Young's success sparks controversy
AUSTIN, Texas -- In Coaching 101, they tell you to pick a starting quarterback and stick with him, but Mack Brown must have skipped class that day. For three seasons at Texas, Brown insisted on playing both Major Applewhite and Chris Simms, and you can still walk into a bar on Sixth Street and gin up an argument over whether Brown got the most out of the two of them.
This year, Brown set up a pecking order. Chance Mock, the fourth-year junior who waited his turn behind Applewhite and Simms, became the starter. Vince Young, the redshirt freshman phenom, came in for a series or two. That worked well until Saturday, when Kansas State brought its physical brand of football into Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and used Mock for target practice. The Wildcats sacked him four times and pretty much dared him to set his feet.
"There's no question that he can make plays," Davis said. "His ability to avoid the rush is a big reason that we went with him in the third and fourth quarter."
When that drive fizzled, Davis sent Young onto the field for the next one. Texas recovered a fumble by Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson on its own 12-yard line with 9:55 to play.
"I thought he grew up as the game went on," Davis said. "He got more confidence as the game went on."
Young is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds of potential. He could fill up a section of the stadium with the awards he won at Houston Madison High. Three different publications named him the 2001 national high school player of the year or top college recruit of the year. To hear Longhorn fans talk about him, he could be the first quarterback in history to throw a deep ball, sprint downfield and catch it himself.
Mock knows more of the offense, and for the first four games, proved he could run it. He came into the Kansas State game ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency (46-of-79, 724 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions). The coaches drew a clear line of demarcation. Mock played with the first team. Young, if he came in at all -- and in the 38-28 loss to Arkansas, he didn't -- played with the second team. The resident expert on coaching controversies says that makes it easier to handle.
"In the spring, we really took a critical look at what these two guys can do," said Applewhite, who is now one of the coaches, a graduate assistant for the offensive line. "We wanted to make sure that we didn't have a Vince offense and a Chance offense, but an offense that would go either way. We didn't want to drop the Chance game sheet and pick up the Vince game sheet when he came in."
In three plays, Young took the Longhorns from their 12 to their 35. On first down, he stood at the line of scrimmage and looked at the defense. He had two receivers split to the left and junior Tony Jeffrey by himself to the right. Young took the snap, waited for Jeffrey to sprint down the field and launched a pass. Jeffrey outjumped corner Cedrick Williams and caught the ball 52 yards downfield, at the Kansas State 13. Jeffrey, Davis said, was Young's fourth option.
"I don't mean to imply that he went through one, two, three, four," Davis said. "What he did do was in his presnap routine, he saw that Tony had one-on-one coverage. The point is that a guy his age would go ahead and throw it."
Six plays later, Young sneaked over on fourth-and-goal from the 1, and the Longhorns won their Big 12 conference opener 24-20. For a team that has heard for three weeks since the Arkansas loss about how it can't win the big game, the win went down like a tonic. The Longhorns are 4-1 and going into the Red River Shootout against No. 1 Oklahoma with a renewed sense of confidence.
Young carried the ball 17 times for 80 yards, which led the Longhorns, and threw six passes, completing three for 69 yards. He is a little sensitive about his ability to pull the ball down and run because of what his teammates might infer.
"I believe in the offensive line more than they think I do," Young said.
A little bit of consideration goes a long way in the locker room. In an era when high school seniors extract promises of playing time in exchange for their signature, Young is biding his time, promising his fealty to Mock and to the team.
"He's just coming along, day after day," Applewhite said. "He's listening. He doesn't feel like he's arrived yet. He's humble off the field, but he plays with extraordinary confidence. Regardless of his age, he feels like he is going to run the team, run the offense. He's only going to go up."
All of which returns us to the quarterback controversy, which is becoming as permanent a landmark on the 40 Acres, as this campus is known, as the LBJ Library. Davis, Young and Mock fended off questions about who should start against the Sooners. Davis used his rote answer, that he and Brown would decide to start whichever player they believe will give the team the best chance to win. Young used humility. Mock tried to disguise his disdain. After the cameras and notebooks drifted away from him, he struggled to get out of his chair.
"From what I've been told, nothing has changed," said Mock, who completed 7-of-16 for 88 yards, 51 of them on a touchdown pass to Sloan Thomas just before the half. "They went with the guy who they thought was going to give them the best package. When you're on the field, you've got to make the most of it. Today, there wasn't much I could do. You move on, and hopefully you do better next week."
After a slow start, Quarterback Controversy II may yet prove as entertaining as the original.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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