Texas head coach Charlie Strong enacted some bold decisions to address the Longhorns’ dismal Week 1 loss at Notre Dame, which on the football calendar, fell immediately after a dismal showing in the Texas Bowl loss to Arkansas.
Shawn Watson is out as offensive play-caller; Jay Norvell is in. Tyrone Swoopes is out at starting quarterback; Jerrod Heard is in.
Both Jay Norvell and Jerrod Heard vindicated Strong last Saturday, with the Longhorns hanging a previously unfathomable 44 points on a good Cal team.
Ultimately, though, a win eluded the Longhorns. They now sit at 1-2, and on the other side of Saturday’s home game against Oklahoma State are games against TCU and Oklahoma.
Saturday is it. Now or never, sink or swim, take your choice of hackneyed sports cliches that apply to a must-win scenario, and they apply to the Longhorns against Oklahoma State. A 1-3 start is a possible, if not probable prelude to a 1-5 start.
Getting to 2-2, however, is a beacon of hope for a salvageable season. And “hope” is the keyword emanating from Austin with Jerrod Heard now at quarterback.
“He’s built so much confidence in the rest of the team just by his play-making ability,” Strong said on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference call.
Moreover, 2-2 is really 1-0, as Saturday marks the beginning of Big 12 play.
“Our mindset is to go out and win the conference,” Strong said.
In certain ways, Texas-Oklahoma State is reminiscent of Strong’s 2011 Louisville Cardinals facing then-Big East Conference foe Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights were solid that season, winning nine games and contending for the Big East championship. Louisville was treading water, fresh off a trio of losses to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati in which the Cardinals scored a total of 36 points.
Strong replaced offensive coordinator Mike Sanford with Watson during that losing streak, and tabbed ballyhooed true freshman Teddy Bridgewater the new starting quarterback ahead of Will Stein.
Bridgewater picked up his first of many career wins against Rutgers. He was wholly unspectacular that day — 10-of-18 for 122 yards with a touchdown and pick — but the victory was a turning point.
Louisville won five of its final six, including a 38-35 decision over Big East champion West Virginia in which star Bridgewater emerged.
Star Heard has already made his debut, coming off a 364-yard passing, 163 yards and three touchdowns rushing performance in the loss to Cal. Talk about setting a high bar; his total yardage puts him among the best single games in Texas football history.
“The things he does within the team just gets everyone charged up,” Strong said.
With Texas’ offense recharged, the next step is shoring the defensive woes that hampered the Longhorns at Notre Dame and against Cal. Oklahoma State’s typically potent offense should test the Longhorns once more, though Texas bullied the Cowboys a season ago in a game sure to draw mention in the coming days.
In deposition for the ongoing Joe Wickline case, Strong said of Oklahoma State “they weren’t very good.”
Missed this earlier. In deposition, Charlie Strong was told he beat Oklahoma State, 28-7, correct? He said, "But they weren't very good."
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) April 9, 2015
Wickline isn’t the only direct connection between Oklahoma State and Texas, either. Jerrod Heard once played behind Cowboy reserve quarterback J.W. Walsh at Denton Guyer High School in North Texas.
There’s plenty at play Saturday in Austin to differentiate this from your typical 3-0 vs. 1-2 matchup.