Whoever ends up starting at quarterback against Notre Dame — whether that be true freshman Shane Buechele or senior Tyrone Swoopes — will have to step up big time. Really big time. Quarterback is the one position to have consistently let Texas down the past six seasons. If head coach Charlie Strong hopes to stick around for a fourth year in Austin, he’ll need much better production behind center. Strong said at his Monday press conference that he already knows who will start, but that everyone else will have to wait and see for themselves on Sunday night. If Swoopes gets the nod, then put simply, he will have to be better than last year’s game in South Bend. He completed only seven of his 22 throws for 93 yards. If it’s Buechele, then he’ll become the first freshman quarterback to start a Texas opener since Colt McCoy.
The backfield duo of junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren III is the foundation of new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense. Establishing the running game early on will be crucial if Texas hopes to start its season with a win. Foreman and Warren have to help alleviate pressure off of whoever starts at quarterback. Texas has to stay out of third-and-long situations, something it failed to do last year against Notre Dame. If Texas can the run the ball effectively then it may have a chance against the Fighting Irish.
Texas has had a shaky offensive line for the better part of Charlie Strong’s tenure in Austin, but this season’s unit is hoping to change that. The Longhorns return three starters from last year — senior Kent Perkins and sophomores Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe. Junior Tristan Nickelson and freshman Zach Shackelford are also projected starters, but both, along with Vahe, suffered injuries in the preseason. Their statuses for Sunday remain up in the air, and redshirt junior Brandon Hodges and sophomore Jake McMillon will likely see lots of playing time. Regardless, the Longhorns will need a great game from their offensive line if they hope to win. Notre Dame dominated Texas at the line of scrimmage in last year’s contest, and the trenches will likely be the deciding factor again on Sunday.
The defensive line was arguably the weakest component of last year’s team as it struggled tremendously against stopping the run. The Longhorns finished eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. This year, Texas is without former tackle Hassan Ridgeway and will be looking for players like senior Paul Boyette Jr. and junior Poona Ford to fill his shoes. The Longhorns also haven’t had a serious pass rush threat in a few years. Junior Naashon Hughes and sophomore Charles Omenihu are two largely unproven defensive ends who will need to put pressure on Notre Dame’s two-quarterback attack. Texas has to win up front if it wants to beat the Fighting Irish.