What better way to begin a Texas-is-back story than with a Royalism? Former Texas Longhorn coach Darrell Royal once declared, "Trends are bunk—only angry people win football games." With a Cotton Bowl bid riding on the outcome of last Saturday's game against unbeaten and untied Houston, the Longhorns confirmed the wisdom of Royal's edict. Having bludgeoned Texas in three previous meetings by a combined score of 173-64, the Cougars hoped to make it four straight but found themselves on the field facing some angry young men. Before 82,457 spectators in Austin's Memorial Stadium—the vast majority cheering raucously for Texas—the Longhorns pulled off a 45-24 upset by stuffing the Cougars' high-scoring, pass-happy, run-and-shoot offense.
In winning their seventh game against only one loss, a 29-22 defeat by Colorado in the second game of the season, the Longhorns had their way with Houston's linemen in the trenches, allowing quarterback Peter Gardere to outplay his more celebrated Cougar counterpart, David Klingler, who had thrown for 34 touchdowns and 444.1 yards per game.
But nothing brought the Texas faithful as much joy as the rampages of Butch Hadnot, a 6'2", 210-pound true freshman tailback out of Kirbyville, Texas, who rushed for 134 yards on 23 carries and scored three touchdowns. At Kirbyville High, Hadnot scored 24 touchdowns his senior year and ran the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds, according to the Longhorn media guide. The biographical sketch also says that Hadnot bench-presses 385 pounds. It might have also mentioned that all by himself, Hadnot evokes the glory years of the '60s and '70s, when Texas won three national championships and 11 Southwest Conference titles. Hadnot accomplishes this by bowling over defenders like a young Earl Campbell, the Longhorns' 1977 Heisman Trophy winner. Indeed, as Hadnot scattered opponents on Saturday as if fitted with a cowcatcher, it was easy to see why his teammates call him Baby Earl.
Texas, suddenly wide awake after six years of torpor, is set to reclaim the honors that Longhorn teams used to take for granted: a conference title, a Cotton Bowl berth, national respect. But earlier last week Longhorn fans were doing their best to pretend that their team did not need a win over Houston to have a successful season. The prevailing wisdom was this: If our guys can just keep it close, it will be a moral victory. Even Texas's defensive coordinator, Leon Fuller, admitted, "We just hope to keep our poise."
The Longhorns did, and thereby destroyed Houston's. Texas, leading 45-18, was well out of reach when, with seven minutes left in the game, Klingler betrayed his desperation by throwing his fourth interception of the day, a clone of his third interception, thrown only two minutes earlier. Both giveaways were ill-advised bombs on the first play of a new possession. Both were clear signals that Houston had run out of both poise and patience. Houston coach John Jenkins took responsibility for the interceptions, saying, "It came down to gambling on my part. I was trying to get the ball deeper downfield instead of going with the more disciplined plays we normally run."
In spite of the loss, Jenkins was upbeat and full of praise for Texas. He can afford to be gracious. The defeat was only the Cougars' fifth in nearly three full seasons, during which time they have outscored opponents 1,406-572. At 38, Jenkins is one of the youngest Division I-A head coaches and one of the most successful. An architect of the "multiple adjustment passing offense," a.k.a. the run and shoot, he is primarily responsible for one of the more dramatic turnarounds in college football history. The 1986 Cougars, coached by Bill Yeoman, went 1-10. The following season, new coach Jack Pardee brought Jenkins in as his offensive coordinator, and the team finished 4-6-1 before improving to 9-3 and 9-2 the last two seasons. Pardee left last January to take over the Houston Oilers, and Jenkins was given the top job. A three-year NCAA probation primarily for recruiting violations committed during Yeoman's tenure hardly slowed the Cougars down. Before Saturday, Houston aspired to become the first team on probation to finish atop the Associated Press poll since Oklahoma in 1974.
Fidgeting in the press box in a myrtle-green blazer, Cotton Bowl president John Stuart affected a studied neutrality. Inwardly, though, he must have been bellowing, "Hook 'em, Horns!" The Cotton Bowl has no use for the Cougars, forbidden as they are by the NCAA to go bowling until 1992. A Houston win could only devalue the Cotton Bowl, forced, as it would be, to take the Southwest Conference runner-up. Stuart & Co. desperately want Texas for New Year's Day, even though Baylor and Texas A&M still have a fighting chance for the league title. As Longhorn publicist Bill Little told Cotton Bowl executive director Jim Brock before the game, "Hoss, you should break out your orange underwear for this one."
Texas, coming off its second straight losing year, did not engage in a lot of bowl talk in the off-season. In fact, David McWilliams began this season, his fourth on a five-year contract, with the discomfiting knowledge that he would be coaching for his job. When athletic director DeLoss Dodds fired Longhorn coach Fred Akers after the 1986 season, he replaced him with McWilliams, who had been coach at Texas Tech for only one year. McWilliams had been a 6-foot, 195-pound linebacker, center and a captain on Royal's 1963 national championship team, and the feeling around Austin was that he might revive some of that spirit. Instead, the program rapidly deteriorated to a state worse than anything seen during the Akers regime. Successive 7-5, 4-7 and 5-6 years put a quick end to any comparisons with Royal. The low-water mark came during last year's 50-7 home loss to Baylor. "That's as close to quitting as I've ever seen a Texas team come," recalls an athletic department official of that humiliation.
In the off-season, pressure was brought to bear on McWilliams by alumni and media to fire some of his assistant coaches. The Austin American-Statesman generously volunteered the names of several coaches it thought were ripe for replacement. McWilliams thanked the paper for its concern and kept his staff intact.
Asked "What turned it around?" McWilliams replies, "Senior leadership, I think," a catchphrase that is right up there in every coach's lexicon with "momentum" and "playing well as a unit." For once, however, "senior leadership" is not a pat answer. This year's two-deep roster includes 26 seniors. Last season's had six. In 1988 the squad had 11 seniors. This year McWilliams distributed T-shirts that said WIT, which stood for Whatever It Takes—the season's theme. It went over big. Many Longhorns had played in highly successful high school programs, and, as senior wideout Johnny Walker says, "We were sick to death of losing in college."
Walker and the Cash twins, flanker Keith and tight end Kerry, the nucleus of the Longhorns' receiver corps, are all members of the class of '86 at San Antonio's Holmes High and call themselves the San Antonio Posse. Kerry says that as the posse watched film of Houston's most recent win, a 56-35 offensive orgy with TCU, "We were licking our chops." Houston's defense, forced by injuries and academic attrition to start six freshmen at times, yielded an NCAA Division I-A record 690 passing yards to Matt Vogler, the Horned Frogs' backup quarterback.
While the Texas coaching staff had talked all week about its intention to mount long clock-eating drives that would keep Klingler & Co. off the field, Gardere went to the air early and often. Evidently Houston's defensive backs had not regarded Gardere as much of a threat to throw deep. "They were coming up so hard, biting on all the short stuff, that it was no problem getting behind them," said Keith Cash, whom Gardere hit for long gainers of 25, 42 and 62 yards. "Now on a couple of those passes, if Peter had simply hit me in stride, it would have been six." Remembering a 76-yard pass to his twin that was called back because Gardere had about three cleats' worth of his right shoe past the line of scrimmage, Keith said, "He sure aired it out on that bomb to Kerry. I guess he just doesn't want to hit me deep."
Gardere, who had 20 completions in 28 attempts, including 10 straight during one stretch—the streak ended when running back Chris Samuels dropped a ball—would be hard-pressed to pick any of the Cougars' defensive linemen out of a crowd; he barely glimpsed one all evening. The Texas offensive line has improved enormously since last season. In January, McWilliams was approached by a group of seniors, several of them offensive linemen, with an odd request: Could the three-days-a-week off-season running program possibly be held at 6 a.m.? Before, the team had worked out in the afternoon, in separate clusters. Under the new schedule, says senior left guard Duane Miller, "We were sweating and suffering together."
The offensive linemen also decided that the gleaming new Neuhaus-Royal complex—which students call the Taj Mahal—was insufficiently spartan, and moved their lifting sessions to a musty old weight room under the stadium. "I would not have been surprised to see bats in this room," says tackle Stan Thomas. "The weights were dirty and rusty. We'd crank the heat up as high as it would go and just break our butts."
A funny thing happened after the Longhorns started sharing their morning ordeal. "We started going to breakfast together," says Miller. "That's just a little thing, but it has made a difference. Before this season, there were guys that had been here for years that I didn't even know. At least now we all know each other."
The linemen were not the only players touched by this new spirit of unity and discipline. Stanley Richard, the senior safety, found an old policeman's badge and took to wearing it around campus, calling himself the Sheriff. "That's right," says Richard. "I'm the Sheriff." As the Sheriff, he says he "keeps law and order" among the defensive backs. He has put the word out that he's looking for a younger defensive back to bequeath the badge to.
Perhaps because of this outbreak of togetherness, bad breaks that used to cold-cock the Longhorns can no longer keep them down. In this year's opener at Penn State, the Nittany Lions returned the opening kickoff 95 yards and punched the ball in for a touchdown three plays later. Against one of the tougher defenses in the country, and with Gardere having a poor day, Texas fought back for a 17-13 win. Five weeks later, behind 13-7 in the final minutes of the Oklahoma game, Gardere drove the team from its own nine to the Sooner 16. Keith Cash caught the winning touchdown on fourth down.
Since mid-October the Houston game has loomed as the de facto SWC championship. It seemed inconceivable that the Longhorns would try to defense the run and shoot as they had in '89, with predominantly man-to-man coverage. Cougar wideout Manny Hazard alone had 19 catches in Houston's 47-9 win, in which Andre Ware, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, passed for 411 yards and four touchdowns. This season, Klingler, a junior in his first year as a starter, was piling up more passing yardage than Ware had at the same point in '89. To make sure that the run and shoot does not slow to a walk, the Cougars rotate eight receivers in and out of the lineup, keeping everyone fresh. What Texas needed to defense Houston, one would have thought, was gimmicks, gambles, smoke and mirrors.
So how would the Longhorns defuse the run and shoot? "We'll play a lot of man-to-man against them," said the Sheriff. "Know why? Real men play man."
That is exactly what the Longhorns did. And it worked. Klingler's 22-of-52, four-interception outing was the worst of his nine-game career as a starter. "What happened? David Klingler didn't do his job," said Klingler. "They keep saying it's the system, it's the system. Well, it is the system, and the system is designed around quarterback execution, and today the quarterback didn't execute."
In the winners' dressing room, the Longhorns listened to their customary postgame tape of Sister Sledge's We Are Family, an anthem borrowed from the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. The gentle ballad failed to pacify the pumped-up Longhorns. Upon being informed that Houston tailback Chuck Weatherspoon, who had been averaging 107.25 yards a game rushing, had picked up just 50 yards against their defense, Longhorn linebacker Brian Jones shouted, "Chuck who? Weatherspoon? Try Teaspoon!"
Said cornerback Willie Mack Garza, "You hear it over and over again, how their offense is so unstoppable. Their coach, Jenkins, has been talking a lot of smack in the papers about what they did to us last year and two years ago. Well, this is 1990, and it feels good to make them shut their mouths."
Even in victory, these Longhorns remain angry young men.