AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Charlie Strong long ago promised that what happened last season at Texas won’t happen again.
Considering the Longhorns went 6-7 and collapsed with two of their worst games at the end, what choice did he have?
“It’s partially my fault,” Strong said. “A lot of times when you walk into a program and there’s been tradition established, there’s passion in the program, and everything. You think about facilities, you think about resources, everything is here.
“It’s almost where you feel like you’re just going to go in and push a button and it will just roll and it will continue to roll,” Strong said. “It didn’t happen.”
Strong’s 2015 appears to be off to a better start with the opener coming up fast. He started training camp without the host of suspensions that dominated last year’s session, keeping the questions focused on what’s happening on the field. And there are plenty of questions.
None are bigger than quarterback, where Tyrone Swoopes’ shaky play last season was a target for criticism through every loss — from his five turnovers against TCU to the Longhorns’ paltry 59 total yards in a bowl loss to Arkansas.
With those sour memories still festering, Strong is giving redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard a chance to win the job. He said both quarterbacks will play in the season-opener at Notre Dame.
Strong has had an interesting offseason.
He was thrust into an awkward deposition in a lawsuit by Oklahoma State against Texas assistant coach Joe Wickline that is probing just who calls the plays for the Longhorns. And he’s reshaping the Texas offense to ditch his old power-football formula in favor of the spread, hoping for the same sort of success that pushed TCU toward the top of the Big 12.
Here are some things to watch for with the Longhorns in 2015:
MR. POPULAR: If the quarterback who starts at Notre Dame struggles, no player will be more in the spotlight than the backup watching from the Texas sideline. The first incomplete pass or stalled drive is sure to start the calls for a QB change. Texas fans were frustrated by Swoopes’ lack of development last season and won’t be patient with the quarterbacks this year.
IN THE MIDDLE: The gem of the 2015 recruiting class was five-star middle linebacker Malik Jefferson, who already is being groomed as the anchor of the defense. He’ll have to grow into the job, but Jefferson has looked early like he’s already one of the best players on a unit that lost most of its top playmakers.
BIG PLAY DAJE: Wide receiver Daje Johnson has been an empty promise the last three seasons. A fast and gifted runner in the open field, Johnson has drawn more attention with suspensions and time spent on the sideline rather than carrying the ball. Strong didn’t kick him off the team for past misdeeds and now the Longhorns need a playmaker in their new spread offense.
JOHNATHAN GRAY: The senior tailback has been solid but has never quite lived up to the hype from a high school career that set a national record for touchdowns. After three seasons and one Achilles tendon tear, Gray has 2,118 yards and 14 touchdowns.
HOME STRETCH: Even if Texas takes a beating in the first half of the season — Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma in the first six games — the Longhorns have a late stretch of five straight games against teams picked to finish behind them in the Big 12. A five-game win streak could build valuable momentum heading into the season finale at Baylor.