Major Applewhite vs. Chris Simms: Who Should Have Started for Texas?
This is some of my content from last year that needed a new home
Mel Kiper asked the question of Applewhite or Simms back in 2000 as the Longhorns were just three games into an eventual 9-3 season. Kiper didn't answer the question and he didn't figure that Texas head coach Mack Brown knew who to start either. Brown's decision was made for him with Applewhite's knee injury in the Texas Tech game towards the end of the 2000 season. Applewhite wouldn't see any significant action until the 2001 Big 12 Championship game. Why reopen this debate so many years after the games have been played? The Positive Impact Factor (confused? See this article) may be able to help us determine if Brown made the right choice at QB.
Based on the way that millennial season went, the quarterback shuffling was bad for both Applewhite and Simms who both had better years when they didn't split time with someone else. Did Brown's decision to go with Simms and not Applewhite during the 2001 season cost Texas a shot at a national title? Instead of playing Miami for the National Championship at the end of the season, Texas had gone 11-2 with losses against Oklahoma and Colorado (in the Big 12 Championship Game). In both of those games, Texas could have won. In the Big 12 Championship, the Longhorns almost did win after Simms was benched for Applewhite. In Applewhite's final game for Texas, they won a shootout of a Holiday Bowl over Washington. If we just look at Applewhite and Simms' career PIF numbers, it seems that Brown made the right decision in picking Simms.
Simms' had a career PIF of 41.9 compared to Applewhite's 31. Simms produced touchdowns on 6.1% of his touches while Applewhite only scored a touchdown on 5.2% of his touches. Both had a very similar negative play percentage, 43.3% for Simms and 43.5% for Applewhite.
But, what about those big games that Simms fell flat in that everyone remembers? How did Applewhite and Simms do for their career in big games (rivalry games, the Big 12 Championship, bowl games and games against teams which finished in the AP Top 25)?
In big games, Simms recorded a 31.8 PIF compared to Applewhite's 23.5. However, Applewhite produced a touchdown on 4.6% of his touches while Simms scored touchdowns on 3.9% of his plays. Applewhite's negative play percentage (46.7%) was higher than that of Simms (44.3%).
When we bring the big games into consideration, Simms still looks like he was the correct choice for starting QB. However, neither Applewhite nor Simms played well enough in their careers in big games to suggest that Brown's decision to start Simms cost Texas a national title shot in 2001.
When we break down the PIF for each of the scenarios, we find that Chris Simms was 3-1 against Texas A&M with a 54.8 PIF, 1-1 against Texas Tech with a 55.6 PIF, and 0-3 against Oklahoma with an 13.6 PIF, and 1-2 in bowl games with a 30 PIF. In the Big 12 Championship game disaster against Colorado, Simms recorded a -93.1 PIF. In games against teams which finished in the Top 25, Simms went 1-6 and had a 10.2 PIF in those games. Applewhite by contrast was 1-1 vs. Texas A&M with a 20 PIF, 2-1 vs. Texas Tech with a 10.3 PIF, and 2-1 against Oklahoma with a 47.5 PIF. Applewhite was 2-1 in bowl games with a 52.5 PIF. He was not victorious in either Big 12 Championship game he played in and recorded a 27.4 PIF in those games. In games against teams which finished in the Top 25, Applewhite was 4-7 with a 17.7 PIF.
A reason why Applewhite's averages were lower than Simms' is because Applewhite had a fumble problem and Simms didn't. Major Applewhite lost 11 fumbles in his career at Texas (a rate of 8.9% of his rushing attempts) and six in big games (8.6% of his rushing attempts). Simms only lost 3 fumbles in his career (1.7% of his rushing attempts) and 1 fumble in a big game (1.3% of his rushing attempts). Looking at their records in big games against teams that finished in the Top 25, Applewhite was clearly more likely to get Texas a win than Simms. Applewhite's average was lower due to turnovers but he was a high risk, high reward QB. Think about that Holiday Bowl against Washington: Applewhite produced 4 TDs...and 3 INTs. Applewhite produced a TD on 7% of his touches and a turnover on 5.3% of his touches in that game, but, Texas still won.
Overall in big games, Applewhite produced more TDs than turnovers, Simms produced more turnovers than TDs. Applewhite scored 9 TDs vs. 5 turnovers in his 4 wins against Top 25 teams. In just 1 of those Top 25 losses he lost three fumbles and threw three INTs against Kansas State in 1999. Without that one really out of character game (only 7% of his total big game touches), Applewhite's big game average goes from a PIF of 23.5 to a PIF of 33.2. Simms' similarly bad games (4 turnovers in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon, 4 turnovers against Oklahoma in 2001 and 4 turnovers against Colorado in the Big 12 Championship game) account for 24% of his touches in big games. Ultimately, despite the overall averages, Applewhite should have started over Simms because Applewhite had the ability to make up for his turnovers. More importantly, Applewhite was less likely to have a really negative game in a big game situation.