Freshman Heard sparks Texas

Published 12:59 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

AUSTIN (AP) — Finally given the ball, Jerrod Heard delivered what the Texas coaching staff had said he wasn’t ready to do: win and provide some hope for a struggling program.

It will matter little that it all came together against Rice on Saturday night in a rivalry so lopsided that even President John Kennedy joked about it more than 50 years ago.

Heard threw two long touchdowns and ran for 96 yards in his first career start, leading the Longhorns (1-1) to a 42-28 victory.

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“We just felt like, ‘Let’s give Jerrod a chance. Let’s see what he does.’ He’s one of those guys who’s going to jump out there with a lot of juice,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said.

After a dispiriting season-opening loss at Notre Dame, Texas will surely find some new energy in their spunky and speedy redshirt freshman, who had failed to unseat junior Tyrone Swoopes last year and in training camp after theLonghorns went 6-7 in 2014.

But Strong changed play callers this week, taking the job from assistant head coach Shawn Watson and giving it to first-year wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. Watson had insisted Heard wasn’t ready to start and was woefully behind Swoopes, who was 5-8 as a starter in his career, in development.

Strong gave Heard a chance anyway and he delivered a much-needed win with pizazz. After one long run in the second half, Heard turned into a showman, stopping to do several push-ups in the middle of the field.

“What everyone wanted to see was something different. Some change,” Strong said. “He can make plays. He’s a winner.”

Daje Johnson added an 85-yard punt return for a first-quarter touchdown. Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson scooped a fumble — one of five Rice turnovers — and ran 26 yards for a touchdown in the third that made it 35-14.

With Heard and Norvell at the controls, the Longhorns had only 277 total yards on offense, but didn’t have a turnover while topping 40 points for just the second time in 15 games under Strong. Heard was 4-of-7 passing for 120 yards.

Heard said he didn’t know until right before the game he was going to start.

“My goal was to bring a spark,” Heard said. “I felt like coach was gonna use me, probably situationally, (on) third down.”

Jefferson sounded off on some frustration that Heard hadn’t been given a chance until now.

“All the guys wanted to see him play. He’d been held back, like in a prison cell,” Jefferson said.

Heard’s first drive covered 80 yards in nine plays. His first run went 35 yards on a scramble out of the backfield. His second completion went 32 yards to Armanti Foreman for a touchdown.

Texas led 21-0 after the first quarter, scoring more points than it had the previous three games dating back to last season.

Rice (1-1) cut the Texas lead to 21-14 on two acrobatic scoring runs by Samuel Stewart. On the first, he kept his legs pumping when tackled by freshman John Bonney, rolling over the defensive back without ever touching the ground. Stewart victimized Bonney again by leaping over him at the goal line.

Rice was driving for another score late in the half before Dylan Haines stepped in front of a Driphus Jackson pass for an interception at the goal line.

Heard struck again in the third quarter, delivering a perfect 69-yard touchdown throw to freshman John Burt on the first play of the second half.

Stewart’s 130 yards rushing led Rice, which hasn’t beaten Texas since 1994 and hasn’t won in Austin since 1965.

“We came in here expecting to win,” Rice coach David Baliff said. “We believe we had the better team.”