Make or Break
Texas' fate in the Rose Bowl could be in the hands of Vince Young, who must put his Heisman disappointment behind him
Last we saw Vince Young, he looked about as happy as the Reverend Jerry Falwell at a screening of Brokeback Mountain. The Texas quarterback was staring into space as USC tailback Reggie Bush hugged teammate Matt Leinart then stepped to the podium to accept the Heisman Trophy. Bush's landslide victory--he received 84.9% of the first-place votes--came as no surprise to everyone else in the New York City theater, yet Young, who finished a distant second, seemed ambushed nonetheless. At a press conference following the ceremony he described himself as "emotionally upset," and he spoke of his disappointment at having "let my [teammates] down, let my family down, let the whole cities of Austin and Houston down."
Young's reaction was at once refreshing and, for Longhorns fans, cause for concern. It is a measure of his candor that the junior made no effort to conceal his displeasure; Young added that this result would give him "a little bit more edge" to take into the Rose Bowl, where Texas and USC meet for the national championship on Jan. 4. The problem is, if Young goes into that game looking for some kind of revenge, the Longhorns could be in for a long night. On Nov. 25, when Young needed some fat stats to stay abreast of Bush in the Heisman race, he appeared to be pressing and had his worst game of the season--162 passing yards and 19 yards rushing--in a closer-than-expected victory over Texas A&M.
But asked last Friday about his Heisman-night funk, Young brushed it aside, saying, "I'm not mad. The point I was trying to put across was, I wasn't disappointed that [Bush] won; I'm happy for him. I was disappointed that I didn't bring the trophy home to my teammates, my family, my fans." Noting that he had bagged the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards, given to the nation's best quarterback and the nation's best player, respectively, Young concluded, "Can't get 'em all." (In fact, the last six Maxwell winners did not win the Heisman.)
Young, who last week was named the quarterback on the Associated Press All-America team ahead of Leinart, laughed at the suggestion that he might be looking to make a point in Pasadena, perhaps by attempting to upstage Bush. "The biggest point is going out there and playing with my teammates," he said. "It's all about us right now."
Just as that brush fire was seemingly extinguished, another flared up for the Longhorns. The Austin police department released a statement last Friday night saying it was investigating "two alleged criminal misconducts; an aggravated assault and a robbery by assault." The incidents occurred on Sept. 4 and Dec. 10. According to the statement, "The individuals being investigated in these incidents are involved in the UT athletics program."
On Monday, Austin lawyer Ken Oden said he is representing two starters, cornerback Cedric Griffin and tailback Ramonce Taylor, and that both players had been questioned by police. Oden characterized the Dec. 10 incident as a "a mixture of trash-talking and a monumental eruption of testosterone." A spokesperson for the Austin police department said the investigation is ongoing.
In a statement released late Friday, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said school officials had "followed up on the rumors that we are hearing and spoken with the two student-athletes who are alleged to be under investigation." Based upon what they'd learned, Dodds concluded, "we have no reason to believe" that any action needed to be taken.
All in all, the Longhorns haven't had a smooth run-up to the Rose Bowl. From Young's unhappy visit to Manhattan, where he came close to guaranteeing a Texas victory; to defensive tackle Rodrique Wright's announcement that the 'Horns intended to "dominate" the two-time defending champions; to safety Michael Griffin's saying that in Leinart the Trojans have a quarterback who is "probably like Chris Simms in the past. They can throw the ball"; to the criminal investigation, the No. 2--ranked Longhorns have proved adept at creating distractions for themselves while at the same time providing motivation to an opponent that has won 34 straight games.
"It's like Oklahoma last year," a member of the Trojans' program said recently, referring to an undefeated but overconfident Sooners team that USC waxed 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. "You'd think people would learn."
I-AA TITLE GAME
Gimpy QB Sparks ASU
Appalachian State's Richie Williams was only half a quarterback when he limped onto the field for the last play of the first half of the Division I-AA championship game last Friday night in Chattanooga. Unable to run because of a strained ankle tendon suffered in a semifinal win over Furman on Dec. 10, Williams, the Southern Conference player of the year with 2,104 passing yards and 846 rushing yards during the regular season, was sent in to throw a Hail Mary. That pass fell incomplete, but with the Mountaineers trailing Northern Iowa 16-7 and struggling on offense, coach Jerry Moore went with Williams at the start of the third quarter in an attempt to rally his team.
Wearing an air cast on his heavily taped left ankle, Williams played through the pain and completed 10 of 26 passes for 129 yards, sparking ASU to a 21-16 win and its first national title. "Coach told me in the second half we were going to wing it," Williams said after the game. "I just tried to stay calm and keep everybody else calm."
Williams's heroics nearly overshadowed the play of the Mountaineers' All-America defensive ends, senior Jason Hunter and junior Marques Murrell, who had two sacks each and teamed up for the winning touchdown. With about nine minutes to play, Northern Iowa led 16-14 and had the ball at its 25 when quarterback Eric Sanders dropped to pass. Coming from the left side of the defense, Murrell knocked the ball out of Sanders's hand; Hunter scooped it up at the 15 and dashed into the end zone. It was the third touchdown of the season for Hunter.
Though the defense came through in the end, holding Northern Iowa to 108 yards and sacking Sanders four times in the second half, the night belonged to Williams, who in the third quarter drove his team 79 yards for Appalachian's second touchdown, completing four of five passes for 64 yards. Because his quarterback was unable to run, Moore was forced to scrap the Mountaineers' option plays. "They called an option one time, and I called a timeout because I couldn't run," said Williams. "We had to talk that one over." ASU, which had averaged 204.5 rushing yards per game coming in, wound up with a season-low 46.
"To me, he was 100 percent," Moore said. "It goes without saying, we've got a courageous quarterback."