Bubba Jacques won a game but broke a promise. For four years Jacques had been telling his Texas teammates that if he ever scored a touchdown, he would throw the ball into the crowd—the automatic delay-of-game penalty be damned. He had seen Drew Pearson, a onetime Dallas Cowboys receiver, do that once after catching a TD pass. "I'm a heavy-duty Cowboy fan," says Jacques.
With 13:30 to play last Saturday in the 86th Red River Riot between Texas and Oklahoma, Jacques (pronounced jacks) got his chance. Gathering up Oklahoma fullback Mike McKinley's fumble, he raced 30 yards into the end zone and into a prominent place in the annals of this hallowed rivalry: Jacques' first career touchdown was the Longhorns' only TD in their 10-7 win.
Once past the goal line, Jacques turned to the delirious crowd in the Cotton Bowl, put the ball in his right (throwing) hand and...let it drop. "I chickened out," says Jacques, a senior free safety. "We couldn't afford a 15-yard penalty. We didn't need to be kicking off from the 20."
An undersized (5'9", 176 pounds), self-made player, Jacques lacks exceptional speed or strength. He gets his playing time because he is smart and because, as Texas defensive coordinator Leon Fuller says, "He has a nice nose for the ball."
On the play before McKinley's fumble, Jacques had seen defensive end Shane Dronett tackle Sooner tailback Earnest Williams after a three-yard gain. Jacques noticed that Dronett made no attempt to strip Williams of the ball. "These guys are holding the ball up high," Jacques told his teammates in the huddle. "Tackle the ball—let's make something happen!"
Defensive tackle James Patton was paying attention. On the next play McKinley gained five yards, to the Sooner 25-yard line, when Patton tore the ball from his grasp. As the ball bounced in his direction, says Jacques, "I started seeing things in slow motion."
Jacques grasped for it and came up empty. He bent over again to collect the elusive ball but instead booted it five yards toward the Sooners' goal line. Dang, he would recall thinking, I ain't never going to pick this thing up. On his third try, he did.
Not long after, on their way to the dressing room, the victorious Longhorns had to walk up the ramp behind the south end zone—directly beneath thousands of despondent Oklahoma fans. Rather than brandish the familiar two-finger hook 'em Horns sign, many Texas players extended their arms and raised three fingers—a reminder that the Sooners have now lost three straight games to the Longhorns, who improved their season record to 2-2. With each defeat at the hands of Texas, the stigma that has attached itself to Oklahoma's third-year coach Gary Gibbs grows more difficult to erase: Barry may have let things get out of control, but at least he knew how to beat the Longhorns.
Indeed, Barry Switzer, Gibbs's predecessor, who was forced from his job as the Sooners' coach after the NCAA placed Oklahoma on three years' probation in 1988, was 9-5-2 against the Longhorns. Those three-finger salutes were a cruel dig, but then the Red River Riot (a.k.a. the Crude Feud) has come to embody a kind of delightful mean-spiritedness. The essence of the rivalry, in which Texas holds the upper hand 50-32-4, was captured nicely by dueling messages on the rear windows of two cars in adjacent lanes in a pregame traffic jam on I-35 in Dallas. BAR-B-Q BEVO suggested a dark blue Dodge Colt with Oklahoma plates—a reference to Texas's beloved longhorn mascot. On a battered Texas-registered Volkswagen was written: SOONERS, WELCOME TO TEXAS—NOW GO HOME. A five-letter epilogue added: OUSUX.
Oklahoma's performance this year indicated otherwise. The Sooners entered the game against Texas with a 4-0 record, a No. 6 national ranking and a novel wrinkle in their offense: semiregular use of the forward pass. Long accustomed to the wishbone, Oklahoma fans cheered wildly last season when freshman quarterback Cale Gundy completed several bombs in succession. What made the applause unusual was that Gundy had thrown these passes during warmups before a preseason scrimmage. "It was like they'd never seen anything like it," Gundy says.
Gibbs faced several obstacles after being named coach in June 1989. The biggest was removing the taint on the program left by Switzer. The other was remaining a Top 20 team while being allowed to award only 18 scholarships in 1990.
After scrapping to a 7-4 finish in his first year, Gibbs and his staff set out to make the most of their allotment. One of their '90 scholarships, they hoped, would go to Gundy, then a senior at Midwest City High, in a suburb of Oklahoma City. Though Gundy wanted to be a Sooner, he had no interest in running the option. Gibbs assured Gundy that Oklahoma would be throwing more. Gundy had his doubts. "I knew he had to hire an offensive coordinator, so I waited to see who he hired," says Gundy. "If it was some guy from Air Force [a die-hard option team] or something, I had my answer."
Shortly before the signing date for recruits, Gibbs gave the job to Larry Coker, who had been the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, where his quarterback the previous four seasons had been Mike Gundy, Cale's older brother. Cale knew that Coker wasn't a wishbone fanatic. He signed with Oklahoma and became the starter seven games into last season.
Gundy has thrown for 1,638 yards. At his current rate, he will break Oklahoma's career passing record in his junior year. The mark belongs to Bob Warmack, who passed for 3,527 yards from 1966 to '68. Last Saturday, Gundy's first-quarter 24-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ted Long took a small bite out of Warmack's record but a big bite out of the Longhorns' confidence.
Indeed, Oklahoma would not have needed more than seven points were it not for Jacques' ramble. For the third time in four games, quarterback Peter Gardere, who led Texas to a 10-2 record and the Southwest Conference championship as a sophomore last season, was jittery and ineffective. Several theories for Gardere's woes have been set forth:
•Lasting psychological damage from last January's 46-3 rout at the hands of Miami in the Cotton Bowl game.
•The absence of last season's top receivers, Kerry and Keith Cash, Johnny Walker and Chris Samuels, all of whom were NFL draftees. "They made him look great for two seasons," says a Texas athletic department official. "Now that he's got average receivers, he's being exposed as an average quarterback."
•The pressure from boobirds. As Texas fans hooted during the Longhorns' home loss to Auburn on Sept. 21, Gardere tried to "set everything right on one play," says offensive coordinator Lynn Amedee, rather than do what he does best—move the chains with clock-eating, multi-play drives.
"There's nothing you can say to the kid," says Amedee. "He's not doing this on purpose." Last year Amedee could often be overheard screaming at Gardere. In the off-season Amedee was instructed by coach David McWilliams to tone it down.
Had the Longhorns had anyone equipped to replace Gardere last Saturday, he certainly would have been benched. Having been pressed into duty as a halfback, No. 2 signal-caller Jimmy Saxton left the game for good in the first half with an injury to his right shoulder. Third-teamer Chad Lucas had taken a single snap as a collegian.
With the Texas offense foundering this fall, Longhorn fans must be wondering: Steve Clements, are you watching? Do you regret your decision?
A Parade All-American in 1989, Clements threw for 8,204 yards at Huntsville (Texas) High. When he joined the Longhorns in the fall of '90, he was considered their quarterback of the future. In mid-July, frustrated at being listed behind Saxton on the depth chart, Clements transferred to Brigham Young. Were Clements still at Texas, it is highly likely that he would be beginning a career as a three-year starter. At BYU he is ineligible this season and will enter spring practice far down on the depth chart.
Against the Sooners, Gardere finished with 11 completions in 24 attempts; Gundy was 5 for 17. Each threw an ugly interception. Montana versus Marino this was not. In the first half, however, Oklahoma moved the ball well on the ground with a mixture of traps and options. The wheels fell off the Sooner Schooner after intermission. Oklahoma's eight second-half possessions resulted in six punts, McKinley's fumble and the loss of the ball on downs with 28 seconds remaining.
This sorry performance was largely the result of a halftime meeting of Texas's defensive backs. Having feared getting burned by play-action passes in the first half, the Longhorn cornerbacks and safeties had been cautious in providing run support. Too cautious, they decided in their meeting. The Sooner offensive linemen were tipping their hands. "If it was a run, they'd fire out real hard," said cornerback Mark Berry after the game. "If it was a pass, they stood straight up. Watching them told us exactly what to do."
Moreover, the Sooners grew tired in the second half. In lopsided victories over North Texas, Utah State, Virginia Tech and Iowa State, Gibbs had been able to rest his starters early. Two of Texas's games, on the other hand, had not been decided until the final minute. Nowhere was the conditioning gap more glaring than it was between the Longhorn defensive linemen and the Sooner offensive linemen. "We just kept pounding them," said Patton. "After a while they started wearing down."
Once Texas went ahead on Jacques' touchdown, Gundy had to start throwing. And Patton, Dronett, tackle Tommy Jeter and end Bo Robinson—who make up one of the nation's top defensive lines—knew it. They teed off on the linemen across from them to good effect: Gundy was sacked six times, all in the second half. "They didn't overmatch us," said Gundy, who had an eight-inch scratch across the middle of his back as evidence that at least one Longhorn had used it for a manicure. "We just had some breakdowns."
Outside the dressing room, Gibbs doggedly downplayed the significance of the loss. "We've got Colorado coming up [on Saturday]," he said. "We'll put this behind us and focus on winning the Big Eight championship."
It's a speech Gibbs has down pat—this is the third straight season he has delivered it. Two years ago his Sooners were 17-point favorites against Texas, but Gardere, in his second start, threw a touch-down pass to Johnny Walker with 1:33 left to give Texas a 28-24 victory. Oklahoma, which was favored by eight points last season, lost 14-13 after a gust of wind sent R.D. Lashar's 46-yard field goal attempt with no time remaining wide to the left by less than the length of Bevo's horn-spread. "We should have scored 40 on them," said Sooner fullback Kenyon Rasheed after that disappointment.
Snakebit Oklahoma was even less inclined to congratulate the Longhorns after this year's loss. "They beat the better learn today." said Sooner split end Corey Warren. "We played better, things just went their way."
"We played better," said Oklahoma linebacker Joe Bowden, a senior who saw his sensational, 15-tackle effort go for naught. "What else do we have to do to win? We play hard, execute and do what the coaches tell us. What else do we have to do?"
What the Sooners could use is a little luck—and a little free safety with a nice nose for the ball.