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'Horns unhooked

Texas is missing Vince Young-type leadership

Posted: Thursday October 4, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Thursday October 4, 2007 2:25PM
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Vince Young
Longhorns fans wish Vince Young was still playing for UT. The team could have used him in last Saturday's loss to Kansas State.
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Wearing a black "No. 10" Texas jersey, Vince Young received a loud ovation from the crowd at Royal-Memorial Stadium as he jogged on to the field for the coin toss prior to last Saturday's Kansas State-Texas game. Their appreciation for the 2005 Heisman runner-up likely grew that much stronger once the game kicked off.

In falling 41-21 to the unheralded Wildcats -- the worst home loss in 10 years under head coach Mack Brown -- the Longhorns seemed to send a message to their beloved ex-quarterback: We miss you, Vince. No, really. Here -- see for yourself.

While it was the first loss of the season for the 'Horns, hints of an implosion had been mounting for some time -- both on and off the field. Seven Texas players have been arrested since June, including safety Tyrell Gatewood (two drug possession charges) and running back James Henry (retaliation and tampering with physical evidence) since the start of the season.

Meanwhile, even before last Saturday's defeat, Texas had not been playing like a preseason top 10 team, enduring closer-than-expected finishes against Arkansas State (21-13) and UCF (35-32). Against K-State, its problems came to a head. Struggling QB Colt McCoy threw four interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown) and the 'Horns' coverage teams allowed touchdown returns on both a kickoff and a punt in a game they never led.

Brown has declined to take the bait when asked of a possible connection between his team's recent disciplinary issues and on-field issues. "This team has been inconsistent on the field," said the coach, "but I don't think it has anything to do with off-the-field issues."

His former star quarterback doesn't necessarily agree.

With the 19th-ranked 'Horns gearing up for their annual Red River showdown with No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday -- a game that carries even greater importance than usual what with both teams already suffering a Big 12 loss (the previously third-ranked Sooners fell at Colorado last weekend) -- the revered Young issued a missive to his former team.

"We don't need all this off-the-field stuff," the now-Tennessee Titans star told the Dallas Morning News. "The reason we were able to beat Oklahoma [in 2005], win the Big 12 and beat USC was we were a team. There were no me-guys off to themselves. This team right here has all the talent in the world. They just need to pull together."

Texas knew what a special talent it had during Young's accomplished career ("We were probably aware of it before the world was," said offensive coordinator Greg Davis), but it's become even more apparent in the two seasons since his departure.

During Brown's first five-and-a-half seasons in Austin (1998-2003), the 'Horns posted a .757 winning percentage -- highly respectable, but nothing like the ridiculous .938 mark they notched after Young became their starting quarterback midway through his redshirt freshman season. During Young's tenure, the 'Horns posted a staggering 30-2 record, won consecutive Rose Bowls and captured the first conference and national championships (both in 2005) of Brown's now 24-year career as a head coach. Young sealed his legacy with a performance for the ages (467 total yards and a game-winning touchdown scramble with 19 seconds left) in a 41-38 BCS title-game upset of top-ranked USC, which at the time had won 34 straight.

In the two seasons since, Texas has accumulated a 14-4 record -- nearly the same exact winning percentage (.778) as in the pre-Vince era. Should the 'Horns fall Saturday, putting themselves on the brink of elimination in the Big 12 championship race, the same critics who once questioned whether Brown could ever win "the big one" might start wondering something else: Whether he can ever win one without Young?

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