Our most recent memory of Young was his spirited, yet spotty, play in the Orange-White Game in early April. That, as well as his 6 TD-to-7 INT passing ratio last season, is enough to at least entertain a not so entertaining prospect: is Young the guy you want behind center if Texas absolutely has to pass to win the ballgame? Can Young elevate his game to complement his phenomenal running skills, or just enough to keep defenses honest? He did complete nearly 60 percent of his throws in his debut season, but some have noted that had something to do with those dearly departed receivers going airborne to pull down some of his moonballs.
Head coach Mack Brown said coaches have seen the progress in Young that fans somehow failed to detect.
"You would like to see a big jump in improvement from year one to year two," Brown said. "Over the spring he had a huge jump in passing and leadership skills."
Brown recently reminded reporters that "Vince Young is our starter", apparently because there was some question among Big 12 media after former starting QB Chance Mock replaced Young in the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl. Mock, of course, was also called on the rally the Horns past Texas Tech, 43-40, during the final 2:03 of that nailbiter. There was also some uncertainty about Young's status following his off-season hernia surgery. (Brown assured us the surgery was minor and that players are reporting that Young has run well during voluntary workouts in recent weeks.)
"Our quarterback situation is good," Brown said. "We've got two experienced quarterbacks and we didn't have that last year."
And just because you have two, good experienced quarterbacks does not mean the word 'controversy' need apply.
"It's a good thing to have two quarterbacks," Brown said. "You don't want an injury to hamper your season. You always need two good quarterbacks."
One of the preseason publications (I believe it was Street & Smith) labeled Mock as the 'biggest underachiever' in the Big 12. The author of that piece has either never met Mock and/or is unfamiliar with the situation at Texas. Mock opened his career with 106 passes without an INT, a school-record for newcomers. After a 4-2 start, coaches changed the QB to direct the change in the offense after Texas went with the Zone Read. Now, coaches say they are more intentional in training both QBs in the same system to keep defenses from assuming that Young is the running quarterback and that Mock is the passing quarterback.
Mock is gritty and strong-armed. He is not nearly as mobile as Young, but few are. If the O-line struggles against a blitz-happy team like Arkansas, Mock too easily runs out of real estate if he's running for his life. Meanwhile, one of Young's best plays is the broken one where he ad-libs with his feet. Mock is arguably college football's best backup quarterback. He completed 100-of-183 passes for 1,469 yards (16 TDs, two INT) in 2003. His 8-to-1 TD to INT ratio led the nation. Mock's decision not to transfer likely means Texas will win at least one game in 2004 that it might otherwise have lost.
But Young still gives Texas the best chance to win. Named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year by league coaches and the Associated Press' choice for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, Young totaled 948 yards rushing on 126 carries, including 11 rushing TDs. His 7.4 ypc led the nation. He completed 84-of-143 passes (58.7 percent) for 1,155 yards, making him the first player in UT history to post 900+ yards rushing and 1,000+ yards passing in the same season. He was responsible for a team-best 179.4 yards of total offense per game.
Matt Nordgren is tough and strong-armed enough to start for many Division-I teams but is clearly the No. 3 QB at Texas. (When the media guide describes a guy as having "gained valuable experience", it means he sure practices a lot.) Entering his fourth year, Nordgren has one career completion for six yards. His most valuable contribution has been serving as a capable passing scout team QB for the Longhorn defense.
The Longhorns' preseason camp begins August 9.