Texas Football: Breaking Down The QB Paths Garrett Gilbert Could Follow
The 2010 National Championship game was not your typical football contest.
Sure, it pitted the top two teams in the country against each other in one of college football's most recognizable venues. But the sudden injury to one of the game's premier players instantly changed the circumstances.
Young Garrett Gilbert was forced into the fray against perhaps the best defense in college football, and his overall performance was commendable to say the least.
However, it was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde night for the freshman.
Just before halftime, Gilbert hadn't completed a forward pass on 10 attempts. He also added two picks in the first half.
While he did end up fumbling away Texas' surprising chance to perhaps win the game late in the fourth quarter, Gilbert's second half performance was stunning.
Two touchdown passes to Jordan Shipley and a two-point conversion throw to Dan Buckner lifted Texas to within three points of Alabama, after the Longhorns found themselves trailing the Tide 24-6 well into the third quarter.
Gilbert carried the momentum of his heroic performance into the spring, throwing three touchdowns in the annual Orange-White spring game. Coaches have raved about his impressive arm strength and his improving accuracy.
But, for all the positive coverage Garrett Gilbert has received, he is still one of the great unknowns in college football this season. There are very few lists that include him among the top five quarterbacks in the Big 12, much less the nation.
If anything, it's because we have yet to see just how good Garrett Gilbert can be.
While the National Championship game may have been the hardest test Gilbert will have to face in his college career, games against Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas A&M will be challenging in their own right.
Gilbert could very well be one of the most talented quarterbacks Mack Brown has brought to Austin in some time. But his success on the field is far from a guarantee, as is the same with most young quarterbacks.
There are a few specific paths Garrett Gilbert could follow based on the performance of some of the past few Texas quarterbacks.
Lets take a look at three of the major possibilities.
The Chris Simms Path
The popular sentiment around Austin concerning Chris Simms is, how should we say, less than grateful. More on that later.
Phil Simms' son was arguably the best high school quarterback in 1998, winning the USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year.
While initially committed to Tennessee, he eventually switched his allegiance to Texas late in his senior season.
Simms played sparingly his first two years on campus, as Major Applewhite was leading the Longhorn charge. But following two years of underachievement, Mack Brown named Simms the starter for the 2001 season.
Simms performed well over the first third of the season, guiding Texas to a 4-0 record heading into the Red River Rivalry game against Oklahoma.
But four costly interceptions and a loss to the Sooners later, there was a full-fledged quarterback controversy in Austin.
Simms, however, would remain the starter and would improve his play dramatically, leading Texas to a 6-0 finish and a Big 12 Championship berth against Colorado.
Cue serious issues.
Simms went 9-17 for 130 yards and three picks in what was a shocking display of ineptitude against a Colorado team Texas had pounded 41-7 a few months earlier.
Texas trailed 36-20 heading into the fourth quarter, prompting Mack Brown to pull Simms in favor of the senior Applewhite. The move nearly gave Texas the comeback victory, as Applewhite threw two fourth quarter touchdowns.
But the rally would fall short.
While Simms would bounce back in 2002, leading Texas to a Cotton Bowl victory over LSU, his career was forever defined by his inability to perform well in the big games.
How does Garrett Gilbert compare?
Well obviously there isn't enough game footage or mileage in his career to compare their on the field merit. But let's look at their pre-Texas lives.
Both are sons of former NFL quarterbacks who spent many years in the league.
Both were highly ranked quarterback prospects who won state titles and were incredible offensive performers.
Both are big physical specimens, standing at 6'4" apiece, and they both possess very live arms.
Both are geared to run a pro-style offense (though Gilbert mastered the spread during his high school years).
In fact, Gilbert could very well be the next Chris Simms, but many fans are hoping the comparisons are strictly physical.
Simms was a solid quarterback at Texas, going 26-6 as a starter, which was good for fifth in Texas history.
He also possessed the second best quarterback rating in school history (138.4), just behind Colt McCoy.
For all of his statistical success, however, he never could win the big game, losing to OU twice and dropping a key game at Texas Tech in 2002.
With OU and A&M making vast improvements, Gilbert will be facing some stiff competition in Texas' biggest games in the coming years.
And while he performed valiantly against Alabama in his first true test, he still failed to complete the comeback and turned the ball over five times over the course of the game.
I really don't believe Gilbert will end up underperforming like Simms did. He's an incredible talent surrounded by a very athletic support group, and it goes without saying that Mack Brown and the coaching staff have matured a lot since the Simms-Applewhite saga.
Gilbert's record in big games will be the big difference that sets him apart from Simms.
The Chance Mock Path
Many outside of the Texas program won't remember Chance Mock all that well.
Mock was a stand out performer in high school, and was named a Parade All-American in 2000.
He came to Texas and served as a backup for both Major Applewhite and Chris Simms for the first two years of his career, but he won the starting job at the start of the 2003 season.
Mock was a talented quarterback skilled in running Greg Davis' pro-style offense. As skilled as he was, Mack Brown had another highly touted quarterback on the roster—Vince Young.
Similar to the Applewhite-Simms tandem, Brown alternated between Mock and Young, utilizing Mock's classic skill set and Young's incredible athleticism to bring more diversity to the offense.
But after a brutal 65-13 loss to Oklahoma, Mock was pulled and the freshman Young was given the reins. Mock would never start again.
The popular belief is that Mock simply wasn't that good. But his 16-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio tells a different story.
It was widely believed that Mock would transfer after the 2003 season seeing as how Young was now the guy in Austin. I'm still surprised he didn't. Instead, he remained at Texas for his senior season in a kind of mentoring role to Young.
Mock will be remembered as a bridge between the Applewhite/Simms era and the Vince Young era, so it's easy to overlook the talent he possessed.
I don't see Garrett Gilbert acting as a bridge between Colt McCoy and the next guy; he's far too talented for that and he's already won the respect of his teammates.
But what if that was the case?
What if Connor Wood, or even Colt's brother Case, were to prove to be exceptionally gifted and made a major push for playing time?
A bad loss to a rival would have coaches possibly considering to bench Gilbert in favor of one of the talented freshmen.
OK, enough fiction for now.
The Vince Young Path
I know what you're thinking, but hear me out.
Vince Young could very well have been the most valuable asset Texas has ever possessed. His play on the field and his leadership in the locker room were simply irreplaceable.
It would take quite awhile to touch on each record and achievement that made Young a household name, but there is one statistic that is particularly telling of just how invaluable he was to the Longhorns—30-2.
That was Vince Young's record as a starter at the University of Texas.
In two-and-a-half year's as the Longhorns' starter, he lost only two games, not to mention winning two BCS bowls and a National Championship.
Garrett Gilbert is NOT Vince Young. But it's safe to say that both of them are awfully good at winning football games.
Garrett Gilbert ended his high school career with a record of 39-4 as a starter, and that was only with three years at the helm. In that span he guided his Cavaliers to two consecutive Texas State Championships.
The similarities don't stop there. Gilbert, like Young, and Chris Simms before him, is a big kid with a very powerful arm.
In addition, Gilbert was arguably the best quarterback to ever run the spread offense in high school, racking up 12,534 yards passing, a new state record.
While his speed is nowhere near Young's, Gilbert can move pretty well, as was evident by several 100 rushing games during the state playoffs.
Here's why I could see Gilbert following a similar path to that of Vince Young:
Vince Young ran an early form of the spread-option offense at Madison High School which he flourished in, but when he came to Texas in 2002 he had to begin learning Greg Davis' pro-style offense.
While his athleticism was still very much appreciated, he was forced into learning to become a traditional quarterback.
For all of the incredible plays he made with his feet, he struggled as a passer.
In 2004, after two straight poor games against OU and Missouri, Mack Brown and Greg Davis both decided that they were trying to make Young in to something he wasn't.
When his coaches finally decided to let him loose and ad-lib more, Young never lost again during his career in Austin.
Coaches have stated that they want to return to a more pro-style attack in 2010 to help bolster the running game, which means Gilbert will have to operate under center more often than not.
While he is certainly capable of making that transition, one would have to expect similar growing pains.
Should Gilbert struggle early next season, it wouldn't be out of the question for the coaches to return to a more spread-like offense similar to the one Colt McCoy ran to perfection for four years.
If Gilbert is allowed to make plays the best way he knows how, that could be the second best decision Mack Brown and Greg Davis have made in their Texas careers.
Some Other Path...
While the similarities between Garrett Gilbert and three previously mentioned quarterbacks could certainly give us clues to how he will perform during his career, there's still no telling just what he'll be able to do.
He could end up being a Colt McCoy-like quarterback, who wins a boatload of games and maybe a BCS game or two, but no big prize.
Or he could be a Peter Gardere, who is an expert at beating Oklahoma, but not much else.
Texas fans wouldn't mind if he turned into the next James Street, meaning he would never lose a game in his Texas career.
Realistically, Garrett Gilbert will likely pave his own legacy on the 40 Acres.
He's already proven that he can take a punch (or several), but his true test will be if he can land some punches of his own.
This is Garrett Gilbert's team. He controls his destiny. If he wants to be in the same category as Young or McCoy, he is more than capable of getting there.
But if he flinches in the face of adversity, well, he may end up being good buddies with Chris Simms.
Either way, the ball is in this talented sophomore's court.