Young is college football's biggest playmaking-QB east of USC's Matt Leinhart. (Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick has an excellent pedigree but is largely unproven; Florida QB Chris Leak should flourish in Urban Meyer's spread offense but the junior has yet to elevate his program the way Young has.) But these days, Young wants to make his plays not because he has to but because he can.
Head coach Mack Brown recalled the first conversation he had with Young following the Rose Bowl win: "He said, 'Coach, I have got to improve some areas here. These are the areas I need to improve.' Basically, he didn't want to throw bad passes to start a game."
Following his Rose Bowl MVP performance, Young will be more of a target this season than at any time during his Texas tenure. What's more, the backfield is inexperienced; the wide receivers are long on potential but have a short collegiate resume as playmakers. It simply means defenses that once faced a two-headed monster in Vince Young and RB Cedric Benson will set their sights primarily on the Texas QB. It's all good, Young said.
"If they target me, that's going to leave somebody else open," Young said. "If they want to put a target on me, that's fine. We've got different weapons on offense."
But none bigger than No. 10. Following the Rose Bowl win, Texas' biggest weapon will never again be a secret weapon. Now that defenses will be gunning for him, Young wants to keep from shooting himself in the foot (with a near-costly turnover).
Toward the end of last season, Brown joked that coaches wanted to tell Vince just before kickoff that he had already thrown a couple of INTs. After all, them's fightin' words. Oklahoma State, for example, parlayed a pair of picks into a 35-7 lead before Young engineered the biggest comeback win in Longhorn history. Colorado's Terrence Wheatley returned an INT 37 yards for a quick 7-0 lead before the offense responded with 31 unanswered points on the road. Texas was in little danger of losing to the Aggies, even when Justin Warren slapped the ball out of Young's hands on that goal-line sneak and returned it 99 yards to stake a 13-6 halftime lead.
"The percentages say if you have a 14-point swing like that in the last minute before the half, there is a 93 percent chance you lose the game," said Brown, reflecting back on the 26-13 Longhorn win. "I thought (Young) was pouting a little bit at halftime. He was mad that he fumbled the ball. He came back and led the team."
Young's early miscues tend to evoke focus and resolve in a QB whose style, otherwise, is relaxed almost to a fault. In that thrilling 56-35 win over then-No 19 Oklahoma State, Young completed 19 of his final 20 passes for 222 yards in little more than two quarters as he led the Horns on seven straight scoring drives. He finished the game by completing his final 12 passes, breaking Chris Simms' record for 11 straight completions (2001).
His two turnovers against Oklahoma were killers but Brown has been insisting these past four months that VY has been a different person starting with the win at Texas Tech. The numbers bear it out. During the first six games of 2004, Young completed 62 of 113 passes (54.8 percent) for 758 yards. Conversely, Young went 86-of-137 (62.7 percent) for 1,091 yards during the final six games of his RS-sophomore campaign.
"The mark of a quarterback is who can come from behind and lead his team when all the odds are against him and win," Brown said. "Vince did that six straight weeks. The thing I learned -- we knew he was tall and strong -- I didn't know how competitive he was. When he gets into a ball game where the odds are against us, I saw him time and time again take it and turn it. I think he will be one of the great quarterbacks to ever play college football before he leaves Texas."