definitely want it to be my job,” Heard said.
The redshirt freshmen has plenty of swagger. “He even came up to me on Saturday and said, ‘All right, coach, watch me go out here and get these boys,’” coach Charlie Strong said with a laugh. “I said, ‘We’ll see.’”
And Heard appears to have impressed his teammates. Asked about Heard’s on-field demeanor, right tackle Kent Perkins said, “Actually, he was strictly business. He gave us our calls, made sure we knew what we were doing. He did a good job.”
Heard made quite an impression in his first start. But can he improve this week against California? Or take progressive steps the following weeks against Oklahoma State and TCU? What about the rest of the Big 12 schedule?
The Longhorns have stumbled around the past five years in search of another standout, championship-level quarterback. Nobody is touting Heard as an All-American yet. But coaches and players feel like he has intangibles worth developing.
Strong admitted that Heard’s goofiness can be taken the wrong way by those who don’t know him.
“On the bus ride, which is probably the most serious part of game day, I’m probably in the back laughing, throwing paper at players,” Heard said. “I probably annoy them. One time, I think Daje (Johnson) asked, ’Can you put your headphones on or something?’”
How about that? Daje Johnson, the voice of reason.
Former play-caller Shawn Watson insisted all last year that Heard simply wasn’t ready. In a perfect world, Heard would’ve been Texas’ No. 3 quarterback behind David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes. But Ash suffered a career-ending concussion in Week 1, and Swoopes played the rest of the 2014 season as Heard redshirted.
Strong and Watson both said that Swoopes and Heard engaged in a quarterback battle throughout training camp in August. But it was Swoopes who “won the locker room,” Strong said prior to the season opener.
Swoopes was ineffective against Notre Dame in a 38-3 blowout loss. Strong took the play-calling duties away from Watson three days later, and now receivers coach Jay Norvell controls the offense. With a new play-caller comes a new quarterback.
Why did it take 15 games before Heard got his shot? On Monday, Strong said, “He was not ready.” On this particular point, Heard seemingly agrees.
“During that process, it is a struggle for a freshman to go through practice, especially last year,” Heard said. “You’ve got first-rounders (defensive tackle Malcom Brown) and draft picks all over the place at practice. And I think that really helped me for this season.”
On the third offensive play against Rice, it certainly looked like Heard was ready. He broke loose for a 53-yard gain, which was called back by a UT penalty. Still, the electricity inside Royal-Memorial Stadium was undeniable.
“Honestly, I needed that to calm me down,” Heard said. “Once that happened, everything else just went away and I just played the game.”
Four of Heard’s 10 carries went for more than 11 yards. His 69-yard touchdown pass to John Burt was the fifth-longest throw by a freshman quarterback in school history.
Heard completed 4 of 7 passes for 120 yards. How will he fare throwing 10, 20 or 30 passes? That remains to be seen.
The Longhorns have serious questions on defense. Opponents have converted 22 of 35 third-down opportunities. That 62.9-percent conversion rate is the highest total in major college football.
Couple that with the fact Texas has allowed an average of 221 rushing yards in two games, and the Horns have problems.
California (2-0) may exacerbate things. The Bears averaged 54 points and 570.5 yards in their first two games with a spread offense. The Longhorns’ offense, as presently constructed, isn’t built for a shootout.
All signs indicate that Heard gives Texas a better chance than Swoopes, though.
“One game doesn’t make him,” Strong said. “I want to make sure it’s a steady improvement game by game.”
Longest passes by a Texas freshmanIn his first career start, quarterback Jerrod Heard threw the fifth-longest pass by a freshman (redshirt or true) in school history. Freshmen did not become eligible to play until 1972.
|QB to WR||Yards||Opp.||Year|
|1. Major Applewhite* to Wane McGarity||97t||vs. Oklahoma||1998|
|T2. Major Applewhite* to Bryan White||76||at Nebraska||1998|
|T2. Mark Murdock* to Tony Jones||76t||vs. Texas A&M||1988|
|4. Colt McCoy* to Jamaal Charles||72t||vs. Iowa||2006|
|5. Jerrod Heard* to John Burt||69t||vs. Rice||2015|
|*-indicates redshirt freshman|