Texas faces familiar challenge

Originally Published: November 11, 2003
By Mark Wangrin | Special to ESPN.com

The Longhorns are back in the mix for a BCS bowl and even, dare they say it, a shot at a national title rematch against Oklahoma. But after falling short in similar situations the last two years, they're not about to start rejoicing.

For the third straight year the Longhorns have rebounded from a midseason loss to Oklahoma to find themselves alive in the BCS and national title picture entering the second full week of November. Two years ago they self-destructed against Colorado. Last year they melted down against Texas Tech.

"We were talking about the BCS and national championships last year when we went to Tech," Coach Mack Brown said. "We ought to understand that stuff. You get what you deserve at the end. Right now it's just barbershop talk. There were four teams in the top 10 that probably talked about it some last week."

Brown was referring to four teams ranked ahead of Texas -- Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State and Iowa -- that lost Saturday.

"What they're got to be is mature enough to understand you get what you deserve in the end. You don't get it by talking about it, you get it by playing for it. We've been here three years in a row. They ought to understand that."

  • Senior cornerback Nathan Vasher was a late addition to the Thorpe Award semifinal list after originally being excluded. Vasher needs one more interception to tie the school career record of 17 set by Noble Doss from 1939-41. To put that into perspective consider that Texas Tech, which the Longhorns play Saturday, averages 61.4 attempts a game -- or less than a third of the passes Doss saw in a season.

  • Texas's much ballyhooed receivers have changed their tunes. They combined for 20 knockdown blocks against Oklahoma State, and offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he overheard an exchange between flanker B.J. Johnson and receivers coach Darryl Drake that made him laugh. "Tell Coach Davis to run that sucker to my side and I'll (block) that cornerback," Davis said. "I've heard receivers say they're like an all-night diner, they're always open. But I haven't heard that."

    Said Johnson of his knockdown block total, tops among receivers, "I hold that over everybody's heads, even the linemen. I know I can beat anybody, any time."

    Guy Morriss has been patient with quarterback Aaron Karas but it may be running out. The Bears' head coach is considering benching the junior in favor of backup Shawn Bell, who came in relief of Karas against Texas Tech and completed 14 of 18 for 138 yards. Whoever finishes the season as the starter may just be marking time. The Bears are hopeful that Terrance Parks, who replaced A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal at Lufkin High School last year and is made in a similar mold, can win the job in the spring. Parks, who got a late start as he fought with the NCAA over initial eligibility this summer, is redshirting this season.

  • This week's sign that Morriss has his work cut out for him -- the Bears played the first two snaps of the game with 10 men on the field. "I think sometimes the kids are waiting on somebody to run out on the field wearing a cape and an 'S' on it that's going to rescue them and do it for them,' Morriss said. "It's got to come within them. If you don't like the outcome you need to start seriously thinking about changing whatever you are doing to get prepared."

  • Robert Quiroga is making up for lost time. The senior didn't become a kickoff returner until two games ago, but he's had a touchdown return in both games. He took one back 98 yards against Kansas State and 100 against Tech.

    The Big XII has seven teams bowl eligible and needs one more to fill its commitment. The Buffaloes might be that team, something that was unthinkable a month ago.

    CU is favored to win at Iowa State this week and then hosts Nebraska on Nov. 28. The Buffaloes have won three straight against the Cornhuskers, including the infamous 62-35 win in 2001 that propelled CU into the Big XII title game -- and NU into the national title game.

    "You can hang bowl eligibility out there as a carrot, but gosh darn, we've got to win these games," CU Coach Gary Barnett said. "I feel a little ridiculous at 4-6 to even be talking about bowls."

  • CU's defense is finally playing up to its preseason billing. The Buffs have forced 13 turnovers in their last three games after forcing only six in their first seven.

  • Halfback Bobby Purify remains out with an ankle injury. He hasn't played since Sept. 13 and is a candidate for a medical redshirt season.

  • Barnett joked that after the win over Missouri the players needed to look up the words to the school fight song they usually sing in the locker room after the game. CU hadn't won since beating Kansas in overtime on Oct. 11.

    Iowa State
    As bad as the Cyclones have been playing this season even the term "spoiler" sounds like an outlandish complement.

    But the Cyclones could do just that. They can assure Colorado won't become bowl eligible by beating the Buffaloes this week and then could deny Kansas that important sixth win on Nov. 22. And if KSU beats Nebraska this week and Missouri beats Texas A&M and KSU during the next two weeks, the Cyclones would be in position to knock the Tigers out of a share of the North Division title on Nov. 29.

    But ISU Coach Dan McCarney, who's led the Cyclones to three straight bowl bids, doesn't feel comfortable with the role.

    "I don't like the role of spoiler," McCarney said. "We've been in the hunt for postseason play the last three years ... There's some finality after losing (to KSU) that it's not possible for us this year, and we're very disappointed in that."

  • McCarney will decide this week whether to go with incumbent Austin Flynn or Waye Terry at quarterback. Terry has seen significant time in the second half over the last month and has had some success. "I don't like rotating quarterbacks," McCarney said. "But we've got to find somebody who will be consistent and make plays."

  • The Cyclones' 45-0 loss to KSU marked the first time since 1958 that they were shut out in consecutive games. ISU lost to Nebraska 28-0 on Oct. 25.

    Seeking to shore up a secondary that's become a liability as the Jayhawks make a stretch run to a possible bowl game, Coach Mark Mangino used two backup offensive players on defense against Nebraska.

    Backup tailback John Randle, a true freshman, started at cornerback in place of Remuise Johnson. Receiver Charles Gordon backed him up.

    Both played well both ways -- Gordon had a team-high six catches for 47 yards and Randle ran seven times for 31 yards and had three tackles. Mangino said they will play at Oklahoma State this week but not as much. Johnson is expected back and the other starting corner, Donnie Amadi, is closer to full speed after battling a knee injury.

  • Adam Barmann, the freshman who was pressed into action when quarterback Bill Whittemore went out with a collarbone injury three weeks ago, has had four interceptions in the last two games. Mangino has praised Barmann's play, but there's a chance the Jayhawks could get Whittemore back this week.

    "He's making real good progress," Mangino said. "Every day he goes out there he seems to get a little better -- the pain seems to lessen for him. I would be speculating if I said he could play. I'd just be guessing."

    Mangino said he wouldn't rush Whittemore back, saying it's up to the team doctors to make the decision if he's ready to play.

    Kansas State
    Darren Sproles is among the most versatile players in the Big XII, which is reflected by the junior's assault on the KSU record book.

    Sproles, who ranks second in the league in rushing, needs 148 yards receiving, rushing and returns to break the school's all-purpose career record of 4,023 yards set by Aaron Lockett from 1998-2001. Sproles already holds the school single-season all-purpose record (1,866 yards) and is second in the nation this year behind DeAngelo Williams of Memphis.

    KSU Coach Bill Snyder said he's not concerned about overusing Sproles, who has also returned punts and kickoffs for the Wildcats.

    "Then you watch him and you forget about thinking about it and you move on," Snyder told The Kansas City Star. "It sends a message about versatility and what he's capable of doing. It says that this is a real fine athlete you have to use in as many ways as possible."

  • JUCO transfer linebacker Marvin Simmons may finally have worked his way out of Snyder's doghouse. A Parade All-American in 2001 out of high school, Simmons signed with Southern Cal and transferred to Compton College. He came to KSU as the likely replacement for Terry Pierce, who left early for the NFL.

    Simmons didn't play in the first nine games because of injury and conditioning concerns, but came in the second quarter against Iowa State and finished with five tackles.

    "We've said all along Marvin can play here, that he's a good player, and he is," Snyder said. "Marvin was in a position where he had to grow up, mature in the program, and he has begun to do that."

    Quarterback Brad Smith had the production expected of him Saturday against Colorado -- amassing 278 yards passing and 102 rushing -- but the difference-maker was something that wasn't expected from the precocious sophomore.

    Smith turned the ball over four times, including a fumble at the goal line that ended a scoring threat after Mizzou had driven from its own 8-yard-line. Smith had only thrown three interceptions in his first eight games.

    Mizzou Coach Gary Pinkel shrugged off Smith's mistakes.

    "He's not Superman," Pinkel said. "He's going to learn from it and get better."

  • J.D McCoy's role is likely to expand at tight end. Starter Victor Sesay tore his patella tendon in the third quarter against Colorado -- the second time he's had that injury -- and will be lost for the season. J.D. McCoy moves into the starting lineup. McCoy and Sesay had nearly identical statistics -- both had 15 catches and Sesay had one more touchdown (3) and four more yards (154).

  • After Smith was sacked three times by Colorado, Pinkel served notice to his offensive line by putting the strong tackle and strong guard starting spots up for grabs. Steven Sanchez will battle Scott Paffrath at tackle and Cliff Young will be challenged by Joe Gianino at guard. All four play significantly, so the move is seen as mostly a motivational ploy.

    The competition at I-back is getting more crowded. Sophomore Cory Ross, who's battled thigh, shoulder, foot and knee injuries in his career, will get more playing time against Kansas State. Ross ran for 108 yards on 19 carries coming off the bench against Kansas, only the third time an NU back has run for 100 this season.

    "I guess we'll see how much of a factor he'll be,'' Coach Frank Solich said. "Kansas State is an excellent defensive team and they've improved as the year's gone on. We'll be challenged on that end of it regardless of who's got the ball.

    Senior Josh Davis will likely start, but look for Ross to get significant snaps as the Cornhuskers look for a strong complement to quarterback Jammal Lord's rushing.

  • Josh Bullocks is a minute younger than his twin brother Daniel, with whom he shares the safety spots for the Cornhuskers. He'll never catch his brother in that regard, but his brother may never catch him in another. Daniel got his first career interception against Kansas, leaving him nine behind his brother, who has a nation-leading nine this season alone. "Our career record at Kansas State might be nine," mused KSU Coach Bill Snyder. For the record, Jaime Mendez holds the record, with 15 from 1990-93.

  • Freshman lineman Greg Austin will miss the rest of the season because of surgery to fix a dislocated kneecap. Senior tackle Dan Vili Waldrop has been seeing snaps at guard, a position hit hard by injuries.

    Lost in the uproar over whether Coach Bob Stoops ran it up on Texas A&M in a 77-0 victory on Saturday is the dominating performance of his defense.

    The Sooners held the Aggies to 54 total yards. The Aggies reached their own 41-yard-line once, after which they were promptly sacked. OU has now gone eight quarters without allowing an offensive score, a string which coincidentally spans the two games against the two teams that beat the Sooners last year (A&M and OSU).

    "This was a great performance," Stoops said. "Probably the best we've had since we've been here."

  • Some more stats that reflect the Sooners' dominance: OU has trailed only four of 720 minutes this season, has broke 50 points in a school-record six games and already has 44 sacks, three more than the school record set in 1997.

  • OU's 1.68 in the current BCS rankings is impressive, considering that the lowest number by the final BCS leader in the first five years of the system was Florida State's 2.24 in 1999. FSU beat Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl that year for the national title.

  • Jason White was named the Big XII offensive player of the week, the first time a Sooner was honored this year on offense. Seven times an OU player has earned defensive or special teams honors.

    Oklahoma State
    The Cowboys' bruised egos after back to back routs by Oklahoma and Texas may be least of their hurts.

    Halfbacks Tatum Bell (ankle) and Seymore Shaw (leg), offensive tackle Corey Hilliard (knee) and defensive end Antonio Smith (knee) all left the game and did not return.

    Without Bell and Shaw the Cowboys couldn't run the ball against Texas. Without Hilliard their pass rush was weakened to where they rarely tried a straight dropback pass. Without Smith their pass rush was weakened.

    OSU, like most schools, has become tight-lipped about injuries, so it's uncertain what their status will be for this week's game against Kansas.

    "There is hope for some of these guys," Coach Les Miles said. "We anticipate we'll be a little bit healthier than we first thought."

  • Kicker Luke Phillips was the Cowboys' only consistent weapon against Texas, kicking three field goals. Phillips hit a career-long 52-yarder in the first quarter only to connect on a 53-yarder in the second quarter.

  • Speaking of pain, one of the Cowboys' most outspoken players said something this week that had to hurt. "No one on this planet can take anything away from Bob Stoops and his team," guard Sam Mayes told The Oklahoman. "They are legit. They are the real deal. For a defense like that it's just unreal. I wish them all the luck. It's good for the state for them to win the national championship. I'm glad to see them do it."

    Texas A&M
    This season won't end fast enough in College Station, where the Aggies are sorting through a 77-0 loss to OU, the worst defeat in school history.

    The defeat margin was 29 points larger than the previous biggest in the Aggies' 109 seasons and the Aggies have already allowed a school record 374 points. In fact, A&M could shut out Missouri and Texas and still set the school mark for average points allowed per game, breaking the previous high of 28.8.

    It doesn't help to have quotes like this one out there: "I was told to hold back," backup OU quarterback Paul Thompson said. "I was told to just get what you can and go down."

    Aggie Coach Dennis Franchione, who has redshirted players on the offensive and defensive lines who could probably help the team now, said he'll remain patient.

    "I don't think you ever think it's going to be like this," he said. "You look at both ends of the spectrum to prepare for everything, but you don't ever expect to have a day where this many tough things happen. We just didn't have any answers today."

    "We have to keep fighting for the seniors,'' said A&M offensive tackle Alan Reuber. "We're going to keep fighting and not give up."

    That has a nice Alamo sort of ring to it.

  • A&M has applied for a medical redshirt for punter Cody Scates, who's missed six games this year.

    Texas Tech
    Red Raiders quarterback B.J. Symons may not win the Heisman Trophy, but put him down for a Purple Heart.

    The fifth-year senior reinjured his left knee against Baylor and left the game, but he's expected to play Saturday against Texas. The injury has robbed Symons of his mobility and made him an inviting target for inside blitzes.

    Texas defensive coordinator Carl Reese said the Longhorns will likely use line stunts to get their defensive ends moving inside against Symons, with the intent to smack him before he smacks them.

    "No. 2 can get hot," Reese said. "But his mobility is not what it's been. We have to get our licks on him."

    Texas has 35 sacks and 142 quarterback pressures this season. Leach, sensing the media topic du jour, made his offensive line off limits to the media this week. That'll be a lot easier than making Symons off limits to the pass rush on a knee that will likely need surgery after the season.

  • Punt returner Wes Welker broke the 54-year-old NCAA record for career punt return yardage with a 22-yard return against Baylor. His 1,745 yards betters the 1,695 Vanderbilt's Lee Nalley had from 1947-49.

  • Tech Coach Mike Leach says the criteria for the Heisman Trophy has changed in voters' minds. "Keep in mind Paul Hornung would have been out of business if they did it this way, but I think they're trying to establish it as the MVP for the national championship team." Hornung, whose Notre Dame team went 2-8 in 1956, is the only player to win the award playing for a losing team. And for the record, in the last decade only Charlie Ward of Florida State in 1993 and Danny Wuerffel of Florida in 1996 played for the national champion. OU's Jason White, considered the Heisman frontrunner, could join them this year.

    Mark Wangrin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.