Imagine buying your dream car. It has all the bells and whistles you can imagine, but just two weeks after you drive it off the lot, two of the tires are flat; the air conditioning breaks; the power windows stop working; the navigation screen burns out; and two of the speakers blow out.
That’s kind of how new Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong must feel about his offense right now.
When Strong took over one of the most prestigious jobs in the country in January, the offense didn’t look too bad. His starting quarterback was returning for his third year at the helm; he had one of the best running back tandems in the country; three of the top four receivers from last season were coming back; and the offensive line looked solid.
But, heading into the third week of his first season in Austin, Strong will likely only have five of his 11 projected preseason starters playing against UCLA, and the offense looks hopeless.
Redshirt junior quarterback David Ash is out for the foreseeable future because of his concussion symptoms, which returned after the season opener against North Texas.
“David [Ash] is indefinitely out until the doctors decide — the doctors are going to make a decision,” Strong said. “Tyrone [Swoopes] is our quarterback, and he’s going to be our quarterback, and we’re just going to go with him.”
Fifth-year senior center Dominic Espinosa, who was expected to be the leader of a relatively inexperienced offensive line, is likely out for the season after breaking his ankle.
Junior wide receiver Daje Johnson, Texas’ best big-play threat, senior Kennedy Estelle and junior Desmond Harrison are all still suspended over violation of team rules.
“You get frustrated because you look at a talented group of players that you have to suspend that could really be helping this football team,” Strong said. “But who knows if they can be? Because they can’t even do the little things we ask them to do.”
And senior Jaxon Shipley, the Longhorns’ most consistent receiver from a year ago, has been listed as questionable for this weekend after suffering a head injury against BYU, according to Texas officials.
All in all, that’s six potential Texas starters who will be out against the Bruins on Saturday, and we’re barely into September.
The injuries to Ash and Espinosa appear to be long-term, and it’s unknown how long the suspensions will last, so it’s going to be up to the current group to turn it around for the Longhorns.
“We have a good football team, and we have what we need,” Strong said. “We can get it done with it, and we will continue to get it done with it.”
Five of those six were out last week, with Shipley being the exception, and the struggle was evident.
The patchwork offensive line didn’t establish any chemistry as BYU defenders were in the backfield on what seemed like every other play. The lack of a push stalled the running game, disrupting the Longhorns’ conservative game plan.
In his first start, Swoopes was solid but wasn’t much of a threat to run and never really had a chance to show off his arm strength. That should change this week as Strong and offensive play-caller Shawn Watson have vowed to open up the playbook for the sophomore gunslinger.
“We always keep [Swoopes] growing,” Watson said. “We’re working with a young offensive line and still putting those guys together, but we’ll keep pushing [Swoopes]. We’ll keep pushing the pieces that we have.”
Strong and his staff appear confident in their ability to replace each of the broken pieces in their brand new vehicle, but it’ll be difficult to get the same performance from the new parts as they did when they drove it off the lot.