On Baylor and Back-up Quarterbacks . . .

The only thing in doubt when Texas teed it up with Baylor last Saturday was whether the Horns had ever played a November ballgame under more scorching conditions. Watching the game Saturday at Floyd Casey was a sun-burned, sweat-drenched experience the likes of which I cannot come close to remembering at this time of year. Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of weeks, right? It felt more like the Fourth of July.

By the fourth quarter, with Texas up by 30-something, the loudest cheer in my section came when a bank of clouds momentarily obscured the blazing sun, covering the stadium in shadow. Come to think of it, that had to have been the only relief Kevin Steele and his Bears felt all day.

Texas cruised to a 49-10 romp in a game where about everything you thought was gonna happen, did. Cedric got his 100-plus yards on the ground. Chris Simms aired it out deep for TDs to Sloan and Roy who dominated the overmatched Bear secondary. Nate Vasher cut it loose on several punt returns and, except for a surprisingly easy second quarter TD march for the Bears, the defense knocked BU silly, led by hometown hero Derrick Johnson who continues to play the role of the Assassin with his spine-cracking hits.

In short, Texas played exactly the game it needed to against Baylor. The Horns suffered no real letdowns other than the two second-quarter Bear scoring drives, and by scoring 49, made the pollsters happy while keeping the BCS computers well fed. Plus, they stopped just short of completely humiliating the Bears, something Mack Brown would just as soon avoid if possible. (I didn’t see any pictures of Steele with his head buried in Father Mack’s shoulder post-game as I did after the Horns’ last trip to Waco, when Texas flattened BU 62-0). That is about everything you wanted out of this contest, really.

Texas did get hit with an injury, however, so it wasn’t perfect. Starting guard Tillman Holloway staggered off the field in the second half, collapsing before he made it to the Texas sideline with what looked like a shoulder or neck injury. With Antwan Kirk-Hughes’ status up in the air after not even suiting out for Baylor, Holloway’s injury would further deplete an already thinned out OL.

I also have a quibble. I wonder if Brown and Greg Davis would have gotten more out of Benson if they had shuffled in Victor Ike and/or Ivan Williams for a series or two in the second and third quarters to keep Cedric fresh. Benson, in typical workhorse fashion, rushed the ball 26 times, which was a bunch of totes in the sauna-like conditions prevailing Saturday. I’m thinking with a blow here and there to keep the legs under him, Cedric torches the lowly Baylor defense for better than 108 yards and maybe even breaks one. But Cedric just kept getting the call, play after play, including catching four passes for 33 yards, even when it appeared that his tank was starting to run a little dry. A fresh Victor with his burst of speed or an Ivan with his bludgeoning power would seemingly leave a defense in tatters after grappling with Benson all afternoon. But like I said, that’s just a quibble -- the offense’s heavy investment in Benson has obviously been paying fat dividends.

I also want to raise an issue concerning the quarterbacks. I have no problem at all with the decision to start Simms this season and to stick with him. Simms has been effective for most of this year and at times, superb. My problem comes with the coaches’ seeming unwillingness to get third-teamer Chance Mock any meaningful playing time.

It is starting to drive me nuts to see Texas up by 30-plus points in the third and fourth quarters of games and to see the coaches go to Major Applewhite for mop-up duty, as they did against Baylor again Saturday. Don’t get me wrong. I am a big Major fan. Major engineered some of the biggest wins in UT history, including the Nebraska games in ‘98 and ‘99, the A&M comeback in ‘98 and the Cotton Bowl in ‘99. He may not remember it, but I was one of the first reporters to spot him under the stands and talk to him in the Rose Bowl in ‘98 after he had come on in place of an injured Richard Walton against UCLA. The guy is a champion and a UT legend, and to be honest, I miss watching him play with a game on the line. But that is my point. Does it really add to Major’s already secure place in Longhorn lore to keep running him on the field to hand the ball off to a third string tailback and to drop back to pass on wobbly knees behind a second-team line? I don’t think so. But it would do Mock, who has already burned his redshirt year, a world of good to get out there and run the offense under game conditions for as many plays as he can get.

Mock is a raw talent with vast potential who needs seasoning for the future. He’s gotten virtually none this season while Major gets basically meaningless snaps. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Major of course is done after this season and while it would be pretty surprising if Simms left early for the NFL, it would be no shock. Mock could conceivably be your starter as early as next season. In any event, he should be Simms’ back-up in ‘02, depending of course upon the progress made by Matt Nordgren. If the argument is that Simms could go down any time and the team needs Major ready, my response is, Major will be ready any time, any place if you need him. He is a great player with a ton of experience. He doesn’t really need that work to be ready. Mock does, as much as he can get.

My sense is that the coaches are playing Applewhite out of a sense of loyalty to him, to give him his moment entering the field when the crowd can roar and show how much they value everything he has given the Texas program. Major deserves that and I am glad the coaches are giving him that opportunity. But give him a series and then let Chance come on and run the show. Mock is a guy that dumped the Aggies to become a Texas Longhorn. His redshirt year is behind him. Let’s see what he can do, this week, should the Horns go up big against the Jayhawks as expected. With A&M to follow and a possible Big 12 title game and bowl beyond that, the opportunity may not present itself again this season.

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