Swoopes and Co.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

STILLWATER, Okla. — On a night when temperatures dipped below 40 degrees, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes put the game on ice with a 45-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, sealing a 28-7 victory for the Longhorns.

The Texas defense stood tall all evening, and Swoopes and co. did more than enough to give the Longhorns their sixth win of the year. That was the magic number for head coach Charlie Strong, who is now bowl eligible in his first season at the helm.

“In the locker room, they’re just so happy,” Strong said. “I’m just so happy for them to get to a bowl game because, a few weeks ago, nobody thought we would be here; everybody just wrote us off.”

The offense was solid, but the Texas defense led the team to its third consecutive victory Saturday, holding Oklahoma State off the scoreboard through the first three quarters of the game.

The majority of the defense’s success came as a result of its stellar pass rush, which recorded seven sacks and spent a good part of the night in the Cowboys’ backfield, making it tough for quarterback Daxx Garman to get anything going.

No one player was particularly dominant for the defense, but the entire unit played well, limiting mistakes and coming up with big plays all game long. In all, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford’s bunch forced two turnovers and limited Oklahoma State to 192 yards of total offense in the contest.

“There was so much individual effort, but it was a team effort,” Strong said. “To just watch how hard they played, and, defensively, they had a shutout going for a long time.”

Offensively, Texas put together its most complete performance of the season, racking up a total of 430 yards.

After a few bad weeks, Swoopes picked up right where he left off against Iowa State, completing 73 percent of his passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns. The improved offensive line play gave the sophomore quarterback plenty of time to work through his reads and throw the deep ball with success.

“These last couple weeks I didn’t play too well, so to come in and have a game like this is a real confidence booster,” Swoopes said.

Senior receiver John Harris continued to pad his stats in what’s been an incredible season, snagging nine balls for 117 yards and a touchdown. That gives him 976 yards and seven scores on the year, as he looks to become the first Longhorn to cross the 1,000-yard plateau since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009.

“It’s a blessing to be in this position,” Harris said. “Not very many receivers here have done it. It’s been a challenge, but I can’t wait to get to 1,000 yards and be a part of that club.”

The Longhorns now have a week off before taking on TCU in Austin on Thanksgiving. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.

Texas Wins

… If the defense plays up to its standard. After poor performances against Iowa State and Kansas State, the Longhorns rebounded against Texas Tech, only allowing 225 passing yards against the pass-happy Red Raiders. If Texas can get another great performance from the defense, it can expect to become one win closer to bowl eligibility.

… If the running game can be productive. Texas hasn’t had the production that it expected from its rushing attack this season. With two good running backs in senior Malcolm Brown and junior Johnathan Gray, the Longhorns thought the running game would be their offensive identity, but that plan didn’t come to fruition. But against Texas Tech, the Longhorns finally got their first 100-yard rushing performance from Brown, and they amassed 241 rushing yards. If Texas can get the same production from Brown and Gray against West Virginia, Texas could pull off the upset.

If sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes continues to improve. Swoopes has had a whirlwind season full of ups and downs. The Longhorns will need Swoopes to be at the top of his game in order to beat West Virginia and keep their bowl hopes alive.

… If the special teams are perfect. Junior kicker Nick Rose had a pretty rough start to his season, but he’s continued to improve throughout the year. The punt-return and kick-return teams have also gotten better each week. If the special teams play an error-free game against the Mountaineers, Texas will be in a good position to win Saturday.

Texas Loses

… If the Longhorns can’t contain West Virginia’s passing attack. The Mountaineers rank 11th in passing yards per game, averaging 325.8 yards per contest. If Texas can’t stop West Virginia passing game, it will be a
long afternoon.

… If Texas can’t stop the Mountaineers’ leading receiver, Kevin White. The senior has recorded 1,075 receiving yards and eight touchdowns this season. If the Longhorns want to stop West Virginia’s passing attack, it’s imperative that they contain White.

… If the Longhorn offense struggles. While it may seem obvious, the Longhorn offense needs to play especially well to pull off a victory Saturday. Against top teams, such as Baylor and Kansas state, the offense has really struggled. Texas needs Swoopes and co. to be at their best to knock off the Mountaineers.

Stock Down: Tyrone Swoopes

It was an awful performance from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes last week against Baylor. He was slow running and terribly inaccurate on his passes. For a “running quarterback,” Swoopes went for just 40 yards on the ground on 14 carries. Junior running back Johnathan Gray had nearly twice that on fewer carries. But his errant passes were even more disappointing. After a couple of solid games against UCLA and Kansas, it looked like he was getting his feet under him, but he took a major step back last week. Swoopes was a paltry 16-for-34 with two interceptions. That’s good for a 7.2 QBR. As for the completions he did have, they were mostly low or behind the receiver, preventing any yards after the catch. Things get even tougher for Swoopes and Co. next week against Oklahoma. 

Stock Up: Johnathan Gray

Gray had by far his best game of the season, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. The only problem — he only got 12 of them. Gray was more effective than Brown and looks to be the top back right now. That coupled with Swoopes’ recent performance should scream more touches against an Oklahoma team that allows over 200 yards per game on the ground

Stock Down: Charlie Strong

There were times on Saturday when it felt like head coach Charlie Strong was completely out-coached. Despite being just 3-for-6 on the season, Nick Rose was trotted out to attempt a 52-yard field goal. Few in the stadium thought that was a good idea with a kicker who is shaky on extra points, let alone deep field-goal attempts. Baylor proved the doubters right, blocking the kick with ease and returning it for a touchdown. The play calling at times was a bit shaky too, as the Longhorns seemed to rely a little too much on the arm of Swoopes when the two running backs were averaging over 5.5 yards a carry. Some of that can be attributed to the offensive coordinator’s play calling, but Strong ultimately oversees an offense that is averaging a mere 18.4 points per game.

Stock Up: Duke Thomas

Since being burned for the winning touchdown against UCLA in Arlington, junior cornerback Duke Thomas has turned it around. He had his best game of the season the following week against Kansas and then kept the momentum rolling against Bryce Petty, Heisman hopeful and Baylor senior quarterback. Thomas and senior cornerback Quandre Diggs shut down Baylor’s dynamic passing game. Petty completed just seven passes en route to a 31.8 completion percentage in the contest. The defense, led by the defensive backs, kept the Longhorns in the game.

EFFECTIVE SWOOPES

For better or for worse — mostly worse so far — the Texas offense runs through sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Teams like Georgia can work around a mediocre quarterback by using talented running backs and strong offensive linemen, but Texas doesn’t have such a luxury.

Defenses in recent weeks have taken note of Swoopes’ ineffectiveness throwing the ball and have responded by playing press coverage and working to take away the run. Baylor played a huge portion of the game with a single high safety and man coverage across the board. A good quarterback would view that as an invitation to stretch the field, but Swoopes’ deep balls rarely hit their mark.

Oklahoma’s ability to confuse an offensive line and pressure the quarterback will only exacerbate the problem. If Swoopes cannot hit his receivers in stride and stand tall against the pressure, no one on the offense is good enough to pick up the slack on their own and the Golden Hat will make its way back to Norman.

STUFF THE RUN

Baylor’s offense was one of the most explosive in the country heading into last week’s game. The Longhorn front seven, though, was built to stop Baylor’s inside runs, and one of the most potent offenses in the country looked rather pedestrian until a string of three and outs by Swoopes and Co. exhausted the Texas defense.

Oklahoma likes to run the same inside zone reads that populate the Baylor playbook, but Sooner freshman running back Samaje Perine is better suited to bang around between the tackles than Baylor’s speedsters. 

The Texas defense can ruin the Sooners’ game plan if the defensive tackles can repeat last weekend’s efforts by plugging the gaps up the middle. Senior middle linebacker Steve Edmond will have to be up to the task of bringing down one of the most physical running backs in the country.

PRESSURE KNIGHT 

Oklahoma’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight has the mental faculties and arm strength to pick apart a secondary, if given enough time. His inexperienced receiving corps may not always get open quickly though.

Senior defensive end Cedric Reed has been stagnant all season, partly because of the mobile quarterbacks whom Texas has faced. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford may want to loosen the reigns on his NFL-bound defensive end and let him get to the quarterback any way he can. Knight can run, but he has not elected to do so very much this season, and his speed is not such that he can outrun a guy like Reed.

Knight is prone to the occasional bad outing, but the Longhorns will have to force one out of him. Fortunately for Texas, there is enough talent in the front seven to make that happen.