Vince Young Has His Game Face On

Texas QB <B>Vince Young</B> looks different. To be sure, he physically remains the 6-5, 225-pound freak of nature that led Texas with 179.4 ypg as a true freshman last season. But along with a notably improved passing attack to complement his gazelle-like open field escape-ability, Young now possesses a look of burning intensity and an air of unbridled confidence. And that could make all the difference in 2004.

Got your game face on, VY?

"All the time," he says, without blinking.

And, without blinking, he says he knows he can be a great quarterback by the time he leaves "in a couple of years." Still, there are plenty of Orangebloods who have wrung their hands ever since the season-ending Holiday Bowl downer in San Diego where Young was six-of-14 for all of 15 yards. He was pulled early in the fourth quarter in that 28-20 loss.

Then there was the goal line fumble against OU last year, which some point to as the turning point in that 65-13 debacle. But that was then; this is now. Head coach Mack Brown says Young is doing a much better job of mentally moving beyond mistakes so that one bad play does not result in a succession of bad plays. Even so, Young still thinks about the fumble, if only because others have not let him forget it.

"My uncle always brings it up," Young said. "Now I know what I need to do (to protect the ball). From watching tapes with Coach (Greg) Davis, showing me how I was holding the ball, keeping it high and tight."

Fans didn't see much of Young until the annual Spring Game last April, where concerns about his throwing motion and accuracy were re-ignited following a spotty showing.

"He didn't realize how good of a runner he was (last season) and he wanted to show everybody that he could pass," Brown said Monday. "So he wanted to throw all the time. Right now, he just wants to win. He's very comfortable with who he is, and that running's okay. Much of what we can do now can be built off of both he and Cedric (Benson) in the running game, and that should take pressure off of our passing game and allow us to throw the ball more easily than we did last year. We don't have the same guys with the same experience (at receiver) but they're going to have to worry more about the running game than they did early last year."

Added Brown, "Your wide receivers are unproven so everybody's going to put nine on the line of scrimmage and try to make you pass. It's not complicated."

But how complicated was it to ease Young's post-Holiday Bowl hangover? His pre-season pep talk went something like this, Brown said: Let's not talk about the Holiday Bowl first. Let's talk about (how) in spring practice (2003) you weren't going to play as a factor at quarterback at the first of the year. You didn't even play in the Arkansas game. You ended up starting seven games and winning six of them. What a great year for a freshman when very seldom does a freshman get to play."

Brown also told him that coaches needed to do what was best for the team during the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl, when those plans did not include Young. Last December 30, Texas saw a 10-7 halftime lead become a 26-10 deficit heading into the fourth quarter. QB Chance Mock played all but two snaps of the final 15 minutes and finished 14-of-35 for 181 yards and one TD. Young netted 50 yards rushing on nine attempts while Mock was credited with 64 yards in losses. Texas ran the ball just once in the final frame.

"Chance played great but we needed to run the ball better to help our defense at that time," Brown said. "Understand that we're going to make the decision that's best for the team. They're not individual decisions. That's who we are, and what we are, and that's not going to change. Whether it's the right decision or not, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At the time you made it, you thought it was the right one or you wouldn't have done it."

Last season, coaches rejected the very suggestion of a quarterback "rotation" but, at times, alternated signal callers every third offensive series. Now, there is no mention of either "rotating" or "alternating" but rather "doing whatever we need to do to win the game," Brown said.

"He and Chance both have a tremendous amount of pride and if we lose their pride's hurt," Brown said. "They feel that if they don't play as well, their pride's hurt. And some games, if you're walking off the field disappointed in front of me and other people, that's a tough thing. It's a tough thing at 53 (years old) much less 19 or 20. If we lose a game, I would think all of our players are disappointed. If I take a player out (of the game), I know they're disappointed. If you ask them if they thought I should have taken them out, they will say 'No' because they want to stay in and win the game. You want a guy to be emotional, and passionate, or he wouldn't be a good leader. Sometimes, if a guy didn't care, it would bother us a lot more than if he cares."

The same questions were asked of former QB Chris Simms after the loss to Colorado in the 2001 Big 12 Championship, Brown noted.

"He came back and had a great spring and a great year," Brown said. "Everybody wondered if he would be fragile. You'd like to think in our business that if a young man has a setback, and a loss is a setback, that he wouldn't give in to it. He'd get stronger. That's what we saw Chris Simms do and, so far, that's what we've seen from Vince.

While Young has more zip and accuracy with the ball this past month during preseason camp, coaches are just as impressed by the efficiency with which he now goes through his progressions as well as wise decision-making.

"He's had really good leadership skills in the huddle and on the field," Brown said. "He has thrown very few passes that weren't at the right person. He's thrown the ball away when he's needed to. He's much more comfortable with himself. He told me that he used to cheerlead some but now he's working."

And you don't try to fix something if it's working, either. That's why the zone read will remain the staple of what should be another explosive rushing attack. Last year, Texas averaged 232.5 ypg (NCAA No. 8) while Yong led the nation in yards-per-carry (7.2).

"He is the hardest person to tackle that I've ever went against," All-American WLB Derrick Johnson said. "That's just in practice. He's even better on the field."

Young does not hesitate to say that directing the offense at a high-profile program with a fanatic following is not what he expected.

"It's like an NFL team over here," Young said. "The fans, we're all they have right here... the Texas Longhorns. It's like an NFL team and, being the quarterback, you have to watch what you do and watch what you say, and stay out of trouble."

In 2003, Young was named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (league coaches) and the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (AP) after he registered 948 yards rushing on 126 carries, including 11 rushing TDs. He also completed 84-of-143 passes (58.7 percent) for 1,155 yards, including six passing TDs and 7 INT.

Yes, Vince Young looks different. Better put, VY has the look. It is the look of a poised and focused sophomore who enters Saturday's home-opener against North Texas assured that he is the clear-cut starter following what is regarded by many as a breakout freshman campaign.

"I thought he played really well last year," Brown said. "Usually young quarterbacks don't play well. Traditionally, they'll make a great play and then a bad play. (Young) didn't have a lot of bad plays or we wouldn't have won those six straight. I thought he played better than most freshmen are capable and I thought all of us, me included, were wanting him to move faster than he was ready to move. Now, he's really progressing into the offense."

And as far as that fumble against Oklahoma?

"It won't happen again," Young said.

Without blinking.

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