New QB Jerrod Heard offers hope for Texas
This isn’t how 2015 was supposed to go for the Texas Longhorns. They entered the year with junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes under center in what seemed likely to be a transition season for the program. A Big 12 title challenge never looked likely, but a steady 7- or 8-win season would have shown progress for the Longhorns.
However, an embarrassing 38-3 defeat in the season opener against Notre Dame forced the Longhorns to go straight to their backup plan. The offensive staff was rearranged and Swoopes benched in an effort to breathe life into the team, with redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard taking over as the starting quarterback.
With just one win in three games since the changes, the results haven’t immediately followed, which leaves Texas facing an uphill struggle just to reach bowl eligibility, never mind improve upon last season’s record. However, the Longhorns have been more competitive since making those changes. They lost narrowly to Cal and Oklahoma State, and would have taken both games to overtime if not for special teams mishaps.
That improved competitiveness offers little immediate consolation — after all, a loss is a loss. But their hopes of turning those tight defeats into victories are largely dependent on the development of Heard, and his play has provided some optimism.
In three starts since replacing Swoopes, Heard’s elusive running has helped him to an impressive +5.9 rushing grade, which ranks top 10 in the nation. His -7.3 passing grade offers a clue as to why he originally lost out to Swoopes in the offseason, but there are promising signs for him in this area as well. Heard has an impressive 82.0 accuracy percentage, which shows that he is finding his targets with catchable balls, but 12.7 percent of those have been dropped. Heard has also completed 9-of-10 deep passes, throws that have travelled in the air for 20 or more yards downfield, which suggests that arm strength isn’t an issue.
So if Heard is flashing ability as a passer, why does he have a negative passing grade? It’s simple really: inexperience.
Heard’s first issue is failing to see the whole field, and instead locking onto a target. The interception he threw against Cal is a prime example of that, as Heard was only ever looking to the right, then forced a throw to WR John Burt despite the linebacker lurking underneath. That was an easy pick.
The second issue is decision-making, as Heard takes too long to read a defense and make decisions, which requires a struggling offensive line to hold its blocks for longer.
The third and perhaps most obvious issue is Heard’s faith in his legs to get him out of trouble. Heard will try to dance around the defense to make the big play, rather than simply throwing the ball away. Sometimes that works, but the play below from late in the Oklahoma State game is one where it didn’t; instead it cost the Longhorns four yards, leaving them with a 3-and-10 that they failed to convert.
These are all typical freshman failings, and fixable with coaching and experience. Heard has already demonstrated that he has the skill set to be a very good college quarterback — the next step is learning how. If given the patience to do so, Texas could reap a large reward. But with TCU on the schedule this week and Oklahoma the following week, Heard is going to have to grow up fast.