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Charlie Strong gives Texas fans long-awaited reason for optimism in Notre Dame win

Over the past two seasons, few coaches have been under the microscope on a weekly basis the way Charlie Strong has at Texas. Part of that come switch the job of simply being the head coach of the Texas Longhorns. On Sunday night against Notre Dame, Strong and the Longhorns finally showed some life and reason for optimism about the rest of the season.

Is it a quick reaction to suggest Texas is back on track after just one game? Absolutely, but there were some real reasons to believe things may start being different around Austin. Texas had a legitimate question mark at the quarterback position entering the season. Tyrone Swoopes had his ups and downs already under Strong and it was believed Shane Buechele was struggling in training camp this summer before ultimately getting the first snaps with the offense against Notre Dame. So much for all of that.

Buechele showed off what he can do with his arm at times, dropping some clean passes for big gains on his way to passing for a pair of touchdowns and 280 yards. Strong was committed to playing both of his quarterbacks though, and Swoopes did not disappoint on the ground. Swoopes attempted just one pass, which fell incomplete, but he provided a charge with 13 rushing attempts for 53 yards and three touchdowns. The last two came in overtime, with the second lifting the Longhorns to a wild win. In an ideal world, Strong would likely prefer to have one quarterback he can roll with, the way he did at Louisville with Teddy Bridgewater, but good coaches adapt to thrive with what they have to work with. At Texas, Strong now knows he has two quarterbacks who can provide different abilities to his offense, and after seeing how effective it was against Notre Dame, he will be wise to keep giving that combination a go in the games to come.

For one night, it looked like football was fun again in Austin, but the Longhorns still have some work to do before they can be considered “back.” It is incredibly easy to make rash decisions about a team after one game of the season, so when analyzing where Texas is now it is easy to get caught up in the emotion of an exhilarating double-overtime victory against Notre Dame. The win helps make up for Texas blowing a 17-point lead in the second half and having a special teams snafu turn a go-ahead touchdown into a game-tying two-point conversion for the Irish (that was crazy, wasn’t it?), as well as some serious errors in simply snapping the football. Texas may have won the game, but Strong still has moments he can point to and educate his players as they begin to learn how to win. When you are up 17 points midway through the third quarter, yo have to learn to close the deal. Texas didn’t exactly do that, so there is room to grow. Good teams win games. Great teams slam the door shut in doing so (See: Alabama vs. USC).

Texas is now putting the rest of the Big 12 on notice, which is fair, but now is not the time to begin discussing the Longhorns as a playoff contender. Let’s at least get through Week 2 before dipping our toes in that conversation. But it’s hard not to look at what happened Sunday night and not come away thinking Texas may finally be turning things around under Strong. From the day he was hired, I said he will need a few recruiting cycles and time to get his plan to start coming together. It could be coming together this year.

As for Notre Dame, it is premature to suggest they are going to have a rough season. Brian Kelly may have outsmarted himself with his quarterback roulette. DeShone Kizer was clearly better than Malik Zaire in the first game of the season, although with Nevada this week in South Bend it may be an opportunity to give Zaire a few more reps before Kelly ultimately decides to run his offense with his best offensive player on a full-time basis. Maybe Notre Dame missed out on a score in regulation by not having Kizer on the field as often as he was worthy of, and that should fall on Kelly’s lack of decision-making. This is not the first time we have been given a reason to question Kelly’s decision-making, nor will it be the last. But anyone who watched Notre Dame’s offense against Texas Sunday night knows Kizer is the player that gives Notre Dame the best chance to win.

Even with the quarterback situation, it was Notre Dame’s defense that failed the Irish in Week 1. The Irish were gutted by Texas far too often, although the defense did help bring the Irish back in the second half. But they gave up 517 yards and 50 points, albeit 50 of those yhards and 13 of those points came in overtime (which still means Notre Dame allowed 467 yards and 37 points in regulation.

Notre Dame as a playoff contender is now an afterthought, at least for a while. I would not count them out of a 10-win season based on this result, however. Notre Dame should still have a terrific season, even if the defense has holes and shortcomings.

Texas and Notre Dame was a greta way to close out our first weekend of college football, but we still have one more game to go tonight with Florida State and Ole Miss squaring of in Orlando. It will be tough to top what we watched in Texas, but I look forward to seeing the Seminoles and Rebels try.

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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.
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