Four months after the Longhorns’ 31–7 loss to Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, head coach Charlie Strong still has a bitter taste in his mouth.
“[The loss] burns; it will continue to burn,” Strong said in February. “I guess what burns you more than anything is that when you go and compete, and you feel like we didn’t compete at the level that we should.”
Strong’s first chance this season to get the team competing at his desired level arose in late March when the members of the spring 2015 roster took the field for four weeks of spring practices, all leading up to this weekend’s Orange-White game. The practices yielded several changes for the team, including a revamped up-tempo spread offense that will be put on display Saturday for the first time.
While the offense is a work in progress, Strong expressed satisfaction with what he has seen so far.
“Just with us installing the new offense and trying to tweak it, I think that we’re looking at each day trying to get better, and we’re accomplishing that,” Strong said.
The Longhorns hope their new offense will be a better fit for the team, allowing for a faster-paced offense.
“It allows us to go out there and play aggressively,” senior lineman Marcus Hutchins said. “I think this year, with this offense and tempo, our speed will fit us even better, and I’m excited to play in it.”
In addition to scheme changes, Strong hopes that competition will generate improvement. The Longhorns have already had several key position battles this spring, including a quarterback duel between junior Tyrone Swoopes and redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard.
Swoopes took most of the first-team reps in spring practices, but Heard is not far behind. Most recently, Strong said Heard’s play was better, but lacked Swoopes’ consistency.
Senior running back Johnathan Gray praised both quarterbacks and said he expects them to be ready come Saturday.
“You’re going to see a smarter Jerrod [Heard] and a smarter Swoopes — guys who can operate the offense and bring us to where we need to be,” Gray said.
On the other side of the ball, senior Peter Jinkens, junior Timothy Cole and redshirt freshman Edwin Freeman will be competing for the vacancies at the linebacker position left by injured players and departing seniors.
Other notable position battles include the wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line — positions that gave the Longhorns trouble last year.
While Strong said he’s satisfied with the team’s progress, they will have their first chance to demonstrate that progress Saturday.
“On Saturday, it’s going to be different,” Hutchins said. “It’s going to be a different era — a different team. You just got to tune in and watch.”