Explanations for the Texas loss were plentiful. The nation’s seventieth ranked rushing defense entered the game with its leader, defensive end Tony Brakens, suffering a fractured tibia and listed as a definite non-starter. In the event Texas head coach John Mackovic decided that with only a fifth-year senior who had never forced his way into the starting line-up to call on as backup, Brakens would have to play. Brakens ended the day with three quarterback hurries, equalling the total contributed by the rest of the defense. A unit that relied so heavily on contributions from walking-wounded could hardly be expected to contain a running back in Kindler who entered the game averaging 7.2 yards a carry. Kindler went on to finish the season with 809 yards. His fellow running back Autry Denson added 695, and fullback Marc Edwards contributed 717. This imposing three-man rushing rotation followed the lead of highly touted signal caller Ron Powlus, whose eventual season totals of 1,853 yards and twelve scores on a 60% completion rate prevented opposing defenses from simply loading the box. That backfield playing behind a solid line led by Dusty Ziegler, a senior center later drafted by the Buffalo Bills, made the Irish offense a force to be feared. Only in their opening loss, a two-point upset against eventual Big-10 champion Northwestern, did the Irish score less than twenty points all year. Little wonder that Notre Dame compiled 249 team rushing yards on 55 attempts against Texas. Powlus only threw the ball twenty-eight times, but completed sixteen for 273 yards and two scores with only one interception. Notre Dame exposed Texas’ defense. They did no less to several others before January.
Williams left UT after his senior season with a Heisman Trophy and as the NCAA all-time rush leader after surpassing Tony Dorsett’s twenty-two year old record of 6,082 yards by nearly two-hundred. It took Mackovic a surprisingly long time to give Williams the touches his performances demanded. After his first three games as a Longhorn Williams had carried the ball 38 times, a 12.6 carry-per-game average. His season total finished at only 12.7 cpg, despite his impresive yard-per-carry rate of nearly six on 166 rushes for 990 yards. As a sophomore he rushed 205 times for 1,272 — fifteen times a game for a 6.2 average. As a junior those figures increased 1,878 on 279 carries — twenty-five carries a game for a 6.73 average. That season Texas squandered a plethora of talent to somehow finish 4-7. Mackovic was duly fired and replaced with North Carolina head coach Mack Brown. In Brown’s first season Williams saw the ball 361 times [over thirty times per game], 2,124 yards [a 5.9 yard average], and won the Heisman.
Players generally improve with time and entrusting freshmen with too much responsibility is not often wise. But Ricky Williams was no ordinary freshman. His yard-per-carry rate remained steady around a highly impressive six from begining to end of his collegiate career. Williams was almost certainly as ready for thirty touches a game in his freshman campaign as he was when Mack Brown arrived in Austin three years later. Unfortunately for Texas fans, and ultimately for the man himself, Mackovic apparently lacked the vision or the courage to make a choice that seems simple in retrospect. His is a depressingly familiar cautionary tale of a coach out-thinking himself in an effort to employ the most innovative strategy.
Lou Holtz had the right idea. Even if you hand the other team your playbook, they still have to actually stop your guys.
(Sources: USA today CFB encyclopedia; Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Dallas Morning News; CFB data warehouse; Texassports.com)