Major Applewhite is now calling the shots — and the plays — for the Longhorns’ offense.
Applewhite, the Texas quarterback from 1998-2001, made his play-calling debut for Texas in the Alamo Bowl. In a 31-27 victory over Oregon State, the Longhorns scored 14 unanswered points in the final 8 minutes, 18 seconds as the uptempo, no-huddle offense that Applewhite continued to tweak this spring began to wear on the Beavers.
After spring practice concluded, Applewhite outlined to the American-Statesman his hopes for the offense and its players in 2013:
How have you and Darrell Wyatt divided up the responsibilities?
Darrell is obviously involved in the passing game, also third downs, red zone. I rely heavily on Darrell as a sounding board. He’s seen the conference for so long. He’s coached a lot of football and called plays himself. I have a great amount of respect for what he offers. Stacy (Searels, offensive line coach) has the run-game philosophy with Larry (Porter, running backs coach) and Bruce (Chambers, tight ends coach). They work the run game and Darrell and I work the passing game. We try to tie that together in our game plan.
What’s the key factor in making the up-tempo offense be effective?
You’ve got to be fully committed. … You’re either an uptempo team or you’re not. It’s got to be reflected in everything you do in terms of practice, individual drills, everything. It needs to represent what you’re trying to do in a game. In the offseason, if you’re in there doing sets of three and not doing endurance and stamina, and cardiovascular training, then you’re not fully committed because that’s where you’re going to be tested.
What’s the next step David Ash needs to take to be a complete, all-star caliber quarterback?
The first thing he has to do is understand the most precious thing in that stadium is the football. That has got to be of the utmost importance to him. The regard you show for that football is directly tied to whether we win or lose. It’s that simple.
In the two-minute drill in the spring game, I thought that the anxiety level took him somewhere that I wasn’t comfortable watching. I was like, “Why?” The anxiety level was high in the second half of against Oregon State, but he rose to the occasion, he played well. To me, the second thing he needs to do is situationally play good quarterback. Understand third downs, third and 9 is not the same is third and 3. If we have to punt, we’ll punt. But we sure don’t want to give these explosive offenses a sack or a turnover and field position.
What are the biggest strides he’s made since he arrived here?
He’s got a better understanding of the passing game. He’s much more familiar and comfortable in throwing the football into different coverages. I see a guy who is starting to become more comfortable as a person. He’s just not as uptight.
Why do you think leadership has been mentioned so much with him?
I think we wanted him to be Colt (McCoy) and Vince (Young) his freshman year, and he’s not. We want that leadership before it’s time for it to be there. You have to go through a TCU or turn the ball over six times against Kansas State as a sophomore. You have to go through those painful trials as an athlete and competitor to realize when you get that opportunity again, you make use of it. I don’t think our team expects him to rip his shirt off and there’s an “S” on his chest. All they want him to do is be a good quarterback, take care of the ball and do what he has to do.
What’s your assessment of the backup quarterbacks?
You’ve got Case as our backup, and Tyrone (Swoopes). Those two guys are our backups going into fall camp. Connor (Brewer) and Jalen (Overstreet) are a little bit behind right now, but we’ll evaluate those guys over the next couple of months and evaluate how they can help us best.
What do you think Duke Thomas can provide you if moves from defensive back to wide receiver?
I was actually recruiting Duke at Copperas Cove, and he was special with the ball in his hands when he played quarterback. So when he came over to offense, I knew we were getting a competitively tough kid who has change of direction and good ball skills, and just has an incredible will to win. There are certain people who are good athletes and there are certain people who just live and die on every play. He’s got that competitive fire about him.
How have the off-the-field situations with Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders impacted what you’re trying to do at receiver?
It forces you to play other people. It forced Marcus Johnson to get a lot of reps. It forced John Harris and Miles Onyegbule to get a lot a reps the last few days of spring practice when Jaxon (Shipley) went out with a hamstring. It forced all those guys to get a lot of reps and it builds depth on your roster.
Are you happy with the quality and quantity of your playmakers?
Any time you lose guys like D.J. (Monroe) and Marquise (Goodwin), it’s hard to be more explosive in terms of pure speed on your team. We could be explosive in a different way and that’s what we’ve got to do. I think the tempo will allow us an opportunity to get some explosives in there, in running and passing.
How do you plan to keep all your running backs happy?
They’re going to play. If we’re going to move the tempo, the way we’re going to do it, they’re going to all have to be able to play. … Honestly, I don’t worry about how I’m going to keep them happy. I worry about how I’m going to keep them healthy.
What’s the one thing that concerns you the most?
The thing that always concerns you as an offensive coach — turning the ball over. It can change the game.
Do you worry about the off-the-field issues in which you were involved hurting your career?
No. It hasn’t affected my job. It’s given me more appreciation and motivation for it. I’ve addressed it and have moved forward.
Besides wins and losses, how will you judge the success of the offense in 2013?
That’s ultimately the way you judge it — wins and losses. I’m not interested in stats and accolades. There’s a lot of teams that snapped the ball 90 times a game last year, but they weren’t playing in BCS or championship games. That’s our goal at Texas, championships. I like going to those bowls in early January. I couldn’t care less how we get there. If we start out the season as a tempo team and we find out four games into it that it’s better to huddle up, run two tight ends, two backs and one wide receiver to win games, we’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s about winning championships, period. End of discussion.
SPRING TOUR: TEXAS
2012: 9-4 (5-4 in the Big 12, tied for third); def. Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl
They’re gone: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin
But they’re back: QB David Ash, RB Johnathan Gray, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Mike Davis, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, CB Quandre Diggs
Returning leaders: Passing — David Ash (214-318-2,699, 19/8); Rushing — Johnathan Gray (149-701-3); Receiving — Jaxon Shipley (59-737-6)
Spring cleaning: Texas’ two biggest issues? Getting comfortable with Major Applewhite’s new uptempo/no-huddle offense, and finding new defensive leaders with the departures of Vaccaro and Okafor
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
How Texas has fared since 2008:
2009;13-1;8-0;2/2;BCS title (L)
* AP preseason/final ranking
OUR SPRING TOUR
This is the eighth of our annual 10-day spring sweep around the Big 12 by six reporters on the American-Statesman’s college team:
April 14: Texas Tech
April 15: Kansas State
April 16: Oklahoma
April 17: Baylor
April 18: West Virginia
April 19: Oklahoma State
April 20: Kansas
Tuesday: Iowa State
BIG 12’S SPRING GAMES
March 30: Texas
April 6: Baylor
April 13: Kansas, Oklahoma
April 20: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
April 27: Kansas State