Football

Daily Longhorn football history: The 2002 season

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Posted August 19th, 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 season ended in dramatic fashion as Major Applewhite led a historic comeback in a win against Washington. Texas finished the season ranked No. 5 in the final  Associated Press poll, the highest ranking since 1983.

Returning the next year, Texas found itself with the highest preseason ranking at the time  under Mack Brown, at No. 4.

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The amount of talent on Texas’ roster was starting to get silly. Led by Chris Simms at quarterback, the offense featured the program’s second all-time leading rusher in Cedric Benson and two of the program’s all-time best receivers, B.J. Johnson and Roy Williams. The offensive line featured Derrick Dockery and Johnathan Scott, while the defense had Derrick Johnson, Cory Redding, Cedric Griffin, Nathan Vasher, Rod Babers and Michael Huff. The leading tackler was Reed Boyd, with 123 tackles.

That’s just naming a few. This team was also sparked by one of the best recruiting classes in college football.

8/22/02 Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN; Texas head coach Mack Brown has a conversation with players during Thursday morning practice August 22, 2002.

The 2002 Texas recruiting class was the No.1-ranked class in college football. The class featured one of the greatest players in the history of the program, Vince Young. It also included Brian Robison, Justin Blalock, Selvin Young, David Thomas, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, Rodrique Wright, Chase Pittman and Bryan Pickryl.

Does Pickryl’s name not fit? He was one of the top recruits to ever choose Texas and started several games as a true freshman, but injuries derailed his career and he would retire from football before graduating.

Also on the team? Future San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Simms’ roommate, was a receiver who caught seven passes that season.

Texas had clear national championship expectations in 2002. In front of Texas was defending champion Miami followed by Oklahoma and Florida State. During the season Texas would move up to No. 2 in the nation at one point.

Without Applewhite over his shoulder, Simms had complete control of the team his senior season. Chance Mock, now a sophomore wasn’t challenging Simms and Young was redshirting in 2002. He finished with 3,207 yards passing (fifth most all-time in a single season) with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games. He completed 59.3 percent of his passes.

11/29/02 Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN; Texas’ QB Chris Simms finds the time to dump off to a receiver out of the backfield to keep a drive alive duirng first half action as the Horns defeated the Aggies 50-20 in Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium Friday afternoon November 29, 2002.

He also had and even better running game with Benson and Young, and Williams, who was beginning to become one of the best receivers in college football.

The junior receiver caught 64 passes for 1,142 yards– 17.8 yards per catch– with 12 touchdowns. Johnson, also  a junior, hauled in five touchdowns on catches for 603 yards.

Defensive back Dakarai Pearson had six interceptions to lead Texas, while Johnson recorded 120 tackles, 13 for a loss. Redding had 8.5 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss.

Texas was dominant on both sides of the ball.

The Longhorns opened the season with a 27-0 win over North Texas followed by 52-21 win at North Carolina, a 41-11 win over Houston and a 49-0 win over Tulane.

With Les Miles coaching Oklahoma State, the Cowboys gave the Longhorns its third toughest game of the year to start Big 12 season. Texas led 17-3 in the third quarter, but the Cowboys scored two touchdowns– missing an extra point and failing a two-point conversion– as Texas squeaked out a home game 17-15.

That set up a No. 3 vs. No. 2 matchup the next week against Oklahoma. It was the highest ranked both teams would be entering the game during the Mack Brown-Bob Stoops era. Texas had lost the two previous meetings in Dallas.

Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman Texas’ Roy Williams reaches out for a pass as Kansas State’s James Dunnigan tries to defend during the first half in Manhattan, Kansas on Saturday, October 19, 2002. Williams dropped the pass.

It would be more of the same in 2002, and maybe even more painful than the 63-14 loss from two years earlier.

Texas led 14-3 late in the second quarter before Oklahoma would go on a 32-3 scoring run, taking the lead and overall outscore Texas 24-10 in the second half. Texas actually led this game with 3:38 left in the third quarter, 17-14.

Simms was picked off three times in the loss. In games against the Sooners, Simms threw eight of his career 31 interceptions at Texas. In fact, almost half of Simms’ career interceptions came in just five of his 41 games he played in.

Texas lost to Oklahoma 35-24. To Simms’ defense Benson had one of his worst games, rushing for 54 yards on 22 carries against a defense that had Tommie Harris, Teddy Lehman, Derrick Straight, Lance Mitchell and Jimmy Wilkerson.

The next week Texas traveled to Kansas State and won a rare– especially under Brown– football game 17-14. Texas then won another game the following week against a top-25 team, No. 17 Iowa State, 21-10 at home.

Texas was ranked No. 7 in the nation when it played Nebraska in Lincoln– where the Huskers had won 26 straight home games. Texas led 20-10 in the third quarter, but Nebraska scored two touchdowns to cut the lead to 27-24 late.

With 10 seconds remaining, and Texas playing in front of, at the time, the largest crown in Memorial Stadium (Nebraska’a Memorial Stadium), Vasher sealed the game with an interception at the 1-yard line to clinch the win.

Following a 41-0 win over Baylor, Texas traveled to Lubbock ranked No. 4 in the nation.

Texas’s already slim BCS chances died against Texas Tech and coach Mike Leach (this wouldn’t be the last time). The Red Raiders and Longhorn traded touchdowns in a 42-38 shootout. Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury threw six touchdowns and 473 yards on 38-for-60 passing. Yes, 60 passing attempts. Future NFL Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker had 14 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

Simms wasn’t bad either. He threw for 345 yards and  four touchdowns while also getting 75 yards and a touchdown from Benson. Williams had eight catches for 117 yards  and three touchdowns.

With 5:41 left in the game Kingsbury threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to cap an 80-yard drive complete one of the biggest upsets of the Leach era, a 42-38 win.

ORG XMIT: KRT KRT SPORTS STORY SLUGGED: TEXAS-TEXASTECH KRT PHOTOGRAPH BY RON JENKINS/FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM (DALLAS OUT) (November 16) LUBBOCK, TX – Fans storm the playing field as Texas Tech quarterback Kliff Kingsbury flashes the upside down hook’em horns sign after Tech’s 42-38 victory over Texas in Lubbock on Saturday, November 16, 2002. (FT) NC KD 2002 (Horiz) (Digital image) (mvw)

The loss dropped the Longhorns to No. 10 in the nation.

Texas rebounded by beating Texas A&M 50-20 two weeks later. It’s the last time the Longhorns faced legendary Aggies coach R.C. Slocum who went 6-6 in 2002. From 1989-2002, the Aggies had just two non-winning season– both 6-6 seasons– but Texas A&M asked the all-time wins leader in program history to resign his post.

11/29/02 Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN; Texas’ coach Mack Brown gives A&M head coach R.C. Slocum a hug after the game in which the Horns defeated the Aggies 50-20 in Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium Friday afternoon November 29, 2002. Slocum could be out as Aggie coach in the near future. (related story)

The win over the Aggies capped off the first consecutive 10-win seasons since 1969 and 1970. At 10-2, Texas received and accepted an invitation to the Cotton Bowl to play LSU.

Simms capped off his up and down career in the Cotton Bowl by throwing for 269 yards, two touchdowns and completing 15-of-28 passes with one pick. in a 35-20 win over LSU.

“Are there any questions about interceptions or anything?” Simms jokingly asked the media after the game. “I finally get to walk in here with a smile on my face, and it’s about (expletive) time, too!”

“Chris finished his career like he should, ”  Brown told the Statesman after the game. “He’ll be able to buy all the guys who criticized him because he’ll be a great pro player. He handled himself with class, and he handled himself with dignity.”

Texas finished the season 11-2 on the year and No. 6 in the final poll.

Redding, Dockery, Simms and Babers were all drafted the following spring. Redding retired following the 2015 season. Derrick Dockery played until 2012 and in Jan. 2016 began working for the U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. 

Simms was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round. Once thought as a possible franchise quarterback, Simms’ stock had fallen. But he did manage to become the starting quarterback at Tampa Bay in 2005.

11/29/02 Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN; Texas’ QB Chris Simms gets a hug from head coach Mack Brown after the game. Simms finished his regular season career going undefeated in 15 starts at home. The Horns defeated the Aggies 50-20 in Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium Friday afternoon November 29, 2002.

In the third week of the 2006 season, Simms suffered one of the scariest injuries in the history of the NFL when he took a hit against the Carolina Panthers and Al Wilson. He returned to the game but it was later revealed that Simms suffered a  ruptured spleen during the game and had to be taken to emergency surgery. He lost five pints of blood. It was later reported that had he waited another 45 minutes for surgery, Simms may have died.

Simms was never the same player and his career ended a few years later after a stint with the Denver Broncos in 2009.

With Simms off to the NFL, Texas was in need of a new starting quarterback for a team that would again find itself in the preseason top five.

 

 

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