Football

Daily Longhorn football history: The 2000 season

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Posted August 17th, 2017

The Texas football program dates back to 1893. Each day, we look at a little piece of Longhorn history. We’re starting by looking at each Longhorn football season. 

University of Texas’ Longhorns #1, Chris Simms, passes against the Texas A&M’s during first quarter of action on Friday, November 24, 2000, held at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman)

If the 1980s and 1990s were two decades with mostly forgettable seasons that featured four different head coaches and handfuls of losing seasons, and the 1960s are considered the best decade of Texas football, the 2000s are, by far, the second-best decade of Longhorn football ever.

The 1960s featured two national title teams and the foundation for the third title in 1970. Darrell Royal became a legend thanks to the 1960s. Until another decade produces multiple titles, the bulk of a 30-game winning streak, 9-1 record against Oklahoma and a 6-1-1 bowl record, the 1960s will be the standard for Longhorn success.

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The 2000s are right there behind the swinging sixties. Texas won more games in the 2000s — because Texas played more games — never missed a bowl game and won at least nine games every  year from 2000-2009. Texas went 7-3 in bowl games with wins over the likes of USC, LSU, Ohio State and Michigan. And of course, spoiler alert, won the BCS National Championship in 2005 and played for another in 2009.

Before we get into the 2000 season, we have to address the 2000 recruiting class because it’s one of the best Texas had and continued a run of Texas landing some of the best players in the nation. It helped start what would be a insult to coach Mack Brown when people referred to him as “Mr. February ” but it also filled the coffers for two of the best seasons in program history: 2004 and 2005.

The 2000 recruiting class featured Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Chance Mock, Sloan Thomas, Nathan Vasher and Brock Edwards as part of a 23-person recruiting class. Johnson was the No. 1 player ranked in the state of Texas. Mock was the No. 3 quarterback in the country. Williams’ nickname in high school was “Legend.” Vasher is one of the greatest cornerbacks in Texas football history. Texas has never recruited a better trio of receivers than Williams, Johnson and Thomas.

The classes only got better from there.

But 2000 would be overshadowed by a battle between a junior record-setting quarterback and Brown’s first big recruiting win at Texas.

Yes, 2000 is the official start of the Applewhite or Simms debate.

The background: Chris Simms, the son of New York Giants great Phil Simms, was part of the 1999 recruiting class, Mack Brown’s second crop. He was one of the top recruits in the nation as he hailed from New Jersey.

Applewhite became the starting quarterback in 1998 and  by 1999 he was already one of top quarterbacks, number-wise, in program history. He was also becoming a fan favorite.

Simms had all the “physical tools” to be a star and was even being penciled in as a future NFL first-round pick.

Still, would a sophomore really be picked over a two-year starter in Applewhite?

In his first two seasons Applewhite broke and set 37 passing records and 18 of them came in his sophomore year. Simms could really only fall back on a solid spring season in 2000, when he was 16-for-21 with 253 yards in two spring scrimmages.

Texas receiver Roy Williams pulls in a catch in the second quarter against Oklahoma State, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2000, in Austin, Texas. Williams’ reception set up the first score for Texas.(AP Photo/Jim Sigmon)

Texas was heading into the season with two starting quarterbacks — which old-school football fans will say meant Texas had no starting quarterback.

But that wasn’t true. Applewhite would have been a shoo-in and a lock to start at most schools given his performances in 1998 and 1999.

Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls pleaded in his column for Brown not to have dual starting quarterbacks: “Please, Mack, don’t let it be both. Bet you can pick just one. This is football, not a potato chip commercial, except Texas quarterbacks are known to be as brittle. No Longhorns quarterback has started every game in a season since James Brown in 1996, and none has started and been the true No. 1 all year since Shea Morenz in 1993.”

Brown said this: “We’ve got two starters. And one will walk out there before the other. And if that one’s struggling, the other will come in and try to give us a lift.”

Applewhite played nice — nicer than most quarterbacks put in that position: “If that ticked me off, I’m a lousy individual. It doesn’t bother me at all. I love competition.”

Of course we now know that, maybe, it did bother him? About 17 years later, Simms told a radio show: ” “He tried to kind of make up at the end, but I couldn’t get (past) the first year-and-a-half or two where he kind of treated me like crap. Of course, everybody on the team was telling me things he was saying behind my back.”

Simms said Brown made the two room together on road games to try to show the media that “we were still friends.”

A starter was never named before the first game of the 2000 season.

Brown kept everyone guessing, even going as far as doing this, as reported by the Statesman, before the season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette: “He confounded even the most devious observers by instructing Simms and Applewhite to take snaps from both starting center Matt Anderson and backup Beau Baker in pregame warmups.”

The third-year coach, faced with his first major position battle of his Texas tenure, insisted that he had two starting quarterbacks. In that first game against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Simms took the first series and finished the game 7-of-14 with 88 yards with a touchdown and interception. Applewhite was 18-for-26 with 315 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, left, is a happy camper on the sidelines with backup Chris Simms, right, after Simms made a fourth quarter appearance for a TD pass against Stanford. (Taylor Jones/American-Statesman)

Texas won 52-10 in spite of quarterback uncertainty.

Brown still wasn’t budging on his quarterback stance.

It divided the fan base. Bohls picked Applewhite, writing “And football teams aren’t baseball teams. A football team needs one starting quarterback, and Applewhite should have regained his job in part because Simms doesn’t look ready to produce big on the road against Stanford next week.”

He added: “Texas has a very average starting quarterback and the best backup quarterback in America.”

In the end, Applewhite played in nine games for the Longhorns, throwing for 2,164 yard and 18 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He completed 54.5 percent of his passes. Simms had 1,064 yards, playing in 10 games and threw eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions while completing 57.3 percent of his passes.

The self-inflicted quarterback quagmire didn’t stop Texas from having a good season, and in fact worked itself out when Applewhite was injured later in the season. Maybe the debate prevented the squad from reaching its full potential, but Texas went 9-3 and this quarterback battle would rage into the next season even hotter. Simms didn’t really secure the starting job until Applewhite graduated.

Against Stanford in week two, Applewhite was the clear primary quarterback at Texas. He threw 40 times, completing 18 passes for 274 yards with two picks and two touchdowns. Simms threw just six passes for 56 yards — one of the passes was a 38-yard strike to freshman Roy Williams in the second quarter. Applewhite threw a 71-yard pass to another freshman, Johnson, and a 38-yard touchdown pass to Victor Ike.

It didn’t matter. Stanford, the home team, won 27-24.

The next week both quarterbacks had mixed games in a blowout win over Houston, a 48-0 win, but it was Simms, who like the season-opener had the first series. Even though Simms got the official start it was Applewhite who took over and was effectively the starting quarterback in the game.  The next week after Houston was a 42-7 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener with the junior signal caller under center. It showed. The Louisiana native had three touchdown throws and 291 yards on 28 passing attempts. Simms had five passing attempts in the game.

It was against Oklahoma where the season turned and would scar this program the rest of the season. Texas was ranked No. 11 in the nation when they played Bob Stoops and the No. 10-ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Oklahoma won the national championship this season. This game was the first head-turning performance. Texas had outscored Houston and Oklahoma State 90-7 in back-to-back weeks, but the Sooners made Texas look like a junior varsity team, beating the Longhorns 63-14.

At one point the Sooners led 42-0… in the midway through the second quarter.

Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel lies on the ground after being sacked by Texas linebacker Everick Rawls and free safety Greg Brown at the Cotton Bowl Saturday in Dallas. 10/07/00

Applewhite was 9-for-18 with 98 yards passing with an interception. Simms was 11-23 with 67 yards passing but with a terrible second quarter interception that Oklahoma linebacker Rocky Calmus returned 48 yards for a touchdown.

However, to Brown and the player’s credit, Texas didn’t let the loss destroy its season. The Longhorns won six straight games after the embarrassing showing.

The quarterback question ironed itself out when, harking back to what Bohls wrote at the start of the season, when Applewhite (then the entrenched starter) hurt his knee against Texas Tech. The injury allowed Simms to start the rest of the season and gave him a head start in the quarterback competition of 2001. He went 2-1 as the official “starter” in 2000.

Texas capped the season with a 43-17 win over No. 22 Texas A&M at home.  The Aggies had no answer for Williams, who caught a touchdown for 20 yards and scored a 40-yard rushing touchdown. Nor could they stop Johnson, who caught six passes for 187 yards with a 70-yard touchdown catch.

The Aggies, still riding power back Ja’Mar Toombs, struggled to move the ball against Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton and finished with 81 rushing yards in the game.

After the win Texas accepted an invitation to play in the Holiday Bowl against No. 8 Oregon.

In the bowl game, Oregon took a 14-point lead after the first quarter, but Texas struck back with 21 points in the second. Oregon tied the game in the third quarter at 21, but Oregon outscored Texas 14-9 in the fourth to win the game 35-30.

Simms threw four interceptions and no touchdowns. The fourth pick came late in the game after Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington (no relation to the author, but that is a pretty sweet name), mishandled a handoff that led to a turnover. Texas took over with a chance to win the game, but Simms threw a pick to seal the game for Oregon.

The main Mack Brown complaint after that game? It was that the coach couldn’t get over the nine-win mark. This was a pretty big change from a few years earlier when from 1986-1997 Texas had gone over nine wins just twice.

The loss to Oregon prevented Texas from finishing in the AP top 10 final poll for the first time since 1983. The bowl game loss was Texas’ ninth in 12 tries, and now Brown was 1-for-2 in bowls at Texas.

The 2000 season saw the end of Hodges Mitchell’s Texas career, which sadly ended early in the bowl game when suffered a knee injury. Mitchell finished with 1,118 yards with eight touchdowns. He left Texas the 11th all-time leading rusher in two years as a starter.

Johnson’s and Williams’ impact was felt immediately. They caught 41 and 40 passes for a combined 11 touchdowns in their freshmen seasons. Williams’ 809 receiving yards is the most for a Texas freshman. Johnson’ 698 yards is second most in freshman history. Williams’ 96-yard touchdown against Oklahoma State is the longest receiving touchdown for a Texas freshman and one of the longest for a freshman in NCAA history.

 University of Texas Longhorn’s #3, Hodges Mitchell, left, is finally brought down by Texas A&M’s #1, Michael Jameson, #47, LeBrandon Shepard and #3, Roylin Bradley, right, during the second quarter of action on Friday, November 24, 2000, held at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman)

The offensive line was also outstanding. Being anchored by Leonard Davis, the line featured three future NFL players in Davis, Mike Williams and Derrick Dockery. Davis and Williams weren’t just draft picks, they were top five NFL Draft picks.

Defensively, Texas’ line has probably never been better, with Hampton and Rogers in the middle and Cory Redding and Kalen Thornton at the ends with Marcus Tubbs getting snaps.

The defensive backfield featured Quentin Jammer (another top-five draft pick), Rod Babers, Greg Brown and Dakarai Pearson with Vasher getting some plays.

OK, maybe the nine-win thing was legit in 2000?

In the 2001 NFL Draft Davis and Hampton became the first Longhorn pair to be drafted in the first round since 1991 when Stanley Richard and Stan Thomas were taken. Rogers was drafted in the second round.

Casey Hampton, UT defense in a game against Univeristy of Colorado 2000 season. (UT Athletics)

Hampton, who recorded 78 tackles his senior season, is, if you ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan, a future NFL Hall of Famer and one of the greatest nose tackles to ever play football. He won two Super Bowls, was a five time Pro Bowler and is a member of the Steelers– of the Steel Curtain fame– All-Time Team that includes Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert.

Hampton was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and was a consensus All-American for the second year in a row.

Despite losing a lot of talent, Texas was stocked with talent to survive the player loses, but two players were coming back, Simms and Applewhite, and the quarterback debate was returning.

And, oh yeah, another talented recruiting class was coming to Texas.

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