The stands weren’t full at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, but the crowd noise rose to fill the void when redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard took the field against Rice.
Heard, who started his first collegiate game for the Longhorns in front of 86,458 fans Saturday, threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns, adding 96 rushing yards as he led Texas to a 48-28 win.
“I didn’t even know [I was going to start] until the game,” Heard said. “From my position and where I’ve been with the team, I always have to be ready for that time to come. That’s my role — to be ready when my number is called.”
In his first drive as the starter, Heard led Texas down the field. He broke out a 50-yard run, but it was called back for an illegal block in the back. Even so, Heard capped a nine-play drive with a 32-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Armanti Foreman to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead.
“We felt like [Jerrod] gave us a spark — a spark that we needed to go win,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “I wanted him to go out and compete.”
Texas built off Heard’s spark with an electric kick return from senior wide receiver Daje Johnson. Johnson broke out of two tackles and returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0.
On the following defensive possession, the Longhorns forced the Owls to punt. Senior cornerback Duke Thomas returned the punt 56 yards to the Rice six-yard line, and Texas capitalized on the short field with a one-yard touchdown run from senior running back Johnathan Gray.
After a great start, Texas struggled in the second quarter. The Longhorns gave up two rushing touchdowns to Rice redshirt freshman running back Samuel Stewart.
The Owls had a chance to tie the game at 21 at the end of the half, but junior Haines intercepted a pass from Rice redshirt senior quarterback Driphus Jackson.
Texas answered Rice’s strong second quarter with a 69-yard touchdown pass from Heard to freshman wide receiver John Burt. The play — Texas’ first of the third quarter — pushed the Longhorns’ lead to 28-14. Texas added two touchdowns in the third quarter from a fumble recovery by freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson and a two-yard rush from sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman.
Rice scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but the Longhorns secured a 42-28 win.
Although Texas won, its defense struggled against Rice, giving up 462 yards.
Despite the defensive troubles, Strong said Texas successfully fed off the energy Heard brought to the field.
“I said that we need to play with some energy, and we need to have some passion out there tonight,” Strong said. “When your quarterback has juice, then your team is going to have juice. And [Heard] has a lot of it. And so the team feeds off him.”
After Saturday’s win, Strong said Heard will continue to get first-team reps going forward. Although they played in front of a smaller crowd than usual, the Longhorns feel they can turn things around now.
“You never want to be on the bottom of the totem pole,” Jefferson said. “You always want to fix things that are broken, and this program isn’t broken. It’s just shaking a little bit.”