The History of Freshman Quarterbacks at Texas

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By Ross Lucksinger
Posted Aug 21, 2011
Copyright © 2020

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Garrett Gilbert (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

With David Ash putting himself in the thick of the quarterback competition, it opens up the possibility of the Longhorns declaring a true freshman as their Day 1 starter. But what kind of success have freshmen quarterbacks had at Texas? Inside Texas takes a look back at 11 freshman signal callers who've stepped onto the field for the Horns.

Bobby Layne – 1944 – (5-4)

It was in 1972 the NCAA allowed all freshmen to play on the varsity. However, while most freshmen weren't allowed to participate before then, the rule was not enforced consistently. For most of the 20th Century individual conferences set their own eligibility rules, which changed to accommodate the loss of athletes to World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

With a significant number of players fighting in the Pacific, Northern Africa and Europe, the Southwest Conference allowed freshmen to play on the varsity. In 1944 freshman quarterback Bobby Layne led the Longhorns to a 5-4 record and was named to the first of his four straight All Southwest Conference selections. He would only lose two more games during the rest of his college career, finishing with a win-loss record of 28-6 (still the third most victories in UT history).

Mark McBath – 1976 – (2-2)

It was a hard-luck, up and down Texas career for Mark McBath, best known as the quarterback Randy McEachern replaced. He played in four games as a true freshman, winning two of them, and opened his sophomore season up with four straight wins before breaking his leg in the first quarter against Oklahoma.

But he did leave Texas a winner. In his last game as a Longhorn, McBath led Texas to a 42-0 win over Maryland in the 1978 Sun Bowl.

Mark Murdock – 1988 – (1-4)

Switching back and forth between Murdock and senior Shannon Kelley, the Longhorns struggled to a 4-7 record in David McWilliams' second season as head coach. The redshirt freshman Murdock showed some promise, replacing Kelley in wins over New Mexico and North Texas early in the season, but he and the Horns were run over by most of the Southwest Conference. His only victory as a starter came in a late-season 30-21 win over TCU and in 1989 he was replaced by another freshman.

Peter Gardere – 1989 – (4-3)

A look at the statistics doesn't reveal anything special. He's tied for the most career interceptions in UT history with 45 (he's tied with Colt McCoy; of course, McCoy has 113 touchdowns to go with those 45 picks, compared to Gardere's 37 TDs) and Gardere has a moderately successful career record of 25-16.

None of that matters, because Peter Gardere beat Oklahoma four times, the only quarterback in the history of the rivalry to accomplish the feat. Despite the Longhorns' 5-6 record in 1989, Gardere still managed to defeat No. 15 Oklahoma and No. 7 Arkansas in back-to-back seasons.

Shea Morenz – 1993 – (5-5-1)

Enduring a brutal schedule to open the 1993 season, which included four games against Top 25 teams in the first five weeks (No. 11 Colorado, No. 6 Syracuse, No. 24 Louisville, and No. 10 Oklahoma), Morenz managed to right the ship and lead the Longhorns to a tie for second in the Southwest Conference, with all five wins coming in league play. He threw for 2,341 yards in 1993, still third-most by a freshman in UT history.

However, like Murdock in '89, Morenz was replaced by a freshman during his sophomore season as well.

James Brown – 1994 – (4-0)

Morenz battled injuries in 1994 and in a game-time decision was sat for the Oklahoma game in favor of James Brown. Brown led the Longhorns to a 17-10 win over No. 16 Oklahoma. Morenz was given his starting job back the next week and the Horns suffered a 19-17 loss at Rice. Both Morenz and Brown played in a 42-20 win over SMU, with Morenz again starting, but after back-to-back losses to Texas Tech and Texas A&M, Brown was finally given the nod. Brown led the Horns to wins in each of their remaining three games, including a 35-31 thriller against Mack Brown’s North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.

Morenz would pursue a baseball career after being drafted in the first round by the Yankees (27th overall) and would play several years of minor league ball.

Major Applewhite – 1998 – (8-2)

If you're going to play as a freshman, it helps having the leading rusher in NCAA history lining up behind you. Applewhite guided the Horns during Ricky Williams' Heisman trophy season. But the 1998 season wasn't all about Ricky. Applewhite had the most prolific season for a freshman quarterback in UT history (until Colt McCoy), throwing for 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns. In his sixth game as a starter, Applewhite and the Horns ended No. 7 Nebraska's 47-game home winning streak.

Chris Simms – 1999 – (0-1)

“Step up, Chris Simms. This is your chance to send the best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference to the bench,” declared the Associated Press in February of 2000.

It was the beginning of the Simms-Applewhite debate, a splitting of the Longhorn fanbase that didn't end until the 2001 Big 12 Championship Game.

Applewhite was the Big 12's Offensive Player of the Year in 1999, but a stomach virus forced him to sit against Texas A&M. The true freshman Simms started and connected on 10-of-21 passes for 130 yards before being replaced by the ailing Applewhite in a 20-16 loss. Texas' momentum in the game was fading, but the Horns were still up 16-13 when Simms left the game. Whether or not he should have stayed in was just the first of many Simms-Applewhite debates that would be hashed out by fans over the next two years (and still to this day).

Vince Young – 2003 – (6-1)

Chance Mock once said his most impressive accomplishment was keeping Vince Young on the bench for six games.

In 2003, Young gave Longhorn fans a preview of what he was capable of, passing and rushing for more than 1,000 yards. Two years later Young would become the first college quarterback to pass for over 3,000 and rush for over 1,000 yards in a season, as he led the Longhorns to their first national championship in 36 years.

Colt McCoy – 2006 – (10-3)

No season for a freshman quarterback at Texas compares with McCoy's record-setting 2006 campaign.

Named the starter at the beginning of the season after beating out Jevan Snead, McCoy didn't enter with much hype but he left Texas with more victories than any other QB in NCAA history. He got his first 10 in 2006 and set an NCAA freshman record with 29 passing touchdowns.

Garrett Gilbert – 2009 – (0-0)

He didn't start a game as a freshman, but Garrett Gilbert deserves a mention because he played in most of the Longhorns' national championship loss.

McCoy was only able to throw two passes before an injury forced him to sit out the remainder of his final game in a Longhorn jersey. In stepped true freshman Garrett Gilbert. His performance in the loss to Alabama shows the possibilities ahead for Gilbert.

Statistically he was terrible, completing 15 of his 40 passing attempts and throwing four interceptions. But there's no question that his effort in the second half, highlighted by touchdown passes of 28 and 44 yards to Jordan Shipley, had a lot to do with the Longhorns staying in the game despite a talented Crimson Tide defense. Even with all his struggles, the fact remains that the Longhorns had the ball with 3:08 to go and just a three-point difference on the scoreboard. That chance may have been lost when Gilbert fumbled the ball when he was blindsided by ‘Bama linebacker Eryk Anders, but it shows why whether or not Gilbert should start in 2011 is a complex question.

Will he get that chance? Or will he, as has happened several times in UT history, be replaced by a promising freshman?

Notable Freshman QB records at Texas
Wins – Colt McCoy, 10
Passing Yards (season) – Colt McCoy, 2,570
Passing Yards (game) – Major Applewhite, 408 (vs. Oklahoma State)
Touchdowns (season) – Colt McCoy, 29
Touchdowns (game) – Colt McCoy, 6 (vs. Baylor)
Completion Percentage (season) – James Brown, 69.6 (80-of-115)
Completion Percentage (game) – James Brown, 81.5 (22-of-27 vs. Houston)
Longest Play – Major Applewhite, 97-yards (TD pass to Wayne McGarity vs. Oklahoma)

No true freshman in UT history has excelled immediately. The three quarterbacks with at least six wins as a freshman (Applewhite, Young and McCoy) were all redshirt freshmen. But that does not mean excelling as a freshman is impossible. There are many notable examples, especially in recent years, to be found.

Examples of successful true freshman QBs

-Jamelle Holieway, Oklahoma, 1985: After replacing the injured Troy Aikman, Holieway became the only true freshman quarterback to start on a national championship team, leading the Sooners to an 11-1 record and a win in the Orange Bowl over No. 1 Penn State.

-Peyton Manning, Tennessee, 1994: Manning was named SEC Freshman of the Year in 1994 after going a 7-1 record as a starter. Not sure what happened to him after college. Think he got a gig as a spokesman for MasterCard or something.

-Philip Rivers, N.C. State, 2000: He would throw for over 13,000 yards in college and he got started early with 3,054 yards as a freshman and an 8-4 record as a starter.

-Gino Guidugli, Cincinnati, 2001: He passed for 2,573 yards, but he was best known for winning two games with go-ahead TD passes in the final 10 seconds of play during his freshman season.

-Kevin Kolb, Houston, 2003: The prolific Cougar quarterback passed for 3,131 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions.

-Chad Henne, Michigan, 2004: As a freshman he tied Michigan's single-season record for TD passes (25) and led the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to sophomore Vince Young and the Longhorns.

-Mitch Mustain, Arkansas, 2006: Full of promise after winning all eight games he started for the Razorbacks in 2006. A falling out led to a transfer to USC, where he sits behind Matt Barkley.

-Matthew Stafford, Georgia, 2006: The 2009 No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions had a 6-2 record as a freshman at Georgia.

-Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State, 2008: He may not have left Ohio State on great terms, but he made a splash when he showed up, throwing four TDs in his first start and compiling an 8-1 record his first season as a Buckeye.

-Matt Barkley, USC, 2009: Threw for 2,735 yards and led the Trojans to a 9-4 record, including an 18-15 win at Ohio State.

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