By Jimmy Burch
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
AUSTIN -- Klieg lights glare. Reporters scribble. Kwame Cavil smiles.
The bubbly Texas wide receiver is carrying another interview session, sometimes interjecting and answering his own questions.
"I'm an All-Pro talker," said Cavil, who likes to use his innate gift of gab to annoy opposing defensive backs and gain a mental edge during games. "I can talk you to death on the field. I was born to be a comedian."
But Cavil is not laughing when the subject turns to the Texas passing game and concerns the 12th-ranked Longhorns (9-3) will carry into Saturday's Big 12 championship against No. 3 Nebraska (10-1). A smooth-running engine for 11 games, the Longhorns' aerial attack sputtered and wheezed in its final tuneup before reaching the title game in San Antonio.
Texas produced season lows for passing yards (183), completion percentage (46.8), receptions (15) and touchdown catches (0) in last week's 20-16 loss to Texas A&M.;
Granted, the Longhorns played the first three quarters without record-setting quarterback Major Applewhite, who experienced dizziness and nausea from a stomach virus. Because of injuries, Texas also played without Ryan Nunez, who ranks second on the team with 53 catches, and Jeremy Jones, the wide receiver with the highest yards-per-catch average (19.5) on the Longhorns' roster.
Nunez and Jones are back, along with a healthy Applewhite. Cavil, however, understands who the catalyst for change must be for the Longhorns to pull a fourth consecutive upset of the favored Cornhuskers since the two became Big 12 rivals in 1996.
"I think a lot falls on my shoulders," said Cavil, who leads the league with 95 catches and 1,098 receiving yards. "I've got to step up and do something to get us going again. But I like being in that situation."
No question about that, Texas coach Mack Brown said.
"Kwame lives for weeks like this," Brown said. "The bigger the game, the bigger the hype, the better he likes it. And, usually, the better he plays."
Cavil grabbed 10 of the Longhorns' 15 completions vs. A&M; but he averaged just 8.2 yards per catch, more than three yards below his season average (11.6). And he failed to reach the end zone.
That stands in stark contrast to the type of contributions Cavil made in a 24-20 victory over Nebraska on Oct. 23. Texas took a 17-13 lead in the third quarter on three consecutive completions to Cavil, covering 58 yards. The score came on a 13-yard slant.
But Cavil's spotlight moment from that game occurred as a downfield blocker. As tight end Mike Jones rumbled toward the end zone with the game-winning, 17-yard touchdown toss from Applewhite, television cameras caught Cavil with a handful of the jersey of Nebraska rover Mike Brown.
No flag was thrown, which elicited objections from Nebraska coach Frank Solich. Comments bashing game officials for missing an "obvious" infraction earned Solich a public reprimand from Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg.
Cavil chuckles when asked about the play.
"That wasn't a hold. No flag was thrown," Cavil said. "If no flag is thrown, then it was a great block. That's what I'd call it."
Pressed about his blocking technique, Cavil said: "The goal is to not let your man make the tackle. You do what you can."
From a Texas standpoint, Cavil's contributions as a blocker are mere gravy compared to the main course he provides as the go-to guy in the offense. Applewhite said he and Cavil have worked after practices this week to regain a sense of lost timing.
"We're going to have to throw and catch to beat Nebraska," Applewhite said. "It's all coming back together. Kwame against anybody is a matchup I like to go to."
The Longhorns' eventual success, however, may be determined by how many times Texas can get the ball to other receivers.
With Applewhite ailing and two receivers sidelined, Brown said Texas' timing was disrupted. Because A&M; frequently blitzed backup quarterback Chris Simms, tailback Hodges Mitchell (32 catches, 343 yards) spent most of his time blocking linebackers instead of running routes.
That thrust the burden of proof to sophomore Montrell Flowers, who managed one catch for 6 yards against A&M.; With Nunez and Jones back in the rotation, Flowers (32 catches, 536 yards, 6 TDs) will have more of his normal support group surrounding him. He also has a point to make. They all do.
"As a group of receivers, we have a lot to prove after that game," Flowers said. "I was so bad, I just have to start over from scratch. I wanted to keep my head down the whole time we were watching films from the A&M; game. You could see the sudden change [of quarterbacks] really threw us off. That shouldn't happen. That's going to make me come out more fired up this week, to show that's not the way I really play."
Brown hopes that attitude is contagious among the receivers who make up Cavil's supporting cast. He said he was "very encouraged" by the progress made in practice this week by Nunez and Jones. Nunez, said Applewhite, could be the key to pulling another upset against Nebraska.
"He's a tough guy and he makes tough catches," Applewhite said. "You won't find many guys in position to break the school receiving record as the No. 2 option in your offense. That says a lot about Ryan."
Indeed, Nunez -- with six catches against Nebraska -- would surpass the former mark of 58 set by Wane McGarity in 1998. Of course, Cavil shattered that standard weeks ago and is focused on the five grabs he needs to become the first player in Big 12 history to reach 100 receptions in a season.
"To be able to do something like that, something no one has ever done at Texas or in this conference, would really mean a lot," Cavil said. "But the big thing is to regain what we had before the A&M; game. We lost a little confidence from that. That was kind of a shock to us, especially the wide receivers. We've got to get our swagger back."
In Cavil's estimation, he is the man best equipped to lead that expedition.
Jimmy Burch, (817) 390-7760
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The Longhorns, minus major contributors to the passing game, threw for a season-low 183 yards against A&M.; A look at the statistics of key Texas receivers, for the season and against A&M;:
Player (Pos.) Season A&M;
Kwame Cavil (WR) 95-1,098 yards, 6 TDs 10-82 yards, 0 TD
Ryan Nunez (WR) 53-569 yards, 3 TDs Did not play
Montrell Flowers (WR) 32-536 yards, 6 TDs 1-6 yards, 0 TD
Hodges Mitchell (TB) 32-343 yards, 1 TD 1-12 yards, 0 TD
Mike Jones (TE) 17-173 yards, 2 TDs No catches
Jeremy Jones (WR) 14-273 yards, 0 TDs Did not play