AUSTIN, Texas -- The curious case of Tyrone Swoopes is getting even harder to figure.
The Texas freshman quarterback could make his career debut on Saturday against Kansas State, a move that would thrill some factions of the Longhorn fan base and offend the rest.
He could be just the sprark Texas’ offensive is missing. Or the coaching staff could keep him on the bench and on track to redshirt. All options come with risk.
And Texas quarterback David Ash did practice on Wednesday, for the first time since suffering a concussion at BYU. No determination has been made if he’ll be ready to go for the K-State game. If he can’t, all eyes will be on Swoopes.
“If David doesn’t play this week, we will look at Tyrone,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound rookie elicited comparisons to Vince Young during his recruitment and impressed with his rushing talents in the only drive he played during Texas’ spring game. The coaching staff would prefer to let him sit back and learn in 2013. But can he be a game-changer right now?
The return of Ash only complicates this dilemma. Brown doesn’t want to do to Swoopes what he did to Case McCoy in 2010, when McCoy burned his redshirt just to make two brief appearances in games. He lost a year of eligibility for practically nothing, and that’s a fate coaches would prefer Swoopes avoids.
That’s why this decision requires some caution. Ash could return to the starting job quickly, creating little need for Swoopes.
This all could’ve been a different story had Swoopes not suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for much of fall camp. Even though he enrolled early in January, that August injury cost him the opportunity to prove he at least deserves a run-heavy package in the Longhorn offense.
Expect that to be the case if Swoopes does take the field against KSU. If his 10 spring-game snaps proved anything, it’s that he’s tough to bring down and elusive in the open field.
Swoopes would run a simplified offense on Saturday if given the chance, one with packages designed to highlight his strengths. The uncertainty of Ash’s status means Texas must prepare for all scenarios.
“Even if David plays, David could get hurt, Case could get hurt. He could be the only quarterback Saturday night,” Brown said. “So we've got to have him prepared, and that's what Major [Applewhite] has done for him. He's told him, 'You be prepared every week to play, and if you don't you're redshirted. But you be prepared every week.'”
At small-town Whitewright (Texas) High School, Swoopes rushed for 5,341 yards and 73 touchdowns in his career. Put him behind center at Texas and he creates new possibilities for the kind of read-option plays that UT opponents are using with serious success this fall.
When Ash went down, Brown and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite made plans. Swoopes would get ready to play against Ole Miss. But McCoy led Texas to 23 points in the first half, and during the break the coaches reconvened and agreed to stick with their starter.
“We're scoring points and moving the ball as an offense, so we'll leave him in,” Applewhite said. “Halftime, he was 13-15 [passing]. We were in a good position to keep Case in the game and making the right plays.”
So Swoopes’ redshirt lived another day. Chances are, he’ll get to keep it. Texas has a bye next weekend, giving Ash an extra 12 days to recover before the traveling to Iowa State. That just might make this week a now-or-never deal for Swoopes’ 2013 contribution. And that’s just if Ash doesn’t play.
Have a hard time keeping up with all that? Understandable. It’s a bit of a tangled situation, with a lot of ins, a lot of outs and a lot of what-have-you’s.
There’s only one way we’ll get a clear answer to all this on Saturday: if the kid in the No. 18 jersey runs onto the field to lead the Longhorn offense.