Whittaker

When Malcolm Brown went down last year with a turf toe injury, something he said had been nagging him since high school, Texas did just fine without him at first.
   
The Longhorns racked up 439 yards rushing in a 52-20 blowout win over Texas Tech — 191 from fellow freshman Joe Bergeron and none from Brown. But the Longhorns didn’t run for that many yards in their next three games combined. Bergeron was banged up and senior Fozzy Whittaker was lost for the year as Texas, and its running game, sputtered to the finish line.
   
Brown is dealing with another ailment, an ankle injury that will keep him from playing West Virginia this weekend. Going up against a team with an offense as explosive as the Mountaineers’, the Longhorns will need all the help they can get from their backfield. But, unlike last year, Texas is much better equipped to deal with an injury like Brown’s.
   
D.J. Monroe has scored in every game this year, taking a kickoff back for a 100-yard touchdown in a 41-36 win over Oklahoma State last Saturday. Bergeron has run for a team-high five touchdowns, including the game-winner against the Cowboys.
   
“Going into the game, I wasn’t sure if he was going to kick it to us or not,” Monroe said. “I was a little rusty, I ain’t going to lie. I missed a pretty big run on the first one. If he kicked it to me against, I knew they were going to do the same thing and, of course, they did the same thing. I took it to the house.”
   
And true freshman Johnathan Gray showed against Oklahoma State what everyone had been waiting to see from the nation’s top running back prospect. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Aledo product ran for a team-high 68 yards — many of them out of the Wild formation that Whittaker perfected last season — on 11 carries this past weekend.
   
“He’s explosive, I think he’s powerful,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “If we get it blocked correctly and he’s on a safety, he can get in space and make him miss. That’s why Fozzy was very good at that. He had that same type of ability.”
   
Even senior Jeremy Hills has contributed. Sparingly used in years past, Hills caught three passes for 24 yards, the last two catches coming on the game-winning drive against Oklahoma State. His only other grab was a 15-yarder on 3rd-and-14 in the first quarter.
   
“We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight,” Hills said. “We rose, they stepped up and went and scored. Our defense held them late — like we said we were going to do. Then it was the offense’s part to do what we said we were going to do — go score and win the game.”
   
This week promises to be a heavyweight fight, too. Blows in the form of touchdowns are sure to be constantly exchanged and, without Brown, last year’s Longhorns would have been knocked out easily. This year, thanks in large part to Gray, they should be able to hold their own, even against teams like West Virginia.
   
“I’ve gotten so used to seeing different backs roll through there that a few times, I didn’t even notice he was in the game,” junior guard Mason Walters said. “That’s just how confident we are with our guys.”
   
Walters wasn’t the only veteran lineman impressed with Gray.
   
“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” senior guard Trey Hopkins said. “Johnathan did a very good job out of that Wild formation. He came in there, which I don’t think a lot of people see coming from Johnathan Gray. I think a lot of guys just expect him to just use his speed.”
   
But maybe it was head coach Mack Brown that said it best.
   
“Thank goodness for Johnathan Gray,” he said.

Printed on Friday, October 5, 2012 as: Between the tackles: running game still impressive as tailbacks continue to grow

Keeping Score: Things We Learned: Injuries deprive Horns of chance to beat Missouri

Texas can win without some of its playmakers, not without all of them

Texas beat Texas Tech handily without its leading rusher and receiver but could not beat Missouri without Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Jaxon Shipley seeing the field. Linebacker Keenan Robinson hurt his thumb in the first quarter and did not return, but the loss of Fozzy Whittaker may have hurt the most. With Whittaker nursing a knee injury suffered on the first drive of the game, the Longhorns were down to fourth-string running back Jeremy Hills and could muster only 76 rushing yards after averaging 440 in the last two games.

“[Fozzy Whittaker’s] our leader,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Injuries can’t be an excuse, even though they piled up more than I think I’ve ever seen at one position.”

Quarterback situation still unstable

With David Ash taking over as the full-time starter three contests ago, the Texas quarterback position began to stabilize. But after six straight scoreless possessions, Case McCoy took over in the third quarter, getting his first meaningful playing time in more than a month.

Ash went 13-of-29 for 158 yards, completing two long third-down passes on the Longhorns’ opening drive, the only one that produced points. The freshman was also sacked twice on third down, threw an interception near the end of the first half, and missed Marquise Goodwin on what would have been a sure touchdown pass in the first half. Meanwhile, Texas went three and out on McCoy’s first two drives with Justin Tucker missing a 53-yard field goal at the end of McCoy’s third.

“The quarterbacks showed leadership as they always do,” said junior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. “We just couldn’t get the ball moving like we wanted to. We have to go back to the drawing board and get it going for Kansas State.”

Longhorns’ defense one of the best in the country

Missouri came into this game averaging almost 35 points per game but was held to a season-low 17 points Saturday. Even without Robinson and a productive offense for the majority of the day, the Longhorns defense kept them in the game. Texas held its ground when the Tigers blocked a punt and recovered the ball at the Longhorns’ 1-yard line, holding Missouri to a 19-yard field goal. Texas blocked a punt of its own, resulting in a safety, while holding quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who suffered a season-ending injury in the third quarter, to a combined 238 yards, close to 200 below their combined season average.

“The defense played well enough to win,” Brown said. “They kept fighting and competing throughout the game – blocked a punt and let us stay in the ballgame. But offensively we could never get the game started.”

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an eight-part series about Longhorns hoping to be drafted into the NFL.

There was a lot to like about last season. Texas won three more games than it did the year before, including a bowl game, and signed another top-five recruiting class. But Fozzy Whittaker’s knee injury was probably the lowest point.

Whittaker, a senior running back, had established himself as a threat out of the “Wild” formation and had become the first player in school history to return kickoffs 100 yards for a touchdown in back-to-back games. He led the country with 42.4 yards per kick return when he tore his ACL in Columbia against Missouri, effectively ending his college football career.

“You lose part of your heart, part of the soul of this team. You can’t replace that,” said Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after the devastating injury. “From the football side, you lose a guy that can score on any play. His tape says that anywhere on the field he can go the distance. There’s only so many of those guys in the country.”

Whittaker has no problems walking but still can’t run. He’s still hoping that he can realize his initial goal of being fully recovered six months after having surgery to repair his knee, which took place in January. Whittaker said he would like to participate in an NFL training camp but knows there’s a chance that he might not be good to go in time for Week One. If he goes undrafted, Whittaker plans on pursuing a deal as an undrafted free agent.

Whittaker hasn’t worked out for or interviewed with any NFL teams, but the fact that he was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February despite only being able to participate in the bench press is encouraging.

“I may or may not [get drafted],” Whittaker said. “I’m one of those people on the bubble where I’m just waiting to see what will happen on draft day.”

The way Whittaker made his mark in his final season at Texas should serve him well at the professional level. The roles that third-down tailbacks and special team stalwarts play are usually reserved for young players selected in the later rounds of the NFL Draft or even those signed as undrafted free agents. Fortunately for Whittaker, that’s exactly what he did.

“Not too many teams in the NFL right now focus on having one specific tailback for first and third down,” said Whittaker. “So, being able to play on third down and being able to play in the Wildcat formation, will be able to help change the pace up. On top of that, not everybody returns kicks. Being able to do that helps me get on the field.”

Whittaker will graduate in May with a master’s degree in kinesiology and spent some of this spring semester as an intern as a member of the football operations team. One of the projects Whittaker helped out with during that internship was the unveiling of Ricky Williams’ statue before the Orange-White spring game earlier this month.

“It was a real-eye opener,” Whittaker said. “As a football player and as an athlete, we’re just focused on playing the game. You don’t really put too much thought into what needs to happen for everything else to fall into place.”

Texas may not have a running back as good as the Heisman Trophy-winning Williams but having guys like Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron isn’t too bad, either. Each turned in multiple 100-yard efforts during their freshman year this past season and, along with highly-touted incoming freshman Johnathan Gray, will be a part of a loaded Longhorns backfield.

“The sky’s the limit with those guys,” said Whittaker. “I saw a lot more consistency. They’ve grasped the playbook already, compared to when they were freshmen still trying to learn it. I can see them getting better each week.”

Another running back that Whittaker has seen improvement in is Jeremy Hills, a senior running back who he believes will take over for him in the Wild formation. There’s been a lot of speculation as to who will replace Whittaker in that role and many names thrown out there, but Whittaker sees a lot of potential in Hills.

“Jeremy Hills has done a great job,” Whittaker said. “He’s the one that has actually kind of taken on my role as the critical third-down back and the Wild formation person. He’s doing a great job with that and he’s done a great job this whole spring.”

Hills, Brown and Bergeron could very well go on to have a great year in 2012, when Whittaker says Texas can seriously contend for a national championship. But Texas will miss Whittaker. He did anything and everything he was asked to do, whether it was carrying the ball as a tailback, mentoring fellow tailbacks like Brown and Bergeron, extending drives with third-down conversions out of the Wild formation, changing the game as a kick returner or even helping arrange the ceremony for Williams’ statue unveiling.

“Fozzy epitomizes what we all want in college student athletes,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown. “He’s a person that has given a lot more to Texas than he’s gotten back. He’ll fight for a chance to play in the NFL but he’ll have a great career at something.” 

Printed on Friday, April 20, 2012 as: Fozzy looks to shake injuries in NFL 

Running back Fozzy Whittaker (#2) had his senior season cut short by a knee injury, but he hopes to heal it in time to play in the NFL (Daily Texan file photo from September 6, 2011).

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

In his five years at Texas, running back Fozzy Whittaker played in 38 games and started in 18. During his college career, he carried the ball 263 times for 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns. In addition, he had 73 receptions for 464 yards.

He was a kickoff return specialist and holds a school record with two touchdowns, both coming in consecutive contests last season and both going for a school record 100 yards.

Whittaker’s senior season ended early as he suffered a knee injury while playing against Missouri. But he still led the team with nine total touchdowns scored.

Despite his injury, Whittaker was invited to the NFL Combine. He did not participate in any of the workouts except for the bench press, in which he had 20 reps.

Whittaker also did interviews.

Although Whittaker had an impressive career as a running back and as kickoff returner, his skills in the Wild formation have left an impression on Texas.

“I heard Bryan [Harsin] say, probably two weeks before Fozzy got hurt, ‘I’ve never seen anybody do this [the wild formation] as good as Fozzy Whittaker.’ He’s just a natural for it,” said head coach Mack Brown during a press conference last week.

It is expected that Whittaker, who is 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, will be drafted around the sixth round.

Although he is small, he is explosive and has good vision.

But, according to the NFL Combine analysis, Whittaker struggles to move laterally. In addition, his injury will definitely be a concern for teams considering drafting him.

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Dynamic kick returner limited to bench press, interviews as Whittaker recovers from surgery

Originally posted on Jan. 2, 2012

The Longhorns welcomed six new coaches in 2011 and they helped bring a three-win improvement to the program: from 5-7 to 8-5. Texas played some of its best ball in California--a 49-20 win over UCLA on Sept. 17 and a 21-10 win in the Holiday Bowl against Cal on Wednesday--and with that in mind, our season review of the Longhorns' coaching additions comes with the flavor of a Hollywood movie review. All reviews are out of five stars.

Manny Diaz--defensive coordinator: 4 1/2 stars
Previous school: Mississippi State

Diaz was a blockbuster hit for Texas in his first season in Austin. He was the architect of the Big 12 Conference's No. 1 defense, getting the most out of a unit that failed to live up to expectations under Will Muschamp. Diaz integrated his new schemes quickly and garnered a lot of praise from head coach Mack Brown for his strong communication skills with the players. The Longhorns raved about Diaz and relished playing in his defense. Texas forced a season-high five turnovers in the Holiday Bowl to end the season in impressive fashion, and the defense will only improve as the Longhorns become more comfortable with Diaz's philosophies. He inherited a defense with an unproven secondary and a thin defensive line, but that didn't stop UT from ranking No. 11 nationally in total defense (315.33 yards per game) and No. 8 against the run (103.67 ypg). Still, the only thing holding Diaz back from a 5-star rating was his squad's penchant for giving up the big play (long scoring plays doomed the Longhorns in each of their five losses).

Bryan Harsin--offensive coordinator: 3 stars
Previous school: Boise State

Harsin resembled a big-budget, 3-D film: flashy, fun, but lacking in substance. The more you examined him, the more flaws you found. For every brilliant gadget play that resulted in a touchdown, there was a head-scratching call and a trend of going away from the running game too early. Granted, it's not easy for a team to fully grasp a new offensive scheme and playbook, and Harsin wasn't blessed with Vince Young or Colt McCoy under center. He made the most of what he inherited from Greg Davis for the most part, and UT put up a modest 404 yards per game. Still, Harsin abandoned the Longhorns No. 19 rushing attack (210.42 ypg) far too often. Injuries to Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Fozzy Whittaker and Jaxon Shipley limited his play calls, but when his playmakers were in the game they were often overlooked. The quarterback situation was a mess and Harsin never settled on David Ash or Case McCoy as the starter, though neither player ever separated himself and entered the season with one career pass attempt between them. But Harsin's trick plays were a joy to watch and his creativity was a welcome sight. He wasn't a box-office flop, but the sequel should yield better results as the Longhorns grow in his system.

Stacy Searels--offensive line: 3 1/2 stars
Previous school: Georgia

Searels was like a new director overseeing a successful movie franchise: putting his own twist on a formula that worked for years. Searels, though, toughened Texas in the trenches and brought a mean streak to the men up front. After years of zone blocking, the Longhorns reverted to a downhill blocking scheme similar to the unit's Searels coached with and against in the Southeaster Conference. He developed redshirt freshman Dominic Espinosa into a reliable starter and found a star in the making in rookie tackle Josh Cochran. Searles inherited a relatively soft line and morphed them into a mean bunch, though they didn't bring that mentality to all 13 games. It will take more than just one season to change the culture up front, but Searels has Texas headed in the right direction.

Darrell Wyatt--wide receivers: 3 stars
Previous school: Kansas

Wyatt compared to a low-budget, independent film in his first season with UT: trying to get the most out of an inexperienced group while trying to keep up with the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12. Wyatt inherited a young receiving corps and didn't get a chance to work with junior Marquise Goodwin until after the season-opener. Shipley missed time with a knee injury and sophomore Mike Davis also vanished at times, though it wasn't because of injuries. The constant shuffling made it tougher on Wyatt and Texas never established a reliable passing game--you can blame poor QB play for that as well. While the receivers didn't have the best hands, they were an excellent blocking group and assisted the running game more than in previous years. Still, Wyatt couldn't get promising sophomore Darius White to the next level, and he left the program before the bowl game. If Wyatt can continue to get his players to block downfield, the passing game will come around with Austin High product Cayleb Jones coming next season.

Bo Davis--defensive tackles: 3 1/2 stars
Previous school: Auburn

Davis was a solid addition to the Texas staff in 2011, similar to a good movie that would be a good rental if you didn't catch it in theaters. Davis won't win any awards for his work, but the defensive line improved under him. He found reliable backups to Kheeston Randall in Calvin Howell and Ashton Dorsey: a pair that will only improve over the next few seasons. Davis' tackles were solid in the middle and controlled the line of scrimmage. He also did wonders with Chris Whaley, who moved to tackle after beginning his career as a running back. Davis' group was above average, though they were gashed for a few big runs. He has room to improve, but Davis proved to be a smart hire.

Bennie Wylie--strength and conditioning: 4 stars
Previous School: Tennessee

Wylie's first year on the 40 Acres was like a critically acclaimed foreign film: hard to judge by most, but impressive nonetheless. Wylie got the Longhorns back into shape after they slacked off in the 2010 offseason following a National Championship loss. Texas was stronger, faster and better conditioned this year, and Wylie was a player favorite. Fozzy Whittaker was in the best shape of his career before a knee injury ended his senior season, and Wylie played a big role in Whittaker's impressive season. He didn’t directly contribute to any wins, but Texas was a good fourth quarter team thanks to Wylie's offseason conditioning and weight training programs.

Quarterback: This one is obvious. Baylor has a Heisman candidate at quarterback with Robert Griffin III. He has passed for 3,678 yards with 72-percent completion. He has led Baylor to eight wins this season, including winning four in a row. He is also dangerous on the ground, with two 100-yard rushing games this season, and is averaging 55 yards per game on the ground. Texas, meanwhile, has been struggling all year at the quarterback position, but it may have finally found an answer. McCoy didn’t have a passing touchdown and only 110 yards through the air, but he made plays when it mattered as he guided Texas to a win over Texas A&M. Baylor has a Heisman candidate in the backfield, and the definite edge at the position.

Running Back: Texas peaked here in the two-game span against Texas Tech and Kansas, but has since rushed for 353 yards in three games. The Longhorns got more than 400 against both Texas Tech and Kansas. With the injuries to Fozzy Whittaker, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, the running game for Texas has sputtered. Baylor averages more than 210 yards per game on the ground and shredded the Red Raiders for 360 yards rushing with Terrence Ganaway rushed for a career-high 246 yards. With all the injuries that Texas has suffered at the position, the advantage has to go to Baylor with Ganaway and Griffin combining for a dangerous ground attack.

Receivers: Texas got a much needed boost at this position with Jaxon Shipley returning to the lineup last week against the Aggies. Though he only caught three passes for 34 yards, he threw a touchdown pass to Blaine Irby in the second quarter and provides a much needed play-making presence to a team constantly looking for one. In addition to catching the touchdown pass, Irby has become a key to the offense and has seven catches with two touchdown catches in the last three games. Kendall Wright has been an explosive player all year for the Bears and is their leading receiver. He has 95 catches this for 1,406 yards this season. Baylor has four receivers with at least 35 catches, and three of them have more than 750 yards receiving. Baylor’s receiving corps has playmakers and experience all over the field, while Texas is relying on a true freshman as its primary playmaker.

Offensive Line: Baylor is second in the nation in total offense and is in the top 20 in rush offense this season. The Bears have allowed 24 sacks this season and are third in the conference in tackles for loss allowed, having only given up 52 so far this season. The Texas line has allowed 66 tackles for loss this season and has also allowed 24 sacks this season. Both teams can run the ball, but the Bears have been more consistent in recent weeks at running and passing the ball. The Texas line has had its moments, including some dominating short yardage situations against Texas A&M. Both lines have been solid this season, but the Bears have been putting up better numbers and has more experience.

Defensive Line: The Texas defensive line has been a force of nature of late and has been dominating Big 12 offensive lines. Texas has 88 tackles for loss on the season, with 64 of those coming in the last five games at a rate of more than 12 per game. Baylor only has 55 tackles for loss on the season and is in near the bottom third of the country in sacks with 17. Alex Okafor lived in the Aggie backfield last week and, though only credited with one tackle, was a primary part of forcing Tannehill into quick throws. Texas’ depth along the line has been a problem for opposing teams. Baylor is No. 102 against the run and has not been able to get into the backfield enough this season. The Texas line is among the best in the country, not just the conference, while Baylor’s line lags in the bottom third in the conference.

Linebackers: Emmanuel Acho has been playing at an all-conference level and has 98 tackles so far this season. Alongside him is Keenan Robinson who overcame an injured thumb to haunt Tannehill in the backfield last week on blitzes and rushes, getting to him many times throughout the game. Baylor is led by senior Elliot Coffey, who has 89 tackles this season. Baylor has a poor rush defense, and an even worse pass defense. Baylor’s linebackers have to do a better job of getting into the backfield to break up the play and forcing the backs into the defensive line. Texas’ linebackers have been playing at an all conference level over the past five games and should do significantly better than the Baylor linebackers.

Secondary: Against one of the best receiving units in the Big 12, Texas’ defensive backs had their marquee game of the season. With three interceptions, and a pick-six by Carrington Byndom, the Longhorn defensive backs had one of the best games by a secondary unit this season in the Big 12. Texas has the No. 35 pass defense in the nation but is No. 8 in pass efficiency defense. Baylor has one of the worst pass defenses in the conference and is in the bottom third of pass efficiency defense nationally. Even against a Heisman candidate, the Texas pass defense should be stout, and one of the best individual matchups of the game will be Texas’ Byndom against Kendall Wright of Baylor.

Special Teams: Baylor is one of the worst kickoff return teams in the nation and is last in the conference. Texas, even without Whittaker, is in the top 15 in kickoff returns nationally and only trails Kansas State in the Big 12. Baylor is significantly better on punt returns, but the advantage still lies with Texas, which is the top punt return team in the conference and No. 7 nationally. Although Baylor’s kicker, Aaron Jones, has made 95 percent of his PATs but is only hitting half of his field goals, missing from all ranges. Texas’ Justin Tucker didn’t have a good day punting the ball against Texas A&M, but he made the game winning, 40-yard field goal as time expired and has been money in the bank for the Longhorns all season. Texas has the superior athletes on special teams and one of the most reliable kickers in the Big 12.

Quarterback: Kansas State ranks last in the Big 12 in passing offense, but that’s not what the Wildcats use it for. Wildcat signal caller Collin Klein is fourth in the conference in rushing. Kansas State uses a kind of zone read-option hybrid offense and gets most of its yards on the ground. Last week, when asked to win the game against Missouri, the Texas quarterbacks were not up to the task. Both quarterback combined 171 yards passing on 16 of 36 attempts and one interception. With the top-three rushing options out of the game, the offense was stagnant and could not make any plays. Despite being last in passing yards, Kansas State will have the advantage at quarterback because of Klein’s dynamic skill set.

Advantage: Kansas State

Running Back: As long as Texas has one of its top options in the backfield, it will have the advantage at the position. Losing Fozzy Whittaker will be tough for the team. Aside from being one of the main leaders of the squad, he was having one of his most productive seasons as a Longhorn. The Wild Cats are led by their quarterback, Collin Klein, who has more than 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Sophomore John Hubert is second on the team 781 yards. Though Kansas State is primarily a rushing team, it has been out-rushed by Texas this season. If either Malcolm Brown or Joe Bergeron can play at 100 percent, Texas will have the advantage. If not, it could be a long day on offense for the Longhorns.

Advantage: Kansas State

Receivers: Neither team has a receiver in the top 10 of receptions, receiving yards per game or total receiving yards in the conference. The leading receiver for Kansas State is junior Chris Harper, while Texas is led by Mike Davis. Harper is the only Wildcat receiver who has more than 20 catches on the year, while Davis has been the primary receiver for David Ash, especially with Jaxon Shipley out the past couple of games. If Shipley is healthy, then Texas will have two good receivers to Kansas State’s one. The most important factor for receivers in this game won’t be catches or yards. Instead, it will be based on their ability to block defenders down field for the running backs.

Advantage: Texas

Offensive Line: With both teams wanting to run the ball in this game, the play of the lines becomes one of the deciding factors to the game. Texas is still the top rushing team in the conference, despite only gaining 76 yards on the ground against Missouri. Kansas State allowed an uncharacteristic 10 tackles for loss against Texas A&M with four sacks. Both teams average more than 4.5 yards per carry, with Texas boasting a slightly better 4.92 to the Wildcats’ 4.55 yards per attempt. Kansas State allows just more than seven tackles for loss a game, with Texas allowing seven exactly. Both lines are pretty evenly matched, but Texas has more talent behind it if it shows up to play.

Advantage: Texas

Defensive Line: Over the past three games, Jackson Jeffcoat is tied for the team lead in tackles with 27. He and Alex Okafor have been much more active of late, and it is leading to stronger play across the defensive line. In the middle, Ashton Dorsey and Kheeston Randall have been making big impacts against both the run and the pass. And the biggest surprise may be coming from Chris Whaley, who has been consistently getting on the field and making his presence known. Kansas State has only 43 tackles for loss this season, which is just more than four a game. Texas has 71 tackles for loss this season, with 35 of those coming in the last three games. These are the top two rush defenses in the conference, which will pit both teams strengths on offense and defense against each other.

Advantage: Texas

Linebacker: Emmanuel Acho is tied with Jeffcoat with 27 tackles over the last three games, and had a game-high four tackles for loss against Missouri, including a forced fumble. He is leading the team in tackling with 88 tackles and is averaging just less than 10 a game. Kansas State is led by Arthur Brown who has 78 tackles in 10 games. He was the first player to pick off Robert Griffin of Baylor in the Wild Cat’s win over the Bears. Texas only allows 94.8 yards per game on the ground, with Kansas State allowing 99.8 yards rushing per game. These are the only two teams in the conference to hold opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. Nationally, both teams are in the top 25 in terms of stopping the run, with Texas at No.10 and Kansas State at No. 25. Whichever team can stop the run the best will have a major advantage in this game.

Advantage: Texas

Defensive Backs: Texas has the best defensive backfield in the conference and is leading the Big 12 in pass-efficiency defense and is second in overall pass defense. Meanwhile, Kansas State is near the bottom of both pass defense and pass efficiency defense in the conference. Kansas State is second in the conference in turnover margin thanks to 14 interceptions this season, with Nigel Malone leading the conference with six interceptions. There won’t be a lot of passing in this game, but if the Texas quarterbacks have to move the ball, they will be going up against one of the worst in the conference, while Kansas State will have a hard time against the Texas secondary. Texas has the top overall defense in the Big 12, and Kansas State is third overall, so this may end up being a very low-scoring game.

Advantage: Texas

Special Teams: Texas is among the conference’s top kickoff return teams, but so is Kansas State. The Wildcats are ranked No.7 nationally and Texas is No. 13. Neither team is particularly strong in punting the ball or returning punts, so kick returns carry extra importance in this one. Tyler Locket has two kick return touchdowns this season and is currently leading the nation in kickoff returns. Whittaker was the leading return man for Texas, but with him out for the season, D.J. Monroe, Quandre Diggs and Marquise Goodwin have to pick up their production. If a close game came down to field goals, Texas would have a slight advantage with Justin Tucker only having missed two field goal attempts, while Kansas States Anthony Cantele having missed five kicks and one PAT.

Advantage: Texas

Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker reacts on the field after hurting his leg during the first quarter against Missouri. The Longhorns will have a tough time replacing his leadership. (Photo Courtesy of L.G. Patterson)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Longhorns have some big shoes to fill.

A season-ending knee injury to Fozzy Whittaker last week leaves a gaping hole in the Texas offense, but the senior’s leadership will also be missed. Whittaker led the Longhorns with nine touchdowns and 955 all-purpose yards and was the heart and soul of the team.

“It’s a big loss but somebody has to step up and assume that role,” said junior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. “We all have to come together closer as a team and get the job done.”

Whittaker, UT’s third leading rusher, was most effective running the “Wild” package, where he used his vision, power and speed to near perfection in the red zone. He took 25 direct snaps, resulting in 164 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

Now, the onus is on play-caller Bryan Harsin to account for that lost production. He says the Longhorns can still use the “Wild” formation.

“We’ll have to change our personnel, but the scheme won’t change,” Harsin said. “We’ll have another variation of that and get one of those backs in there. Fozzy wasn’t the only guy that was doing it [in practice]. We’ll just figure out who we put back there.”

Junior tailback Jeremy Hills carried 11 times for 35 yards after Whittaker’s injury in the first quarter against Missouri last week. Harsin said he wants a running back to assume Whittaker’s spot in the Wild, and Hills or D.J. Monroe fit the mold.

Senior left guard David Snow believes Harsin can find a solution in just one week.

“He has a knack for finding players for situations and he created the Wild package in the first place,” Snow said. “He can find something else.”

But Whittaker’s absence will affect more than just one formation. He was an important part of the Longhorns’ power run game, and with leading rushers Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron nursing injuries (turf toe and hamstring, respectively), Texas needs more production from the rest of its offense.

The Longhorns were held to a season-worst 247 yards against Missouri without that trio, and Harsin’s offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in his 75-game career as a coordinator (five seasons at Boise State, one at Texas).

“Everybody in every position has to step up,” said senior tight end Blaine Irby. “We can’t put so much weight on the next running back. Everybody that’s playing needs to do just a little bit more.”

That means more production from the passing game. Quarterback David Ash struggled in his first road start and couldn’t find a rhythm against MU. He missed open receivers down field and had more incompletions (16) than completions (13).

Sophomore wide out Mike Davis, though, has shown big-play ability and could be the spark Texas so desperately needs. Davis is first on the team with 33 receptions for 521 yards and has four catches of at least 45 yards.

“Coach Harsin always talks about if we’re a man down, someone has got to carry the flag,” Davis said. “So a man down means someone’s got to pick up the flag, carry it and lead.”

Still, Davis is most dangerous in play-action, meaning the Longhorns will have to be able to run the ball to set up the pass. They were unable to do that against Missouri, granted they were without Brown and Bergeron. But with their status unknown moving forward — head coach Mack Brown said he can’t plan on them playing Saturday — it’s unclear how effective the offense can be.

One thing is certain, though, Harsin remains committed to running the ball.

“The philosophy’s not going to change,” Harsin said. “We’ve got guys to play. That’s how we play, that’s what we believe in and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Now Texas just needs to find the next Fozzy Whittaker. That’s easier said than done. But if anyone can do that, it’s Harsin.

Football Notebook

With Fozzy Whittaker out for the season and Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron banged up, junior tailback D.J. Monroe has to carry more of a load.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns are going back to the drawing board this week.

Texas looked like a team on the rise two weeks ago, but Saturday’s 17-5 loss to Missouri and a season-ending knee injury to Fozzy Whittaker threw a wrench in the Longhorn’s plans.

Whittaker led UT with nine touchdowns and 955 all-purpose yards, and leading rushers Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are both nursing injuries.

“We’ve got us a mess right now,” said head coach Mack Brown. “We’ve got to figure it out in a week.”

Brown, a freshman, has been sidelined by turf toe for two weeks and a hamstring issue has limited Bergeron in practice. Both suited up but did not play against Missouri and their status is uncertain moving forward, starting with Saturday’s game against Kansas State.

“We can’t plan on Joe and Malcolm being ready on Saturday,” Mack Brown said. “And we can’t plan on them playing the whole game if they are ready.”

Texas had found something on offense in the run game behind the trio of Brown, Bergeron and Whittaker, rushing for more than 400 yards in two straight games. But things turned south against Missouri and UT was held to a season-worst 247 yards (76 rushing).

“The thing you look at is, we’ve got an identity,” Brown said. “And all of a sudden, that identity is gone in the first quarter [at Mizzou]. So we’ve got to go back and regroup.”

The Longhorns don’t have much time to figure it out with No. 16 Kansas State (8-2) visiting on Saturday. 

Diaz sees Tebow in Klein

Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz compares Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein to former Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow. 

Klein leads the nation with 24 rushing touchdowns and is first among quarterbacks with 1,009 rushing yards. He ran for a school-record five touchdowns last week against Texas A&M and is three scores shy of Ricky Williams’ Big 12 season record (27). 

“If you go by the film and not the hype and the side show, he plays a lot like Tim Tebow played at Florida,” Diaz said. “He’s a running quarterback and if Kansas State had been in the national spotlight from Day 1, people would think of him along those lines.”

Tebow was a dual-threat quarterback at Florida, where he led the Gators to a pair of national championships before being selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft (No. 25 to Denver). Klein has an awkward throwing motion, much like Tebow, but has passed for 1,504 yards and 10 touchdowns against five interceptions in 10 games. 

“When you watch film, you say, ‘There was a guy who did this a couple years ago,’” Diaz said. “I’m not saying they are the same, but there’s a lot of similarities.”

Klein torched Texas last season for 127 rushing yards and two touchdowns as the Wildcats won, 39-14 in Manhattan. 

Brown wants replay changes

Mack Brown said he plans to suggest the American Football Coaches Association look into expanded replay for the 2012 season. The Longhorns had a few calls go against them in Saturday’s loss to Missouri.

“The official upstairs should be able to have a replay on any play that may change the game,” Brown said. “If it’s an awful call and it happens so quickly and they don’t see it, or they’re arguing over it, then let the guy upstairs watch it three times.”

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro was penalized for illegal helmet-to-helmet contact on a questionable play in the second quarter against the Tigers. Vaccaro stopped De’Vion Moore for a two-yard loss on third down, but was flagged for a personal foul. On the ensuing play, Kendial Lawrence sprinted 35 yards for a touchdown to give MU a 14-3 advantage.

“It’s hard to call,” Brown said. “We need to protect kids, but we’re in a position where it happens so fast — if the guy misses — it is a very difficult call. We’re doing it for fumbles, out of bounds and in bounds, line of scrimmage. Why don’t we do it on any call that’s a bad call that changes the game?”

The coach cited the BCS as another reason for replay reform because “one loss can kill you.”

“We’re in a position where losses kill us,” Brown said. “We need wins. One play can make a difference to us.” 

Fozzy leads the team with a tackle in the Texas v. Rice game.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Without their top two rushers, the Longhorns needed a big day out of Fozzy Whittaker. On the fourth play from scrimmage, David Ash pitched the ball to the senior tailback, whose knee awkwardly buckled beneath him. It was his third carry of the game but proved to the last one of his career.

“How do you get hit as many times as I’ve been hit and my knee goes out on a play where I’m not even touched?” Whittaker wondered to head coach Mack Brown on the sideline.

Whittaker battled injuries throughout his Longhorns career, never making it through a full season healthy. He missed six games during his freshman year with a knee injury, another three as a sophomore and a shoulder injury kept him out of Texas’ win over Florida Atlantic last season. He finally realized his potential this season, becoming one of the team’s most reliable playmakers working out of the Wild formation and one of the nation’s most explosive kick returners. But his stellar senior season came to an abrupt end Saturday.

“You lose part of your heart, part of the soul of this team,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

“You can’t replace that. From the football side, you lose a guy that can score on any play. His tape says that anywhere on the field he can go the distance. There’s only so many of those guys in the country.”

No date has been set, but Whittaker plans on having surgery to repair his torn ACL in mid-December. Doctors have told him it will take at least six months after the surgery before he’ll make a full recovery, although Whittaker hopes to be healthy sooner. Whittaker is using a cart to get around campus to and from his classes but expects to be in crutches for Saturday’s game and Senior Night ceremonies. He is also on track to obtain a master’s degree in kinesiology next May.

“Fozzy epitomizes what we all want in college student-athletes,” Brown said. “He’s a person that has given a lot more to Texas than he’s gotten back. He’ll fight for a chance to play in the NFL but he’ll have a great career at something when he gets out.”

Somehow, Whittaker has found a way to remain encouraged and upbeat, making him virtually the only person with an optimistic perspective of his situation. Brown said Whittaker is the most positive person he’s ever met, as evidenced by his response to tearing his ACL and MCL this past weekend.

“I still have a lot of things to be happy about and thankful for,” Whittaker said. “This is just a minor speed bump in my life. God has a reason for everything. This is just all a part of His plan. All I can do is put my trust and faith in Him.”

The career-ending injury Whittaker suffered Saturday is likely the most disheartening sustained by a Texas football player since Colt McCoy was knocked out of the 2010 national title game against Alabama. Emotions are likely to run high this weekend with the upcoming Senior Night festivities. When asked if he would cry this Saturday, senior safety Blake Gideon wasn’t sure but he may have answered that question after tearing up while talking about Whittaker.

“He would lay down in the street for any one of us,” Gideon said. “The type of character that Fozzy has and what he would do for any one of us just shows you the type of person that he is and why we’re all going to miss him so much.”

Whittaker will still attend the same meetings, practices and games he did while he was healthy, but Gideon will be joined by many melancholy Longhorns fans who will miss Whittaker’s contributions on the field.

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Promising career meets abrupt end