Simms Beginning to Pay Dividends

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October 22, 2001
Simms Beginning to Pay Dividends

Is this it? Has Chris Simms maybe, possibly, at long last arrived? The year began with publications from coast-to-coast anointing the super talented, but still green Simms a Heisman candidate. Then Simms’ season opened with a string of solid, but unspectacular performances in Texas’ first four wins. Doubts were creeping in, and the Major Applewhite supporters were growing restless and more vocal. And then, Texas met Oklahoma.

Simms and the Longhorns struggled, eventually losing to the Sooners, 14-3. Simms threw 3 interceptions and failed to generate a legitimate offensive threat, and just like that, the Applewhite bandwagon was running full.

But two weeks later, Simms seems to be on the rebound, and, more importantly, finally delivering on some of his much-anticipated, but to this point, seldom-seen talent.

Against a tough Colorado defense on Saturday, Simms turned in arguably his best performance that didn’t feature the Aggies, leading Texas to a rout of the #17 Buffaloes, 41-7. Simms was 17-28 for 234 yards, 3 TD’s and no interceptions. Perhaps most impressive, he led Texas on a 5-play, 85-yard drive that ended the first half. It was the kind of drive Texas couldn’t generate against the Sooners.

Stuck under his own goalposts after taking a sack, Simms dumped a shuttle pass to Cedric Benson, who rambled 40 yards. Next, Simms hit BJ Johnson on a 22-yard post pattern, followed by a 29-yard bullet to Roy Williams along the sideline. Benson capped the drive with a 4-yard TD run. It may prove to be Simms’ defining moment. He was poised, patient, he showcased the arm, the accuracy — in short, it perfectly encapsulated what Simms is capable of.

In his last two starts, Simms is 35-of-58 (60%) for 469 yards and eight TDs with only one interception. Most encouraging, Simms seems to be improving on the many facets of the game’s he’s thus far struggled with, beginning with his inability to beat a good team with something on the line.

Simms has also long been maligned for locking in on his primary receiver and trying to force the ball to him in tight spaces, making him a prime interception candidate. Against the Buffs, though, Simms looked off receivers and threw to his second and third options often. In fact, seven different Longhorns caught passes on Saturday, including Williams, who caught Simms’ first touchdown pass on a play initially designed to go to the tight end.

As disappointing as his play to this point has been, Simms has, in truth, been shackled by a conservative game plan and, until recently, an ineffective running game. But on Saturday, things seemed to turn around for the better in both of those areas. Against Colorado, Texas began looking down field more and instituted reverses, pitchouts and the shuttle pass — for the first time this year, they’re offense had a new wrinkle to it, and it caught Colorado off-guard.

Simms also benefited from the emergence of freshman Cedric Benson in the backfield. Saddled with an unproductive running game for much of the year, Simms has watched ecstatically as Benson has put together back-to-back 100-yard rushing totals, the first UT freshman to do so since Ricky Williams. Benson, who did not get a single carry against Oklahoma, now has 417 yards with just two starts to his credit. One of college football’s most highly touted freshmen, Benson has added a new threat to an already talented Longhorn offense, and taken some of the pressure off of Simms.

And as a result, even some of Simms’ doubters (and there are a lot of them) are starting to turn the corner on him. On Saturday, they saw a more poised, patient Chris Simms, taking what the defense gave him while showcasing his arm strength and accuracy. And this was no ordinary defense. Colorado came into the game ranked 17th in passing efficiency and and 10th in interceptions. They were allowing just 16 points a game. Oklahoma, they’re not, but it was still a big win for Simms and the Longhorns.

The junior quarterback now has three relatively easy contests left (Missouri, Baylor, Kansas) before matching up with Texas A&M, and then, possibly, maybe, a Big 12 championship. Texas is a player in the BCS, too, and early reports could have them in New Orleans come January for the Sugar Bowl.

If they do get to Bourbon Street, it will be thanks in large part to the improved play of Simms.

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