Major Applewhite has had a direct hand in one critical area of an offense averaging 453.5 ypg: reducing turnovers, players say. Despite its trio of unproven ball carriers, Texas has not fumbled through its first two contests.
“Major treats ball security as one of the two most important things in our (running backs) room,” RB Chris Ogbonnaya told Inside Texas Monday. “He doesn’t care as much about touchdowns and rushing yards. Basically, it’s taking care of the football because that’s what loses ball games.”
So, what is the other most important thing that Applewhite emphasizes?
“The other is called the ‘eye exam’,” Ogbonnaya continued. “That has to do with knowing your reads, your assignments, protecting the quarterback and executing, so that when we have an opportunity to make a play or pick-up a blitz, we want to hit it in the mouth and do it at full speed.”
Texas is averaging 177 rushing ypg, a middle-of-the-pack stat even in a pass-happy league.
“Production is always good and we want to have explosive plays,” Ogbonnaya concluded, “but we want to make sure our assignments are 100 percent. If our assignments aren’t 100 percent, there’s no chance for an explosive play.”
In addition, QB Colt McCoy gives Applewhite much of the credit for his current 7-1 touchdown-to-INT ratio. (Note: McCoy’s lone pick of the season came on a fade route intended for freshman SE Dan Buckner at UTEP. It appeared Buckner failed to get separation after breaking off on his pattern against a smaller DB in man coverage). It’s a notable improvement over McCoy’s 22-to-18 ratio last season.
“The most important thing he’s brought to me, so far, is the importance of the back (in the passing game),” McCoy said. “He’s taught me the importance of recognizing that when nobody is open down field, then why try to squeeze the ball in? Your receiver could make a great play or you could make a great throw, but you’ve got a back sitting underneath wide-open. I’ve learned to drop it down and let him make five (yards). If it’s 2nd-and-five, we’re ahead of the chains. He has really emphasized for me to drop it down. He’s done a great job of coaching the backs where they’re going to be in the right place at the right time. We’ve dropped it down a lot so far. Other teams will have to start respecting that, and that opens it up down field.”
If he stays healthy, McCoy will likely break Applewhite's school record for career passing yards (8,353). McCoy is also just two TDs shy of trying Applewhite’s career mark for scoring tosses (60, 1998-2001).
“I’d be dumb if I didn’t use him as another resource,” McCoy said. “When you play quarterback at The University of Texas, it’s almost like a fraternity. To have him as a coach here, with all the ups and downs that come with the experience, is a blessing.”
A former Rice offensive coordinator (2006), Applewhite is giving Texas plenty of insider information as the Horns scheme for the Owls. The list includes the actual heights, weights, speeds and tendencies of athletes who played for Applewhite during his one-year stint in Houston.
“He remembers most of the older guys that were there,” said Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “He’s got a good handle on which guy is a really tough guy, or which guy has good athletic skills. He’s been able to help us on both sides of the ball. Sometimes things go unnoticed on film because they just don't happen, and all of a sudden you notice a guy is, for example, subject to a double-move. Those are things that you try to pick-up on film, but it’s different if you were actually there.”