Two-step shuffle for Texas QBs
Posted: Tuesday December 21, 1999 04:11 PM
By Tim Griffin, Special to CNN/SI
The "quarterback controversy" at Texas appears to have taken its next step. Texas coach Mack Brown plans to play both Major Applewhite and freshman Chris Simms in the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.
Applewhite led the Longhorns to the Big 12 South Division championship, starting until a stomach virus sidelined him for the start of the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. Simms led the Longhorns to a 16-6 halftime lead against the Aggies before A&M rallied for a 20-16 comeback win.
Applewhite played the final quarter in that game and the entire Big 12 championship game against Nebraska, struggling through one of his worst performances with 172 yards passing, three interceptions and seven sacks in the Longhorns' 22-6 defeat. His passing yardage was a career low for a start.
"I think we have two tremendously talented players at quarterback," Brown said. "It has nothing to do with Major. I don't want anyone to think otherwise. Chris played well enough in the A&M game that we think he deserves a chance to play."
Brown employed a two-quarterback system at North Carolina. He will use Applewhite and Simms in a scripted plan that will be determined before the game starts. Simms said he will play at least a couple of series in each half.
"I think the biggest thing is we're just out to win as a team and we can't worry about who's playing and who's not," Simms said. "We've got to take care of our business out here on the practice field and when it comes time to play the game, we've just got to win."
Applewhite said he is not bothered by the decision.
"I look at this as a bowl game and as a reward for people who have played well to get playing time," Applewhite said. "I'm just going to go out there and continue to produce and try to put us in a situation to win the ballgame. I think my record speaks for itself, but that doesn't happen individually. I've had 10 other guys around me that have had to play well, and I've been blessed this year and last year with teammates who played exceptionally well."
No backing down from one K-State critic
Kansas State's hopes of qualifying for another Bowl Championship Series at-large berth were foiled for the second-straight year when the Wildcats were beaten out by Tennessee and Michigan for at-large berths.
Veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said his team has little margin of error in the eyes of people who put the bowl games together.
"A year ago, the destiny was in our own hands and our loss in the championship game kept us out of the [national] championship game," Snyder said. "This year, our loss to Nebraska kept us out of the BCS. At the top of the list, that tells me that we have to win them all." Snyder acknowledged that the Wildcats' schedule could be a negative in boosting public opinion for his program. Kansas State played home games against Temple, Texas-El Paso and Utah State outside the Big 12 this season. Kansas State has added a game against Iowa in Kansas City next year and will also meet Ball State and Massachusetts next season.
After the BCS pairings were announced earlier this month, ABC-TV analyst Terry Bowden said that the Wildcats' weak non-conference schedule was a major reason that KSU failed to make the BCS.
"You cannot do that and get in the BCS," Bowden said.
When learning of Bowden's statements later that day, Snyder made a firm prediction about his future BCS chances, compared to the former Auburn coach.
"I'll get there before he does," Snyder said.
Banged-up Huskers thinking big Nebraska players are hoping to use the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl as a springboard to another national championship run next season. With nine offensive starters returning, a big performance against Tennessee could catapult the Cornhuskers into the preseason top five with an impressive win.
"If we could win that game convincingly, it would put us in a great position for next year," Nebraska wingback Bobby Newcombe said. "We have a great opportunity next year to set some things off. We have a great team coming back, and to win this game would really put us in the driver's seat."
The Cornhuskers came out of the Big 12 championship game with a variety of nagging injuries. Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom missed the championship game with a strained knee and his status for the bowl game is questionable, Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.
X-rays on linebacker Carlos Polk's shin injury were negative, although he missed several days of practice before returning next week. Solich does not expect starting I-back Dan Alexander to return to practice until later this week after suffering 13 stitches on the inside of his right hand during the Texas game. Back-up Correll Buckhalter (turf toe) also has been held out of most of the Cornhuskers' early bowl practices, leaving freshman Dahrran Diedrick taking most of the snaps with the No. 1 offense.
"Our injury list is longer than I've seen it this year," Solich said. "Fortunately, we have time to get better."
Colorado co-defensive coordinator Vince Okruch had a friendly word of advice for Tennessee coaches as they prepare for Nebraska.
"Trying to defend them and having two weeks to prepare may have been more of a liability than an asset for us," Okruch said. "You wondered about it more by having time to watch the tapes."
Okruch said the Cornhuskers' option attack might be one of the most difficult offenses to prepare for in college football.
"Their speed at quarterback [with Eric Crouch] is phenomenal," Okruch said. "There is no way you can recreate that in your practice work. When you see them run it for the first time [in person], it's like somebody put the film on fast forward. They have great skill players and a tremendously talented quarterback."
Penn State might have All-American linebacker LaVar Arrington. But Texas A&M linebacker Jason Glenn believes the Aggies are comparable at linebacker to the Nittany Lions.
"The game gets me pumped up," Glenn said. "They do have Arrington, but we have linebackers who are just as good. We just don't get the recognition they do.
"We've got Brian Gamble, who is a freshman who came in and is doing a good job. Cornelius Anthony has made a lot of tackles and Roylin Bradley speaks for himself, when he comes and plays. With the depth that we have, our linebackers are just as good. I believe our linebackers and our backups could start anywhere."
When asked what team really is "Linebacker U," Glenn had a quick answer.
"I believe it's really Texas A&M," Glenn said. One indication in the disparity in talent can be found by comparing the honors lists of the two schools. Punter Shane Lechler was the only Texas A&M player selected for the All-Big 12 team. The Nittany Lions had three players -- defensive end Courtney Brown, Arrington and middle linebacker Brandon Short -- as consensus All-American selections.
The Aggies are hoping to turn around two recent trends in the Dec. 29 game. A&M is 2-6 in its last eight bowl games and the Big Ten has claimed the last three Alamo Bowls over Big 12 teams.
Back in the U.S.
New Texas Tech coach Mike Leach's second head coaching experience figures to be a little different from his first. There won't be any halftime smoking breaks for his team, or advertisements for "Juha's Dairy" splashed across their uniforms.
The former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma was introduced earlier this month as Tech's 13th head coach. His only other head coaching job came for four months in 1989 when he directed the Pori Bears of the European Football League. Working in Finland gave him a unique appreciation of football, directing the fortunes of two semi-professional teams with players ranging in age from 15 to 38.
"It was a lot of fun and different from what I was used to," Leach said. "Finns will drink starting at 9 in the morning and go all day. At halftime, there would be cigarette breaks. It was almost like the NFL back in the fifties."
Leach's five-year contract will provide a base salary of $250,000 and will swell to $550,000 including shoe deals, television and radio contracts and other endorsement deals. The deal has a buyout clause if Leach should leave for another job before the contract expires.
Athletic Director Gerald Myers said he didn't hesitate to pay his new coach the largest salary in Tech history. Former coach Spike Dykes' final contract was for $500,000 per year.
"It's just the market for good people," Myers said. "You've got to be willing to pay market value of the coach. Whether we like it or not, if you go out and try to save money when you hire a coach and all your revenue dries up, you'll really be in trouble."
Leach hired former Seattle Seahawks and current Hawaii defensive coordinator Greg McMakin to a similar role on his new staff. McMakin will be paid a base salary of $150,000 for his new job -- another record salary for an assistant coach at the school.
Worth noting Texas Tech was the only team with a winning record in the six conferences that make up the Bowl Championship Series that failed to earn a bowl berth. ... Even after receiving more than 5,000 unsold tickets from Penn State, Texas A&M oversold its ticket demand for the Alamo Bowl. Athletic director Wally Groff said the school may have to issue refunds to as many as 3,000 fans who requested tickets. ... After averaging 36 points per game over its first 11 games, Texas is producing 11 points per game over its last two games. The Longhorns enter the Cotton Bowl with an offensive scoring drought stretching over their last six quarters.
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.
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