UT quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rushes in the second overtime against Notre Dame at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Notable Number: Texas’ 18-Wheeler — and the number 14

Posted September 8th, 2016

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Every week this fall, we’re looking at a number related to Texas football. Today’s notable number is 14.

Fourteen is the number worn on the jerseys of Texas defensive back Dylan Haines and wide receiver Kai Locksley. Sophomore Chris Warren III turned 14 carries into 46 yards in Texas’ season-opener. No Longhorn has caught more passes in a bowl game than Quan Cosby did when he hauled in 14 passes in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.

Fourteen also accounts for the number of rushing touchdowns compiled by senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes as the Longhorns’ “18-Wheeler.”

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The 18-Wheeler short-yardage package — nicknamed as much for Swoopes’ physical running style as his jersey number — made its first appearance in last year’s 30-27 loss to Oklahoma State. It calls for Texas’ 6-4, 249-pound backup quarterback to enter a game and often run with the football, usually in short-yardage or goal-line situations.

The Notre Dame game marked the 10th game for the 18-Wheeler package. Here’s a statistical look at what it’s produced:

  • So far, Swoopes has rushed 71 times for 479 yards. That’s an average of 6.7 yards per carry, and it includes 14 touchdowns and 25 first downs.
  • Swoopes also has completed 39 of 69 passes for 436 yards and another four touchdowns.
  • Only seven other quarterbacks in the country have at least 12 rushing touchdowns since the start of the 2015 season — Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. (21), South Florida’s Quinton Flowers (14), Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (13), Kansas State’s Joe Hubener (13), Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (12), Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (12) and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (12). Swoopes is tied for second-most on that list.

“It’s a package that has been very successful for us,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said, “so we’ll continue to use it.”

This week, Strong said that despite the pleadings from Swoopes himself, he won’t let players hit the quarterback during practice. Why? To protect defenders, not Swoopes.

“I’m not going to let him run over one of my defensive backs out there,” Strong said.

Does Swoopes look for contact?

“Sometimes, when the opportunity presents itself,” Swoopes said. “You’ve gotta do what you’ve got to do for the good of the team, to get a first down, get a touchdown.”

The 18-Wheeler package made its debut while Jay Norvell was running Texas’ offense last year, and it survived the transition to Sterlin Gilbert. In his first game with Gilbert calling the plays, Swoopes rushed for 53 yards and three touchdowns in the 50-47 win over Notre Dame. He ran the ball 13 times and threw one pass in his 18 snaps.

“We had a really good feeling about the things we wanted to do with him,” Gilbert said. “Those are just things that we’ve carried in our offense, and it’s about being creative and being able to set it up and put guys in a situation to be successful.”

Swoopes disclosed this week that he had approached Strong about changing his jersey number, since he had worn single-digit numbers in the past. Strong, though, said no. The “1-Wheeler” (Swoopes wore No. 1 at Whitewright High School), after all, just doesn’t have the same ring as the 18-Wheeler.

“It’s a good name, I guess. It goes with the number,” Swoopes said. “I asked coach Strong a couple times to change the number, but he’s, like, no, you’ve made a name with that number, so just keep it.”

PAST NOTABLE NUMBERS

Aug. 31: 4, and Texas’ receivers

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