Tyrone Swoopes enters Texas games in short-yard situations. The defense knows what’s coming – a simple run from the 6-foot-4, 244-pound quarterback for a first down – yet they have trouble containing the bruising rusher.
The soft-spoken junior from Whitewright — a small Texas town of 1,612 — plays a key role in the Longhorns’ offense, despite being listed as the second-string quarterback after starting 12 games in 2014. The short-yardage package, nicknamed the ‘18-wheeler package’ for Swoopes’ No. 18 jersey number, has been an important part of Texas’ recent success. Swoopes has rushed for five touchdowns and 124 yards in the ‘18-wheeler’s’ four-game debut.
“[Swoopes] has done a great job,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “Now when he comes in, the whole team gets excited. If it’s third-and-1, you know he’s going to fall forward and get a first down … He’s so physical and strong. Great thing about him, he can throw the football, too. It’s a good package for us.”
Swoopes had an up-and-down year in 2014. He threw for 2,409 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He had a two-game stretch against Oklahoma and Iowa State where he passed for more than 600 combined yards and three touchdowns. But Swoopes finished on a sour note with a four-interception game against TCU and a 57-yard passing game against Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
He could’ve checked out on the Longhorns after a disappointing season opener against Notre Dame, when he threw for only 93 yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard was named the starting quarterback shortly thereafter. But Strong told Swoopes to keep his head up, help Heard make the transition to the starting role and wait for an opportunity to make an impact.
The Longhorns began running Swoopes’ package against Oklahoma State, which is similar to a package that wide receivers coach and play-caller Jay Norvell ran during his time at Oklahoma. Norvell said Swoopes is a better athlete than previous quarterbacks to run the package.
“Tyrone has got more speed than [former Oklahoma quarterback] Blake Bell ever had,” Norvell said. “Tyrone’s just a unique athlete. He’s a big, physical, competitive guy. The things that we’re doing with him are natural for him.”
With a new opportunity to play with the ‘18-wheeler,’ Swoopes has embraced his new role.
“I enjoy [my role],” Swoopes said. “It’s fun. When we go out there, everybody kind of knows what’s going on, so our offensive linemen, the running backs, the tight ends do a great job of blocking it. We just go out and do our thing.”
After Swoopes’ breakout game against Kansas State, when he scored three touchdowns and rushed for 50 yards, his teammates are excited to see him get his chance.
“I get so excited when the 18-wheeler gets up there,” Heard said. “I know he’s going to score. Nobody’s going to stop him. When they call the 18-wheeler package, we already know it’s a touchdown.”
The Longhorns hope to expand Swoopes’ role as the season progresses. They hope he continues his success. They look forward to the ‘18-wheeler’ trucking his way to first downs and touchdowns.