It wasn’t that long ago when Major Applewhite and Kliff Kingsbury’s meeting on a football field was quite the event.
This weekend, when the two face each other as coaches – Kingsbury at Texas Tech and Applewhite at the University of Houston – memories of the late 1990s and early 2000s cannot be avoided.
Applewhite was a Big 12 and fan favorite as the Texas Longhorns’ quarterback; Kingsbury the up-and-comer who would start a trend of Tech quarterbacks producing prolific passing totals.
It was a great era for the Big 12 when it came to QBs.
Josh Heupel led the way at Oklahoma, Heisman winner Eric Crouch at Nebraska. Kingsbury started turning heads in Mike Leach’s Red Raiders offense, and Applewhite was taking Austin by storm.
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Applewhite and Kingsbury played against each other twice in their overlapping years. Applewhite said he doesn’t remember the games well – the Longhorns won both – and joked that it was too long ago.
“He’s better looking than I am,” was all Applewhite offered about his former foe on his weekly radio show, laughing.
Beyond that, Applewhite said all the things he’s supposed to about Kingsbury: He is running a great program, Texas Tech is a big challenge, and so forth.
While saying this week they are excited to play the game, both have been politically correct and complimentary in regard to their opponent.
But there’s a lot on the line this weekend for Kingsbury, who got his first coaching job at UH in 2008 as an offensive quality control assistant under coordinator Dana Holgersen – now head coach at West Virginia – and head coach Kevin Sumlin, now at Texas A&M. Kingsbury moved up at UH, becoming quarterbacks coach in 2010 and co-offensive coordinator in 2011.
Despite wins in Tech’s first two games this season, Kingsbury’s seat remains hot. His overall record is 26-26, and he is 13-23 in Big 12 play. A loss to UH won’t help his cause.
On the flip side, another win over a Power Five opponent and a 3-0 start would do wonders for Applewhite in his first head coaching job.
The Cougars won at Arizona, and while the Wildcats aren’t a top-tier team this year, a road win over a Pac-12 team is commendable. UH then had no trouble rolling past crosstown rival Rice last weekend.
Texas Tech is going to provide a much different and more difficult challenge. The Red Raiders lead the nation in passing with 496 yards per game, offering a real test for UH’s defense.
Every game is a test for Tech’s defense. The Red Raiders rank 117th on that side of the ball and allow an average of 45 points per game.
Applewhite and Kingsbury know what’s at stake when they meet at TDECU Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday. Applewhite is trying to make a name for himself as a head coach. Kingsbury is trying to save his job.
The fact they have a history makes the matchup even more intriguing. Each quarterbacked his team in 1999 and 2000.
Applewhite was 22-of-34 for 241 yards and three touchdowns in the Longhorns’ 58-7 win in 1999. Kingsbury, who split duties with Rob Peters that season, completed 5 of 19 passes for 87 yards.
In 2000, Texas won 29-17. Applewhite went 18-of-33 for 261 yards. Kingsbury was 28-of-49 for 282 yards and a touchdown.
By the next season, Chris Simms was UT’s quarterback. Kingsbury played two more years for the Red Raiders and beat the Longhorns as a senior.
Neither is the trash-talking type. But both are highly competitive and out to prove something, which makes this weekend’s meeting an interesting new chapter in their history and all the more fun.