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Longhorns to debut spread offense

| Friday, September 4, 2015

That Texas head coach Charlie Strong decided to go in a different direction offensively after last season shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Despite playing in the Big 12, where defense can seem optional from time to time, the Longhorns offense struggled last season, finishing in the bottom fifth of all FBS schools in both scoring and total offense, leading Strong and his coaches to re-tool the unit headed into 2015, moving to a spread offense.

It means Notre Dame’s defensive unit won’t have much film to go off headed into the opener, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he expects there to be some curveballs from the Longhorns’ unit.

“We have [Texas’] spring game [to prepare off], but that’s about it,” Kelly said. “Unless we miss our mark, we are certainly going to see some things that we haven’t seen before.”

The question marks when the Longhorns have the ball will go well beyond simply the scheme they play, as personnel questions surround the team heading into the season opener. Strong named junior Tyrone Swoopes the team’s starting quarterback ahead of the Notre Dame showdown but also said freshman Jerrod Heard will be involved in the offense.

“We’re going to start off with Tyrone Swoopes,” Strong said. “Swoopes is going to start the game, and then Heard is going to play. He’s going to get enough snaps in … you have two quarterbacks that have really worked hard, have competed, have pushed one another, so just really excited about watching those two guys go out and compete.”

Kelly said the two different quarterbacks for the Longhorns bring different things to the table.

“We are preparing for the Swoopes kid that is certainly a kid who throws it,” Kelly said. “ … Then another quarterback, the Heard kid who can run the football, so you have to prepare for both of them.”

The newness of the Texas offense expands beyond the scheme or the two-quarterback system — three true freshmen will start for the unit against the Irish: receiver John Burt and offensive linemen Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe, who will start at left tackle and right guard, respectively.

Strong said he expects his freshman lineman to deal with pressure from the Irish defense and expressed concern Notre Dame will target them.

“Those two freshmen linemen, it’s a concern because you just don’t know how quickly it’s going to tick for them,” the Longhorns head coach said. “And I always say this, as a defensive coach, if I see two freshmen linemen I’m going to blitz you every snap … we’ve just got to be ready to just make sure we can keep it — make sure we can balance our offense and make sure that we don’t allow them to pressure and put the pressure on those two guys.”

At the same time, Strong expressed confidence in his youth, mentioning the trio wouldn’t be starting if they weren’t good enough.

“If you’re talented enough, you can go get on the field, but let’s put them on the field,” Strong said. “That’s what we’ve done, and this is a freshman group that have worked really hard, and they want to play.”

For all the change to the offense in Austin this offseason, the easiest thing for the Irish to prepare for may be the scheme, as Kelly said he anticipates his unit’s familiarity with other spread units to help.

“It becomes something that we are very familiar with in playing a number of spread teams,” he said. “So we are going into the game preparing against the spread and tempo, for that matter.”

Despite the question marks around his unit heading into the opener, Strong said he expects Notre Dame’s experienced defense to be well prepared for his offense.

“They have a lot of good defensive personnel coming back, and so I don’t think you’re gonna surprise them,” Strong said. “I don’t think we can surprise them at all.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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