For two seasons Longhorn Nation waited for his passing skills to catch up. It happened this fall. In Young's first two seasons as a starter, his touchdown-pass-to-interception ratio was an ugly 1 to 1 (18 of each); this year he threw for 29 touchdowns and only 10 picks. With linebackers spying him to prevent big gains off scrambles, Young simply sat back and dissected defenses with his arm. He still throws from off the front of his shoulder, and that's when he isn't dropping down to throw sidearm. "We talked about making a lot of changes," says Davis, the offensive coordinator, "but Vince is probably never going to have a classic motion."
As Mack Brown points out, "So many young guys come up now through the quarterback camps, where they're taught the perfect motion. Vince never went to those camps."
"I basically taught myself to throw," says Young. "Look around-- Brett Favre's arm is on another level, and he doesn't throw from the same angle all the time."
Beginning in the middle of the 2004 season, Young ramped up his study of game tape and focused on improving his footwork and timing. "Velocity is not a problem," says McNair, who works with Young several weeks each year. "It's just a matter of Vince bringing the mental part of the game up to the level of the physical part." Since the eighth game of the '04 season, Young has completed 64.8% of his passes.
Even as Young has become a more mature quarterback, he has held on to the energy that makes playing the position fun, talking harmless trash at opponents and seeking out a big hit early in a game to engage himself. Off the field he shares an apartment with Selvin Young (no relation). They have PS2 and Xbox consoles, and when they're finished with those battles, they double up on workouts, first on campus and then in the evening at a health club.
The season began full of promise for Texas, which came into the year seeking its first win over Oklahoma since 1999, its first Big 12 title since '96 and its first undisputed national title since the 1969 season. More than anyone else it was Young who determined that it would happen. An image lingers: Young, staying late on the practice field in midsummer. As teammates start walking to their cars, Young is left with a half-dozen stragglers to work on pass plays. When somebody shuts off the light towers, there's only the quarterback's voice, calling signals in the dark.
Then another image. Nearly five months later, with three games left in a perfect season, Young stays late to talk with a writer and misses the team bus ride from that practice field back to the locker room. In November twilight he is standing alongside the curb on Red River Street, wearing a full practice uniform and feigning desperation as cars drive past, their drivers stunned to see Vince Young seemingly hitchhiking. At last an empty bus returns and Young shakes hands before boarding. He falls into a seat at the front of the bus and stares straight ahead into January.