October 17, 2008

McCoy's march to best QB ever starts now

Colt McCoy is going to leave Texas as the best quarterback in school history - statistically. But McCoy can start making his case Saturday against Missouri to be the best Texas quarterback in school history. Period.

The argument right now is between Vince Young and James Street. They both won national titles. So that's where the bar is set for Colt McCoy.

For the record, Street and the Longhorns had to beat three ranked teams in 1969 (Oklahoma, Arkansas and Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl). Young had to beat four in 2005 (Ohio State, Colorado, Texas Tech and USC). If the Longhorns hope to hold on to No. 1, McCoy will most likely have to beat seven ranked teams (Oklahoma, Mizzou, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Kansas, the opponent in the Big 12 title game and in the BCS national title game).

It's an unprecedented gauntlet. And it will come down to leadership.


We know he can put up numbers. McCoy is 923 yards from replacing Major Applewhite as UT's all-time leading passer. He's 728 yards from moving past Vince Young in career total offense. He's four touchdowns from passing VY for career TDs responsible for. And with five more victories, McCoy becomes the winningest QB in Texas history by victories.

We know McCoy has the talent to win all the games. He completed 80 percent of his passes against Oklahoma last week (he's completing 73.4 percent in three games against the Sooners).

We know he has the poise. McCoy already has nine second-half and six fourth-quarter comebacks. VY finished with eight second-half and six fourth-quarter comebacks.

But can he lead a team without the talent of the 2005 Longhorns through the emotional swings of a college football season. These aren't pros. They're kids. Sometimes kids think they're better than they are. Enough people around them tell 'em how great they are at No. 1, and suddenly the extra hour studying film is replaced by hanging out with friends getting the ego stroked.


McCoy, fairly or not, is the first person teammates will look to and see if the work ethic, fire and killer instinct are all still at warp speed or throttling down to third gear.

"I just want to win," said McCoy when asked about being No.1, on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. "I know if we keep winning, there will be a lot of guys on this team up for awards. Winning is the most important thing. What a great opportunity we have with the teams coming up. That's my focus."


Young was a freak athlete who learned how to become an excellent passer in his fourth year at Texas (his junior season). McCoy is freaky accurate throwing the ball and has learned to become comfortable running.

But their leadership styles are totally different. Young asked Mack Brown to allow players to dance and rap in warmups for practice and on the bus to games. That's not McCoy. But McCoy walks up and down the sidelines when things are tight in a game telling his teammates not to worry - with the same confidence Young had.

Nine second-half comebacks and six fourth-quarter comebacks have earned McCoy's teammates' trust in a pinch.

"Colt's not an extremely vocal guy," said senior receiver Jordan Shipley, who was on the 2005 team with Young and considers McCoy his best friend. "Obviously, everyone looks up to him. He's got his own presence on this team. He's a different guy than Vince in a lot of different ways. He's not going to be the same exact leader, but he's doing well I think.
"There's some similarities to what's going on with those two guys. Colt's not quite as vocal. But he lets his play do a lot of talking."

Young's leadership was especially effective behind the scenes with players like Ramonce Taylor. I asked Young to give me an example of his leadership before the national title game in 2005, and he said, "Keeping after Ramonce was a full-time job."


McCoy doesn't appear to have that problem. He, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley and Chris Ogbonnaya are the leading skill players for the Longhorns and all of them are total grinders. Not a flake or Fruit Loop in the bunch.

But Young also had a list of talent that flowed off the page. At running back, there was Selvin Young, Taylor, Jamaal Charles and Henry Melton. Fighting to get on the field at receiver were Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, Brian Carter, Nate Jones and Cosby. Don't forget David Thomas at tight end.

So McCoy is having to work harder against defenses to make plays to his small group of playmakers. He's doing it with unspoken communication. Dummy hand signals to make the defense think Texas is checking to a throw, only to hand the ball off to Ogbonnaya for a 62-yard run to the Oklahoma 2. Or one play earlier, when McCoy found his first, second and third reads covered, then looked at Ogbonnaya to quit blocking and slip out into the flat as a receiver and pick up 10 yards on third-and-4 on the drive to UT's final TD against OU.


"Chris was not a receiver on that play," McCoy said. "But you have to have that unspoken communication and to be able to have two or three guys out there with that. It's pretty special. I had that with Limas (Sweed), probably not to the extent it is now.

"But you have to have somebody that understands you and can communicate with you without talking to them in the huddle - someone you just have a feel for and understands where you're always coming from. And to have that with two or three players is pretty special."

[db]Greg Davis[/db] said he's never seen chemistry between a group of skill guys like he's seeing with McCoy, Cosby, Shipley and Ogbonnaya.

"It's pretty special," Davis said.


The reason McCoy has 17 touchdowns and three interceptions right now and had only 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through six games last year is maturity and patience.

McCoy sat down with Davis in the offseason and went over every single play in the offense and they discussed why it will be called.

"There's probably 40 percent of the time in a game now where he will say, 'I knew that was going to be your next call for that reason,'" Davis said. "He's reaching a level of understanding that just comes with snaps."

Then, McCoy picked Major Applewhite's brain and Applewhite told him to quit trying to hit homeruns and just take the check down.

"Live to play second-and-4 instead of second-and-10. You're ahead of the chains and it takes the pressure off to make so many big plays," Applewhite said.


The UT coaches don't think this team will let No. 1 go to its head. [db]Mack Brown[/db] reminded his players Texas is 10-0 after playing Oklahoma under Brown, but he also said "if this team doesn't play with the same intensity and execution we did against Oklahoma, this team will lose." Basically, saying this team isn't talented enough to overcome mistakes, like the 2005 team was.

Even with a desperate and talented Missouri team up next followed by one of the nation's best rushing teams (Oklahoma State) and the nation's best passing team (Texas Tech), McCoy feels confident there will be no letdown. And what McCoy says means something. Because if there's one thing McCoy and VY absolutely share when wearing burnt orange it's an unshakable belief in themselves.

"I can't compare myself to Vince," McCoy said. "Vince is Vince. He's awesome. I think the most important thing for a quarterback, for a leader is your teammates believe in you and will respond to you no matter what happens. If something bad happens, they're going to look at you the same way. Are you hanging your head? Keeping your head high and still focused? So far, my teammates and coaches have been great.

"Being able to play behind Vince for a year, you see how guys respond and how critical it is for players to believe in you and to trust you."

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