Posted August 18th, 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.
The 2001 recruiting class at Texas featured a Doak Walker Award winner, a Jim Thorpe Award winner, a Dick Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner and two players who would go on to be All-American offensive linemen. This class leaves out one player who committed to the program, but opted to play baseball for four years before returning to Texas in 2005, Quan Cosby. This class even featured the son of a coach who coached at Baylor who… OK, we’ll stop.
The 2001 recruiting class, anchored by Midland Lee’s Cedric Benson, Waco High School’s Derrick Johnson, Irving Nimitz’s Michael Huff, Dallas Carter’s Jonathan Scott, Cy Falls’ Will Allen and San Antonio Holmes’ Cedric Griffin– not to mention former Texas running back coach Anthony Johnson of Jefferson– will go on to be one of the best recruiting classes ever at Texas and one of the most accomplished. While Johnson and Benson were instant impact players, Huff, Griffin, Scott and Allen were key players for a team that would win the national championship.
The starting line up in 2001 featured B.J. Johnson and Roy Williams at receiver, Bo Scaife at tight end, Cedric Benson at running back, Mike Williams and Derrick Dockery on the offensive line and future starting NFL quarterback, Chris Simms, under center. Defensively, Texas started Cory Redding, Marcus Tubbs, De’Andre Lewis, Nathan Vasher, Ahmad Brooks, Rod Babers and Quentin Jammer.
Even kicker Dusty Mangum is fourth all-time in field goals made at Texas with 50.
And another positive thing: Texas actually entered the 2001 season settled at quarterback. Sure Simms didn’t leave a lasting impression in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon when he threw four interceptions in a 35-30 loss, but Applewhite was coming off knee surgery and wasn’t quite ready to start the season. Brown named Simms the starter during spring ball and Simms was thrust onto magazine covers and being hyped-up nationally.
The story wasn’t “who was going to start” the story was “look at all this quarterback talent.”
With Simms, Texas had a player with the DNA of a possible No. 1 NFL Draft pick. With Applewhite, Texas had the DNA of a typical college All-American gunslinger. The quarterback of the future was on roster, in redshirt Chance Mock, a former top-5 national quarterback recruit. What’s even more crazier is that in an alternate universe, a fourth talented quarterback is on the roster: Adam Dunn.
The future baseball All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds was a top high school prospect in Texas who committed to the Longhorns to play quarterback but chose to play baseball. Statesman reporter Mark Rosner spoke to Dunn just before the start of the 2001 season.
With the quarterback question solved for now, Texas was about to start the season with its highest preseason ranking, No. 5, since 1983, when Texas began the year No. 3.
In the opening game of the year Texas blasted New Mexico State 41-7. The next week against Brown’s former program, North Carolina, Texas won 44-14.
Days after the game against North Carolina, the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. The sports world stopped.
Texas opted to practice on Sept. 11, with Brown saying “We discussed the possibility of not practicing, but wanted to get them back into a routine.
“We met for 30 minutes before practice and there was hurt, anger and obviously some confusion.”
Texas president Larry Faulkner wanted “business as usual” on campus.
“He thought it was the proper thing to do, to keep classes open and the university functioning. He wanted to make it as normal a day as possible, ” Don Hale, UT vice president for public affairs, told the Statesman.
Texas didn’t have a game scheduled for that weekend, and athletic director DeLoss Dodds didn’t anticipate the Sept. 22 game against Houston begin postponed.
“My assumption is we’re going to play the game,” he told the Statesman.
They did play that game.
Simms threw his first interception of the year against Houston after 86 attempts. He also had his first 300-yard passing game at Texas. He completed 20-of-35 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns in a 53-26 win.
Texas led just 20-14 at halftime, but 33 points in the second half made the game a laugher. Simms had 228 yards passing on first down plays. Simms’ 92-yard touchdown throw to Johnson was the biggest highlight of the game.
The Big 12 opener against Texas Tech was more of the same. A 42-7 blowout of the Red Raiders saw West Texas’ own Roy Williams score a 40-yard touchdown. Simms threw his second interception, but completed 21-of-26 passes for 224 yards.
It set up the first of what would be several top-10 matchups against Oklahoma during the 2000s. Texas was No. 5 in the country. The defending national champions were No. 3.
Simms was brutal. He was 24-of-42 with four interceptions and was sacked five times. Ivan Williams led the Longhorns in rushing with just 30 yards.
Texas’ defense played well, though, limiting future Heisman Trophy winner Jason White to 108 passing yards.
With Texas trailing the Sooners 7-3 with 2:01 left in the game, Simms and the offense took over deep in their own territory and with a chance to drive down the field and score a touchdown to win.
Sometimes miracles don’t happen. Especially when Oklahoma safety Roy Williams is playing defense.
In one of the most famous plays of the rivalry, Williams jumped over his blocker on a safety blitz, disrupting Simms throw and the ball landed in Sooner linebacker Teddy Lehman’s arms.
“Do these guys ever lose a big game,” ABC’s Brent Musburger asked on the telecast of Oklahoma.
It was a crushing defeat, as Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls wrote of Texas’ national title hopes:”Texas’ loss probably ends any shot at its first national championship since 1970. But Texas (4-1) can go 10-1 and even play in a BCS bowl. While this was a devastating defeat, the Longhorns are not that far off.
“They’re just not there. Not yet.”
Here’s the thing though, and we’ve not mentioned it yet in the series, college football was trickier these days.
In 1998 the Bowl Championship Series brought math and numbers into the title equation. For the first three years, with Tennessee, Florida State and Oklahoma winning titles, there wasn’t much controversy. That changed in 2001 and Texas actually played a role.
Texas won its next six games that season and entered the last week of the regular season ranked No. 5 in the nation. Oklahoma, who had lost to No. 3 Nebraska earlier in the year to snap 20-game winning streak, was No. 4. Nebraska was No. 2.
At 11 a.m., Texas kicked off against Texas A&M. Texas broke a 7-7 fourth quarter tie with two touchdowns in the final frame. Simms had just 138 yards passing in the game. Cedric Benson, now the main back, had 79 yards and two touchdowns. Texas won 21-7.
Texas now needed Oklahoma State to upset the Sooners the next day to get a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. A Sooners win would clinch the Big 12 South. A Nebraska win over Colorado would clinch the Big 12 North. Those two things would likely assure the Big 12 a spot in the fourth BCS title game as the winner would have the inside track on the other challengers.
At 2:30 p.m. on the same day Texas beat the Aggies, Nebraska, reportedly kicked off against Colorado. But they didn’t look like the Huskers. Colorado crushed Nebraska 62-36 in Boulder to win the Big 12 North. The Buffaloes were coached by Texas’ first coaching choice in 1998, Gary Barnett.
The next day Oklahoma needed to beat unranked Oklahoma State, coached by Les Miles, who entered the week just 3-7 on the year.
The Cowboys’ 16-13 win over Oklahoma is one of the biggest upsets in Big 12 history. Bedlam ensued.
Texas was now a win over Colorado away from possibly playing for a national title in 2001. Bohls wrote in his Sunday column after the Cowboys win: “Texas still might get to the Rose Bowl, but it has to beat the Buffs and have Miami lose to Virginia Tech, Florida fall to Tennessee or to the SEC West champion and Oregon get bumped off by Oregon State.”
The following week, Tennessee knocked of No. 2 Florida. Tennessee all but assured themselves a spot in the BCS title game if they won the next week, but they lost to Nick Saban and LSU 31-20 on Dec. 8 (a week after the Big 12 title game).
The same night Tennessee beat Florida, Miami essentially clinched it’s spot in the BCS title game with a 26-24 win over Virginia Tech. Oregon beat Oregon State 17-14, but home loss to unranked Stanford earlier in the season didn’t help the Ducks.
The bottom line is Texas beating Colorado in the Big 12 Championship Game would have put the Longhorns in a BCS title game that seemingly no one wanted to play in except Miami, which was one of the all-time great college football teams ever, wanted to be in.
Against the Buffaloes, a rematch from earlier in the season when Texas won 41-7 and Simms threw for 234 yards with three touchdowns, Simms had his worst game of his career. He threw three interceptions and fumbled the ball away in the first half. Texas trailed 29-10 after a Simms interception was returned 64 yards for a touchdown with 2:32 left in the second quarter. He left the game with a fractured finger.
“Simms’ collapse, orchestrated before a chorus of boos by the predominantly Texas crowd, was hard to watch and impossible for Texas to overcome,” Bohls wrote in his postgame column. “He dislocated a finger, but location was a problem all night. He badly underthrew open receivers, threw late and into double coverage and took his team out of the game. That’s eight Simms turnovers in two losses.
“Equally troubling, his game reopens the nagging doubts about his ability, gamesmanship and vision. He may not have a big enough drawing board to go back to.”
Enter Applewhite. Less than a minute later, the senior quarterback connected with Johnson on a 79-yard touchdown pass to make the halftime score 29-17.
Texas cut the lead to 36-30 after Rod Babers returned an interception back 54 yards for a touchdown. Colorado responded with a field goal with 1:58 left to make it a 9-point lead.
Applewhite went 56 yards on 13 plays and hit Johnson with a 1-yard touchdown with 31 second left to make it 39-37. Texas couldn’t score again, and the BCS hopes were dashed in Dallas that night.
So who plays Miami? Tennessee lost the next week. Oregon, somehow, was getting shutout of the conversation. The answer? Nebraska. Miami beat them 37-14 to win the title.
The aftermath of Texas’ flop in the Big 12 title game was all about missed opportunities and bad Chris Simms.
Texas settled for the Holiday Bowl for the second straight year and this year they would play No. 21 Washington. Simms was ruled out for the bowl game, and Applewhite would have one last start for Texas.
Uh, he made the most of it.
Applewhite set the Texas bowl record with 473 passing yards with four touchdowns (he also threw three picks).
But this game is known more for the 19-point comeback than his yards. Trailing 36-17 near the end of the third quarter, Texas added a field goal at the end of the quarter to make the score 36-20.
Texas scored 27 points in the fourth quarter. Ivan Williams scored two touchdowns and Applewhite threw two touchdowns.
Washington took a 43-40 lead with 1:49 left. Applewhite took the field at his own 20-yard line. He later hit Johnson with a long pass to put Texas inside the 5-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. Williams scored from three yards out with 38 seconds left to give Texas the lead for good, 47-43.
“Major Applewhite had a fitting end to his unbelievable career, ” Washington Coach Rick Neuheisel said after the game.
“Major Mircle” is what the Statesman dubbed the next day, and Applewhite said of the game: “It was a great night. Unbelievable. Unreal. It started rough, but we refused to quit.”
At the end of the day, Texas went 11-2 in 2001, the best season thus far by coach Mack Brown, and the first double-digit win season since 1995. Texas finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation. They would start the next season ranked No. 4.
Benson lived up to his recruiting hype, rushing for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Simms passed for 2,603 yards with 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions– eight coming in the two loses. Roy Williams finished with 67 catches and 836 yards with seven touchdown, Johnson added 539 yards with four touchdowns.
Defensively, Brooks led the team with 93 tackles, while Johnson had one of the best true freshman seasons ever for a linebacker with 83 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Nathan Vasher, a sophomore, finished the season with seven interceptions.
Applewhite signed with the Super Bowl champion New England Partiots, but opted to end his playing career, return to Texas to finish his degree and enter coaching. He was a graduate assistant coach for Texas from 2003-2004, then had coaching stops at Syracuse and Rice before joining Nick Saban’s first coaching staff at Alabama in 2007. He left after a year to return to Texas and join Brown’s staff. After Brown left in 2013, he joined Houston when new coach Tom Herman took over. As the offensive coordinator, Applewhite helped lead a Cougar resurgence.
When Herman accepted the head coaching job at Texas, Applewhite eventually was named the new head coach at Houston.
Mike Williams and Quentin Jammer were taken No. 4 and No. 5 overall in the draft– the first time ever two Longhorns were taken in the top of the NFL draft in the same season.
What was in store the next season at Texas? More Simms, more big plays, more Benson and a Young new face on campus.