Junior tailback Ricky Williams filled the halls with laughter
upon hearing the news. Williams was standing in the offices of
the Piedmont Boll Weevils, the Philadelphia Phillies' Class A
outpost in Kannapolis, N.C., where he was spending the summer
playing the outfield. He had just heard that Longhorns coach
John Mackovic plans to get him 20 to 25 carries per game this
season, compared with the 17 he averaged as a fullback in 1996.
"Wow, that surprises me," Williams said. "All right!"
Such positive responses to Mackovic's decisions are becoming
more frequent these days at Texas, which is finally accepting
its innovative, Ohio-born coach. Hired in December 1991 as a
temporary fix for a team that had gone 24-21 in its previous
four seasons, Mackovic was typecast as the wise outsider who
could get the Longhorns back on track but not necessarily return
them to college football's elite. Three straight league crowns
(two in the defunct Southwest Conference and one in the Big 12)
and consistently strong recruiting classes are changing that
Texas's multifaceted offense exploded for a school-record 5,525
total yards in 1996, led by Williams, record-setting quarterback
James Brown (page 86) and a pair of seniors, All-Big 12 wide
receiver Mike Adams and All-America tight end Pat Fitzgerald.
Williams's 1,272 rushing yards were the third-best performance
ever by a Longhorns back. Almost 900 of those yards came after
contact, which is the reason they call him Little Earl, as in
1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell. The Longhorns were the
only team in Division I-A listed among the top 25 in total
offense (460.4 yards per game), rushing (209.9), passing (250.5)
and scoring (36.0 points per game).
Despite Williams & Co.'s impressive statistics, Texas stumbled
to 3-4, blowing fourth-quarter leads against Notre Dame,
Oklahoma and Colorado. In a 10-game stretch, 10 players gained
at least 100 yards rushing against the Longhorns, who finished
the year ranked No. 86 in rushing defense.
To slow down the Big 12's physical offenses, Mackovic is
switching the defense from a 3-4 alignment to a more aggressive
4-3. Anchoring this year's unit are 300-pound tackle Chris
Akins, a Herculean senior who holds all of Texas's major
strength records, and sophomore Casey Hampton. Big 12 defensive
newcomer of the year Aaron Humphrey will shift from outside to
As expected, no one has complained about these alterations.
"We've changed people's perceptions around here," Mackovic says.
"We're definitely making more friends." --R.D.
15 Yards difference between junior tailback Ricky Williams's
rushing total (2,262 yards) and that of Longhorns legend Earl
Campbell (2,277) through their first 24 games.
Two Games to Watch
SEPT. 13 VS. UCLA Texas faces its first Pac-10 opponent since
1987 and meets the Bruins for the first time since 1971.
OCT. 25 VS. COLORADO The Buffaloes and Longhorns are headed for
a close encounter. The last two games have been decided by four
points or less.
Passing James Brown Sr. 170 comp., 299 att.,
2,468 yds., 17 TDs
Rushing Ricky Williams Jr. 1,272 yds., 12 TDs
Receiving Wane McGarity Jr. 18 catches,
318 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles LB Aaron Humphrey Soph. 106
Interceptions LB Dwight Kirkpatrick Sr. 2
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER HAMPTON (64) AND HUMPHREY WILL SPEARHEAD THE HORNS' NEW 4-3 DEFENSE [Casey Hampton and Aaron Humphrey in game]