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Walker and the Cash twins, flanker Keith and tight end Kerry, the nucleus of the Longhorns' receiver corps, are all members of the class of '86 at San Antonio's Holmes High and call themselves the San Antonio Posse. Kerry says that as the posse watched film of Houston's most recent win, a 56-35 offensive orgy with TCU, "We were licking our chops." Houston's defense, forced by injuries and academic attrition to start six freshmen at times, yielded an NCAA Division I-A record 690 passing yards to Matt Vogler, the Horned Frogs' backup quarterback.
While the Texas coaching staff had talked all week about its intention to mount long clock-eating drives that would keep Klingler & Co. off the field, Gardere went to the air early and often. Evidently Houston's defensive backs had not regarded Gardere as much of a threat to throw deep. "They were coming up so hard, biting on all the short stuff, that it was no problem getting behind them," said Keith Cash, whom Gardere hit for long gainers of 25, 42 and 62 yards. "Now on a couple of those passes, if Peter had simply hit me in stride, it would have been six." Remembering a 76-yard pass to his twin that was called back because Gardere had about three cleats' worth of his right shoe past the line of scrimmage, Keith said, "He sure aired it out on that bomb to Kerry. I guess he just doesn't want to hit me deep."
Gardere, who had 20 completions in 28 attempts, including 10 straight during one stretch—the streak ended when running back Chris Samuels dropped a ball—would be hard-pressed to pick any of the Cougars' defensive linemen out of a crowd; he barely glimpsed one all evening. The Texas offensive line has improved enormously since last season. In January, McWilliams was approached by a group of seniors, several of them offensive linemen, with an odd request: Could the three-days-a-week off-season running program possibly be held at 6 a.m.? Before, the team had worked out in the afternoon, in separate clusters. Under the new schedule, says senior left guard Duane Miller, "We were sweating and suffering together."
The offensive linemen also decided that the gleaming new Neuhaus-Royal complex—which students call the Taj Mahal—was insufficiently spartan, and moved their lifting sessions to a musty old weight room under the stadium. "I would not have been surprised to see bats in this room," says tackle Stan Thomas. "The weights were dirty and rusty. We'd crank the heat up as high as it would go and just break our butts."
A funny thing happened after the Longhorns started sharing their morning ordeal. "We started going to breakfast together," says Miller. "That's just a little thing, but it has made a difference. Before this season, there were guys that had been here for years that I didn't even know. At least now we all know each other."
The linemen were not the only players touched by this new spirit of unity and discipline. Stanley Richard, the senior safety, found an old policeman's badge and took to wearing it around campus, calling himself the Sheriff. "That's right," says Richard. "I'm the Sheriff." As the Sheriff, he says he "keeps law and order" among the defensive backs. He has put the word out that he's looking for a younger defensive back to bequeath the badge to.
Perhaps because of this outbreak of togetherness, bad breaks that used to cold-cock the Longhorns can no longer keep them down. In this year's opener at Penn State, the Nittany Lions returned the opening kickoff 95 yards and punched the ball in for a touchdown three plays later. Against one of the tougher defenses in the country, and with Gardere having a poor day, Texas fought back for a 17-13 win. Five weeks later, behind 13-7 in the final minutes of the Oklahoma game, Gardere drove the team from its own nine to the Sooner 16. Keith Cash caught the winning touchdown on fourth down.
Since mid-October the Houston game has loomed as the de facto SWC championship. It seemed inconceivable that the Longhorns would try to defense the run and shoot as they had in '89, with predominantly man-to-man coverage. Cougar wideout Manny Hazard alone had 19 catches in Houston's 47-9 win, in which Andre Ware, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Klingler, a junior in his first year as a starter, was piling up more passing yardage than Ware had at the same point in '89. To make sure that the run and shoot does not slow to a walk, the Cougars rotate eight receivers in and out of the lineup, keeping everyone fresh. What Texas needed to defense Houston, one would have thought, was gimmicks, gambles, smoke and mirrors.
So how would the Longhorns defuse the run and shoot? "We'll play a lot of man-to-man against them," said the Sheriff. "Know why? Real men play man."
That is exactly what the Longhorns did. And it worked. Klingler's 22-of-52, four-interception outing was the worst of his nine-game career as a starter. "What happened? David Klingler didn't do his job," said Klingler. "They keep saying it's the system, it's the system. Well, it is the system, and the system is designed around quarterback execution, and today the quarterback didn't execute."