AUSTIN, Texas -- The thousands of fans in ponchos who watched Texas’ rain-shortened spring game Saturday might tell you this is no battle. It’s a safe bet they went home convinced the rookie is going to be the guy.
Shane Buechele might not have that effect on his coaches just yet, but he made one heck of an audition in his spring-game debut. The true freshman threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-41 passing and proved he can comfortably operate Texas’ new high-tempo offense.
“You can tell he impressed a lot of people today,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
The quarterback he’s pushing, senior Tyrone Swoopes, completed 4 of 16 passes for 71 yards and tossed two interceptions. Neither performance compelled Texas’ coaching staff to name a starter or even set a deadline for a decision.
“Shane did have a good day, a really good day,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Tyrone has had his days. He didn’t have it today, but at practice, you see it happening.”
First-year offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said he’ll judge those spring-game showings as just one more practice and one more data point in his process toward determining who will lead the Longhorns into their season opener against Notre Dame.
“We still got a lot of work to do. We still got a lot of football left,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got the summer and we’ve got two-a-days. There’s still a lot of process, a lot of evaluations go through and a lot of reps. By no means did anybody play perfect today.”
The highlights of Buechele’s day came on a perfectly placed 27-yard touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman and an easy 65-yard score to a streaking John Burt. He looked confident executing at a faster tempo, moved around quickly in the pocket and showed a willingness to take hits in the run game.
“The day he stepped on this campus, he’s been a guy that you know will be relaxed and patient,” Strong said. “Nothing is going to fluster him.”
Swoopes’ shaky performance had little to do with being flustered. Several of his throws were dropped. A well-thrown deep ball to DeAndre McNeal should’ve resulted in a long touchdown, but cornerback Antwuan Davis ripped the ball out of McNeal’s hands for an interception. Swoopes’ other turnover came on a tipped ball.
His numbers might have improved had Texas played the second half of its spring game, but Strong agreed to end the scrimmage after 110 plays and 100 minutes because of the weather. Neither quarterback was made available to reporters afterward.
Another factor in the race: the contender who didn’t play. Jerrod Heard, the Longhorns’ 10-game starter a year ago, sat out the last two weeks of practice and the spring game with a shoulder injury.
Losing him during the installation phase of the new scheme was a setback, but it also bought Texas’ coaches more time. Heard will be given a shot to prove he’s the guy before the big decision is made.
Gilbert acknowledged it’s the most important decision the Longhorns must make before the season. Strong confessed he’d like to make the call “way before” the Notre Dame game.
“When we make that decision, it won’t be a tie,” Strong said. “It’ll be a guy who’s clearly stepped out and, boom, that’s the guy, let’s go with him and let’s go play.”
And when might that occur? The head coach is staying coy about his timeline.
“When you get to August,” he said, “it’ll be a really good competition.”