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The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Them Chris Simms and the Longhorns are primed to prove--to their fans, their critics and Oklahoma--that they can win the big one

Oct. 14, 2002
Oct. 14, 2002

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Oct. 14, 2002

Baseball
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Raider Of The Lost Art Bill Callahan Isn't Afraid To Pile Up The Points
NHL Preview 2002

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Them Chris Simms and the Longhorns are primed to prove--to their fans, their critics and Oklahoma--that they can win the big one

He had been restless throughout the interview, and now Roy
Williams stood up. The Texas wide receiver let his fingers do the
walking through a row of magazines on a shelf in the school's
sports information office, then plucked one out. "So good it's
scary," he declaimed, reading the cover billing on SI's 2002
College Football Preview. "Oooh." That cover, you may recall,
featured Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris striking a
menacing pose. "What's that all over his jersey?" Williams asked.
"Mustard?" No, Roy, that's dirt, it was explained. Sometimes the
photographers will....

This is an article from the Oct. 14, 2002 issue Original Layout

But Williams had stopped listening and was now reading the
subhead from the cover story touting Oklahoma's "devastating
defense...a scary assemblage of superathletes ready to take the
national title." Dropping the magazine on a desk, he said, "We'll
see."

Yes, we will. This Saturday, in the biggest game of the season to
date, No. 2 Oklahoma will play No. 3 Texas in the 97th Red River
Shootout, at the Cotton Bowl. Both teams are 5-0; Texas is
slightly favored. "You come out of the tunnel, and the stadium's
half orange and half crimson," says Texas offensive tackle Robbie
Doane. "You've got people of all ages giving you the finger."

In recent years the rivalry's profile has risen with the fortunes
of both teams. One team's, of course, have soared higher. In 2000
the Sooners jump-started their surprising drive to the national
title with a 63-14 rout of the Longhorns. A year later they
relied on the heroics of their own Roy Williams, the strong
safety now with the Dallas Cowboys, to grind out a 14-3 win.

Given that history, you might expect the mood on the Texas campus
to be Beat the Sooners or beat it, Mack Brown. Not exactly.
Brown, who took over as the Longhorns' coach from the fired John
Mackovic after the 1997 season, may not have brought a national
title to the Forty Acres, but he hasn't been twiddling his
thumbs. He's won nine or more games in each of his four seasons
in Austin, and he consistently reels in premier recruiting
classes. Texas fans may gripe when their beloved Horns spit the
bit against Oklahoma or Colorado, but they aren't stupid. They
recall the lean years under Mackovic and David McWilliams. Brown
has earned their allegiance.

From the day he was hired, Brown--whose contract has been extended
through 2011--has reached out to former Longhorns players, to the
state's high school coaches and to his predecessors. He has
difficulty going five minutes in a conversation without bringing
up legendary Longhorns coach Darrell Royal. To wit: "Coach Royal
said you have to enjoy the wins and handle the losses," Brown
said last week. "If you're relieved after wins and devastated
after losses, then you never, ever have a good day."

Having failed to have a good day in his last two attempts to beat
Oklahoma, Brown seems to be taking a different tack. "I've told
the kids to quit worrying, to go have fun," he says. "If we play
as well as we can and that's not good enough, then we'll recruit
harder. We've kept our passion but lost our obsession."

By spreading this gospel, Mack the Nice is taking pressure off
his club. The truth is that the stakes could not be higher for a
football game in October. Bob Stoops, the Sooners' fourth-year
coach, has overshadowed Brown's considerable accomplishments. A
victory over the gimlet-eyed Ohioan wouldn't guarantee Texas a
BCS bowl bid or even a spot in the Big 12 title game, but it
would go a long way toward erasing Brown's reputation as a
football man more gifted at recruiting than coaching.

Only one person in the Cotton Bowl will have more to gain from a
win than Brown. For Texas quarterback Chris Simms the game will
be a golden opportunity to come full circle. In his four years in
Austin, the Son of Phil has gone from prodigy (beating out Major
Applewhite, the returning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, as
a sophomore in 2000) to pathetic figure, committing four
turnovers in the first half of last December's conference title
game loss to Colorado before giving way to Applewhite. Afterward
Simms was verbally abused while leaving Texas Stadium with his
father. Then some yahoos posted his cellphone number on the
Internet, resulting in a slew of profane messages. A few days
later Brown told him that Applewhite would be starting against
Washington in the Holiday Bowl.

Simms dealt with his disappointment by bearing down. He spent the
summer working out and throwing to teammates in seven-on-seven
drills. He also invited his receiving corps to New Jersey, where
in addition to practicing, they bonded by fishing in a pond on
the Simms property. The result: Finally, in his fourth year at
Texas, he looks completely comfortable and confident running the
offense. "He's making great decisions right now," says Tulane
coach Chris Scelfo, who lost to the Longhorns 49-0 on Sept. 28.
Simms has completed 92 of 164 passes for 10 touchdowns, with
three interceptions (two of which were tipped by his receivers).
He's more willing to take sacks and less inclined to force
throws. "The biggest difference," says Brown, "is that he's not
trying to prove to everybody that he's good. He knows he's good."

One play in the Longhorns' 17-15 victory over Oklahoma State last
Saturday illustrated Simms's command of the offense. Late in the
second quarter Texas had the ball on the Cowboys' nine-yard line.
Simms broke the huddle, came to the line, looked to his left,
then to his right, then to the sideline. There, wondering whether
he was supposed to be in the game, stood tight end Brock Edwards.
Simms, with his right hand, waved Edwards into the game. As the
play clock ticked down, Edwards sprinted onto the field. Simms
gave him instructions, then took the snap, read a blitz and threw
a touchdown pass to wideout B.J. Johnson.

Last week, as he sat barefoot in his office, Brown appeared
equally in command. Was there any particular reason he had no
shoes or socks on? "I used to wear a coat and tie when
[reporters] came in," he said, smiling. "I'm too old for that
anymore."

In truth Brown is a well-preserved 51--young enough to coach for
another decade or more if he wishes; old enough to not care what
you think. Four years after taking over a team that had gone 4-7,
his Longhorns won 11 games. While many dwell on last year's two
losses, Brown makes clear his feeling that he has nothing to
apologize for. To the criticism that he can't win the big game,
Brown, who's coached for 19 seasons at four schools, rejoined,
"I've won 128 games, and all of 'em are big to me.

"When they cussed Coach Osborne, he outlasted 'em. When they
cussed Coach Bowden, he outlasted 'em. If you're good enough,
long enough, you'll win all the games at some point."

Right now Brown and Simms and the rest of the Longhorns aren't
thinking about winning all the games. They're thinking about
winning the next one.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER SEEING RED The Longhorns don't cotton to Harris's preseason pub or to the Sooners' recent dominance in the rivalry.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BIEVER COMFORT ZONE Simms has been more in command--and less prone to mistakes--in the pocket this season.COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL CEDRIC THE YARDAGE-GAINER Benson's power running game gives the Longhorns the advantage on the ground.

HOW THEY MATCH UP

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of this year's Red River
Shootout.

Quarterback
Since replacing injured Oklahoma starter Jason White five weeks
ago, Nate Hybl has been better than expected. Chris Simms has
ranged from good to great. Edge: Texas.

Running back
The Sooners' 5'7" tailback, Quentin Griffin (who scored six
touchdowns in this game two years ago), has pluck and grit, but
the Longhorns' Cedric Benson (6 feet, 205 pounds) is bigger and
better. Edge: Texas.

Offensive line
Texas, which lost three starters from last year's unit, is still
getting things sorted out here. That said, the Longhorns' hogs
have played better than the Sooners'. This area has been
Oklahoma's biggest problem. Edge: Texas.

Tight end
The Sooners' Trent Smith is a serviceable blocker and a terrific
receiver, one of the best in the country. So was Texas starter
Bo Scaife before he blew out his knee in August. Edge: Oklahoma.

Wide receivers
This wouldn't be close if Roy Williams weren't recovering from a
strained hammy and if the other Longhorns wideouts--Sloan
Thomas, B.J. Johnson and Tony Jeffery--had not suffered a rash
of dropped balls of late. Edge: Texas.

Defensive line
With SI cover boy Tommie Harris and end Jimmy Wilkerson leading
the way, this is a Sooners strength--although you'd expect more
than seven sacks from the unit through five games. At the same
time, the D line is not exactly a Longhorns weakness. End Cory
Redding, the undisputed leader of the defense, is playing very
well. Tackle Marcus Tubbs is drawing comparisons to former
Longhorns Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers. He'll soon join them
in the NFL. Edge: Even.

Linebackers
Teddy Lehman, who scored the game-clinching touchdown on an
interception in this game last year, has been all over the field
for the Sooners, but junior college transfers Lance Mitchell and
Pasha Jackson are still learning the ropes. Texas's linebacking
corps, viewed as a weakness before the season, is anything but.
Edge: Texas.

Secondary
While the Longhorns have a strong secondary anchored by veteran
corners Rod Babers and Nathan Vasher, Oklahoma's is swarming
with stars, including Derrick Strait, Brandon Everage, Antonio
Perkins. Edge: Oklahoma.

Kicking
So dreadful was Sooners kicker Trey DiCarlo last Saturday
against Missouri--he muffed field goals of 34 and 43 yards and
an extra point--that coach Bob Stoops figured he had nothing to
lose by attempting a fake field goal (which went for the
game-winning touchdown). At Texas, slumping Dusty Mangum missed
three field goals against Oklahoma State. As for punting, OU's
Blake Ferguson is more consistent than Texas's Brian Bradford.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Coaching
Stoops is 2-1 against Mack Brown, including wins in the last two
Shootouts. Edge: Oklahoma.

Prediction
It's the Longhorns' turn. Texas 24, Oklahoma 21. --A.M.

While Brown tries to take the pressure off his club, the truth
is that the stakes could not be higher for a football game in
October.