Emmanuel Acho

Keenan Robinson, 1, was the first Longhorn selected in the NFL Draft this weekend. The linebacker was a fourth round pick of the Washington Redskins. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Although it took a little while and some patience, three Longhorns were selected in the NFL Draft on Saturday — the final day of the draft.

Keenan Robinson, a linebacker, was the first to hear his name called. Robinson was picked by Washington in the fourth round, 119th overall.

Robinson will be reunited with former Longhorn and two-time Pro Bowl pick Brian Orakpo who plays outside linebacker for the Redskins. The two played together when Robinson was a freshman.

He played inside linebacker as a senior and will look to make an impact in the Redskins’ 3-4 scheme. Linebackers are one of the Redskins’ strengths, so Robinson likely won’t be starting anytime soon.

“Keenan came in tall and thin and left about 240 pounds,” said UT head coach Mack Brown. “So he has improved his strength, his flexibility and therefore his range in his ability to make the big hit more than any player that I can remember.”

A few hours later, in the sixth round, the Cleveland Browns picked linebacker Emmanuel Acho. He was the 204th player chosen overall.

Acho could back up Browns returning starters Chris Gocong and Kaluka Maiava. Acho was an All-Big 12 senior and posted 131 tackles his final year as a Longhorn.

Even though Kheeston Randall was expected to be the first Longhorn drafted, he had to wait his turn and was chosen in the seventh round by the Miami Dolphins (215th overall).

“Kheeston Randall made more improvement last year than maybe any player we’ve seen at defensive tackle,” Brown said. “He became a force on the inside and he and our two linebackers are really going to be hard to replace.”

This year’s draft had the fewest Texas players selected since 2005 — when only three were chosen. It is also only the second time since 1990 that no Texas players were chosen in the first three rounds.

Several Longhorns joined NFL teams after the Draft ended.

Kicker Justin Tucker signed as a free agent with Baltimore, safety Blake Gideon signed with the Arizona Cardinals, safety Christian Scott signed with the Tennesse Titans and offensive lineman David Snow inked a deal with the Buffalo Bills.

Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson were not drafted and are now free agents.

With no Longhorns chosen in the first three rounds, this draft wasn’t the norm for Texas. But the last two seasons haven’t been either.

Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Linebackers selected late in NFL Draft

Follow Keenan Robinson on Twitter and you can really pick the Texas linebacker’s brain.

He’s a realist.

“U better believe it’s gone bro,” Robinson (@KeenanRobinson1) tweeted earlier this month in response to fellow Longhorn Case McCoy, who lamented losing his iPad on an airplane.

He isn’t afraid to inquire for a little medical help from any one of his closest 4,662 friends.

“Man my ear won’t pop ... already tried the hold your nose thing,” he tweeted, followed immediately by more medical history.

“Yawning didnt work either,” which was immediately followed up with, “Think Im good now lol.”

The 6-foot-3, 242-pound senior is a work horse.

“Just got a nice lift in with my boy @thEMANacho [Emmanuel Acho]” he tweeted on April 12.

And he’s a popular guy, but strong-willed, as he won’t let indulging himself get in the way of his long term goals.

“Cant ... pro day coming up,” Robinson tweeted in response to former Longhorn and current Arizona defensive back Dan Buckner, who asked Robinson to join him and friends in Las Vegas a few days before his March 20 Pro Day workout.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t let go when it’s appropriate.

“Now that pro day is over ... it’s time to indulge at Ruth Chris [Steakhouse] with the fam #NoQuestion,” he said after Texas’ Pro Day, hash-tagged with his favorite saying, which declares absolute inevitability.

It was his first tweet of that day of course, because while he uses his micro-blog to divulge personal information and stay connected with fans and friends, he knows when football comes first.

The versatile linebacker has steadily improved over his time at Texas and was a key defensive anchor in his junior campaign and continued that trend his senior year. He is one of the Longhorns’ best NFL prospects in their 2012 class — poised to go somewhere in the second through fourth rounds — and it’s because of that continued emphasis on making football a priority. Even though he’s aware of his draft prospects, he’s not simply content with where he is now.

“For me, I am the hardest critic on myself,” he told the media after his Pro Day workout. “I feel like sometimes I play like a first rounder and sometimes I play like a fourth rounder or later. I am going to see where I go, and I feel that wherever I go it will be well deserved.

Robinson, a three-year starter, endured an arduous journey to climb into the leadership role he eventually assumed. He redshirted his freshman year in 2007 and only played a few snaps intermittently on special teams in 2008. In 2009, he broke through into a starting role and produced nicely, earning 74 total tackles in a year where Texas’ defense helped take it to the National Championship. His junior year, Robinson picked up not only his first two career interceptions and busted opposing offenses, recording 113 total tackles including 61 solo shots.

Although his numbers dipped slightly as a senior (106 total tackles in 2011), that didn’t stop scouts this season from seeing in the second-team All-Big 12 player what they knew all along. He proved that he is quick in space and can play all linebacker positions.

“[The scouts] know that I am a big, fast guy,” he said on Pro Day. “The thing for them is they have to pick what team wants me and where they want to put me since I play all three positions.”

After the NFL Combine in February, analysts said he could work on getting off blocks better, because once he gets jammed up by opposing linemen he often gets stuck. For a guy who is as active during the play as Robinson, it’s a wonder he was only able to record one sack last season.

But that’s no matter. The future professional knows he will get a chance to work his way through the NFL ranks like he did in college, and he was sure the Combine went well.

“Came to the combine ... accomplished just about all I wanted to accomplish ...” Robinson tweeted back in February.
Texas head coach Mack Brown knows how important Robinson was to his team the last three seasons, and how difficult he’ll be to replace.

“We have more to catch up on defense than most people say. We lost the two starting linebackers that we thought were good leaders,” Brown said of Robinson and fellow linebacker Emmanuel Acho. The two combined for the most tackles on the team each of the past two seasons.

Brown will not only need raw talent to fill Robinson’s shoes, but he’ll need someone with his work ethic and football-first mentality. Robinson seems to believe that his preparation at Texas is what makes him poised for a bright future at the next level. After all, he’s already let his friends know it.

“It feels good heading into the draft to know that there’s already been numerous Texas players to succeed in the NFL before me,” he tweeted early this month. No question.

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as:Robinson proves to be NFL-ready

Safety Christian Scott runs drills during Texas' annual pro day on Tuesday. Scott, along with 13 other Texas athletes, performed in front of 50 scouts, head coaches and general managers. Scott had an impressive workout and, if drafted, could be a sixth or seventh round pick.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Fourteen Texas athletes showed what they have been working toward for the past four years at Texas’ pro day on Tuesday.

For Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson, the day was to improve their stock for the NFL Draft on April 26. They, along with injured running back Fozzy Whittaker, attended the NFL combine in February.

But this pro day was also vital for players who weren’t invited to the combine, especially safety Blake Gideon, tackle Tray Allen, safety Christian Scott, running back Cody Johnson, center David Snow and kicker Justin Tucker. John Chiles also came back to Austin for pro day. A former New Orleans Saint, he came back to show scouts his potential.

Pro day was especially important for Robinson. Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich came to Austin to see his workouts. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was also in attendance. Robinson performed better at pro day than in the combine and said he jumped an inch higher in the vertical jump and five inches farther in the broad jump.

Robinson isn’t sure what round he will be drafted in, but feels he deserves to be wherever he will be picked. He hopes that teams will see him as a big player with the ability to move well in space.

“For me, I think I am right where I need to be,” Robinson said. “I did what I did on the field and this offseason. So now we sit back and wait and hope that I get a good situation and a good team.”

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho partially tore his quad while running the 40-yard dash at the combine three weeks ago. Trainers told him it would take three to six weeks for him to recover.

“I told them I’ve got three weeks,” Acho said.

Acho, like Robinson, hopes that scouts will appreciate his versatility. Although Acho would be excited to be a part of any team, he would love to go to the Cardinals and join his brother, Sam. Acho was impressive in his position drills despite not being 100 percent. Sam was in attendance along with other Longhorn alumni like Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams and David Thomas. Men’s basketball guard J’Covan Brown even came to watch fellow Texas athletes while they participated in position drills.

Blake Gideon, although he is not expected to be picked in the draft, had a strong performance. He said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 and 4.56 seconds. Although he was hoping to finish better, he was happy with his overall performance and said it was a huge weight off his shoulders now that pro day is over.

“We train for two-and-a-half months for one day so it was good to see guys come out here and compete,” Gideon said. “That’s all it is, you come out here and you compete against numbers you already put up and you’re competing against each other.”

Fozzy Whittaker was very limited in his workouts due to his injury. But he increased his reps from 20 to 23.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Gideon said. “He was only limited to one thing and he still improved that.”

Although Whittaker’s injury has hurt his chances of being drafted, he never lost hope of being drafted. He is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and plans to be 100 percent by late summer.

“I’ve always kept the faith,” Whittaker said. “I’ve always had it in my mind that whatever my mind tells me to do, that’s what I can do.”

He hopes to impress scouts as a running back, kick returner and punt returner.

“However I can touch the field is how I’m selling myself,” Whittaker said.

Although most of the hopefuls on the field on Tuesday will never walk onto the field as NFL players, their time at Texas is coming to an end. At the end of last season, Texas led the NFL with 40 active players. Come April 29, these Longhorns will learn their fate.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who led Texas with 131 tackles last season, injured his quadricep while running the 40-yard dash at last month’s NFL Combine. Acho will be joined by many of his teammates at Tuesday’s Pro Timing Day.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Earlier this month, four Texas players had the opportunity to show NFL teams their potential at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. But now they, along with more Longhorn NFL hopefuls, will be able to show their athletic potential at Texas’ annual pro timing day.

Today Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson will be able to continue their journey to the draft as they participate in drills. But players who weren’t invited to the combine will be able to show scouts what they can do. Running back Fozzy Whittaker was also at the combine, but due to his season-ending injury that he suffered while playing Missouri, he was not able to participate in many of the events. He is still recovering from the injury and will be limited in today’s events.

Today, players will participate in the 40-yard dash, the bench press, the vertical jump and drills that will display their finesse for their specific positions. In addition, they will be measured and weighed. Although the environment at pro days is intense, many alumni and current players will come to support those participating.

Along with that, representatives from NFL teams will be watching the pro hopefuls intently. All 32 NFL teams had representatives at Texas’ pro day last year. Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz were two of the many people attending.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho was one of the top linebacker performers in the 40-yard dash and broad jump at the combine. But, he pulled a muscle in his quad during his second attempt at the 40-yard dash and was unable to compete in the rest of the drills.

“My initial plan was to come back to Austin and prepare for pro day in Austin, but since I did pull my quad muscle, I will stay here in Arizona until I am 100 percent, or until pro day,” Acho said last week. “Then I will go to Austin for pro day, compete at pro day, and then stay in Austin and travel from there to different team visits until the draft.”

At the NFL Combine, Randall had a vertical jump of 34 inches — which tied him for 11th-best overall among defensive linemen. He ran the 40-yard dash in five seconds.

There will likely be between 13 and 19 Texas players participating in pro day. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M already had their pro days.

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: Former Horns hope to impress NFL teams at this year's Pro Day

Just a year ago, Emmanuel Acho was watching his brother participate in the NFL Combine. Former Longhorn Sam Acho was drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Cardinals and now his little brother is attempting to make a good impression on professional scouts over the weekend.

Standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 238 lbs, Emanuel Acho is a very physical player who played in 48 games and started 26 while at Texas. Acho has been working out in Arizona in preparation for the combine.

Acho interviewed well, displaying his strong character. In addition, his academic accolades may help him when it comes to the draft. A three-time first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection, Acho graduated in December with a degree in sports management.

He showed his physical strength by benching 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, putting him tied for 11th out of 29 among linebackers.

Acho is a very versatile linebacker and has the ability to play in the 3-4 or 4-3 defenses. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds — a time that was 14th-best amongst linebackers. His 35.5 inch vertical leap was 11th-best among linebackers and his 118 inch broad jump was 14th-best.

He said his older brother, who made 40 tackles and forced four fumbles as a rookie, helped him prepare before the combine.

“He told me everything,” Acho said. “I got the answers to the test before I have to take it. He’s told me everything I need to know.”

Acho will likely be a third or fourth round pick and will probably play outside linebacker in the NFL.

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Guided by older brother's advice, Acho hoping strong intangibles propel him to top off NFL executive's draft boards

Jackson Jeffcoat (44) and Emmanuel Acho (18) makes a tackle against Texas Tech. Jeffcoat, a sophomore, wants to send the seniors off right this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This senior class has been through a lot. In their first year as Longhorns, the team finished the season ranked third in the country and went 12-1. As sophomores, they went all the way to the national championship game. As juniors, there was a big change and they didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. Now this season, the seniors are leading the team through another rough patch.

With so much experience with ups and downs, underclassmen have come to respect and admire the class of 2011.

“They’ve definitely been mentors for us throughout this whole season, and you know, to play for them on senior night, it’s an honor for me,” said sophomore cornerback Carrington Byndom. “And I’ll go out there and give it all that I have for them and for the team. Definitely having those guys back there is an honor.”

With such a young team, leadership is vital. The team has been through a lot in the past couple of years and many young players admire specific upperclassmen who helped them transition to college football.

Junior safety Kenny Vaccarro said he credits senior safety Blake Gideon for getting him where he is today.

“He has been through a lot here,” Vaccarro said. “Obviously, as far as the mental side of the game goes, it’s hard to come in and learn these systems. He helps the defense glue together and puts us all in the right positions.”

Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been playing well all season, said he wants to send the seniors off on a high note — especially fellow defensive end Kheeston Randall.

“Kheeston is a great guy, and he is like a big brother to me,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s always fun having him around. He was with us last year as a junior and unfortunately we didn’t get to send our seniors off the way we wanted to.”

Sophomore offensive lineman Mason Walters said seniors David Snow and Tray Allen helped him, especially when he first arrived on campus. Walters said the team will fight as hard as they can on Saturday.

“Coming in, both those guys, they were already kind of established older guys when I was new on campus, and they’ve both helped me out in places on the field and off the field,” Walters said.

Senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have both been playing well this season and leading the defense to the best team in the Big 12 in total defense. Acho has the fourth-highest amount of tackles in the conference and was named game captain for the BYU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Missouri games this season. Robinson was named team captain for the games against Texas Tech, BYU, UCLA and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Robinson injured his thumb in last week’s game against Missouri. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks said he has a huge amount of respect for them.

“They’re both great leaders,” Hicks said. “I’ve learned almost everything I know here about this defense from them and Coach Diaz. So they’ve taught me a lot.”

Acho said this senior class has been through a lot and that they have grown together.

“I love this senior class,” Acho said. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through the ups. We’ve been through the downs. I like where we are, and I like the friendships that have formed.”

Gideon agrees that the team has been through a lot of highs and lows in their four years at Texas.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker said the team was embarrassed by last season. He, along with the other seniors, took it upon themselves to make sure this season was different.

“The senior leaders of this team were going to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again, and we were going to find a way, brick-by-brick, build a new foundation to build up this team so that we’re stronger than ever,” Whittaker said.

Head coach Mack Brown had a lot to say about the senior leaders. He had kind words for many specific seniors. He noted Blake Gideon has started every game at Texas, Christian Scott’s athletic and academic performance, Whittaker’s unselfishness, Cody Johnson’s willingness to move to fullback, Tray Allen and Blaine Irby’s recoveries from injuries and Justin Tucker’s consistent impressive performances.

It’s pretty clear that this is a senior class with a lot of character and a willingness to lead a young team.

“This is a great senior class that’s given us a lot of joy, and that’s why I want the fans to give them their proper greeting when they come into the stadium on Saturday night for the game,” Brown said.

(Daily Texan File Photo)

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Like this season, this year’s senior class has had its ups and downs.

Texas will celebrate Senior Night this weekend, recognizing 26 players who have spent four years playing football at the 40 Acres, who have amassed a 39-12 record over those four seasons and how will play their final home game Saturday.

In this year’s senior class’ first two seasons, the Longhorns had shots to capture a national title but didn’t run the table.

Then, they were part of a team that delivered a disappointing 5-7 season but are trying to leave the program on a good note.

“This senior class has given us a lot of great plays,” said head coach Mack Brown. “They were second in the country, they were third in the country and had a chance to win the national championship. I want the fans to come out and give them a great send-off.”

Senior Night is always a meaningful moment, but facing a team that it hasn’t beaten since 2003 and who triumphed over the Longhorns 39-14 last season should provide even more motivation. The Wildcats derailed Texas’ BCS bowl hopes in 2006 and 2007 and helped keep the Longhorns from playing in the postseason at all in 2010.

“That’s probably the biggest slap in the face to any football player, any defensive football player — that a team is more physical than you,” Gideon said. “We made it a point that if nothing else goes right this week, we’re not going to be outhit and we’re going to be the most physical team on the field.”

Emotions won’t just be running high because Texas could be trying to get back at a team that has had its number over the last few years. There will also be a more sentimental feel to the festivities Saturday night when the seniors are acknowledged.

Emmanuel Acho, one of the four seniors on the first-team defense, is coming off a spectacular showing against Missouri, albeit in a losing effort. The senior linebacker made 12 tackles, four for loss, notched two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow linebacker Jordan Hicks to end a Missouri opening drive that saw the Tigers get past the Longhorns’ 10-yard line. Acho will be looking to have a similar performance tomorrow.

“I remember when I first got here,” Acho said. “In my last [home] game, I’ll hope to end it with a bang. It’s going to be fun.”

Another senior on defense, Blake Gideon, has been the epitome of the roller-coaster ride this year’s senior class has been riding. He is the only member of the class to start every game Texas has played since he stepped on campus. But his freshman year was marred by a dropped interception in the fourth quarter of a loss to Texas Tech, Texas’ lone defeat of the season. Gideon, however, has been a staple of Texas’ secondary for the last four years and has had his moments, including logging eight tackles against top-ranked Oklahoma his freshman year, notching an interception in the 2010 national title game against Alabama and racking up 250 tackles over his career.

“[Acho] and I were talking about how back in ’08 against Florida Atlantic, both of us were jogging out on the field looking at each other coming out of the tunnel,” Gideon recalled. “We were two scared freshmen then and what we’ve developed into today, the highs and lows through four years, it really has flown by.”

This year’s Longhorns squad is a young one as seniors occupy just over one-third of the starting slots on the depth chart.

Eleven seniors are currently on the two-deep, six fewer than the number of true freshmen. The underclassmen will be looking to send the seniors off right.

“It’d only be right for them to go out with a win, so we’ll be playing our heart out for them,” said sophomore defensive back Carrington Byndom. “We’re just looking to go out and get a win, not only for Senior Night, but for the team in general. That seventh win is all we’re looking for.”

It will be tough to make the seniors’ last home game a win with Kansas State rolling into Austin, not just because of their history against Texas. The Wildcats are 6-5 all-time against the Longhorns, making them the only Big 12 team with a winning record in their series with Texas. But Kansas State, coming off a 53-50, quadruple-overtime victory over Texas A&M last weekend, is likely overflowing with confidence. But Texas will certainly try to make the most of the last opportunity its seniors have to play in front of the 100,000-plus, burnt orange-clad they’ve grown accustomed to playing for.

“It’ll flash before me: Those four years and what I’ve been through,” said Gideon. “Seeing my parents and hearing my name called, I’m sure there’s going to be a little emotion, but at the same time, there’s a game to be played.”

UT vs. Kansas (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Texas isn’t playing Kansas anymore.

The Jayhawks ran 36 offensive plays against the Longhorns last week. It took Texas Tech a little more than a quarter to run 40 plays when it upset Oklahoma two weeks ago. Texas held Kansas to 46 total yards this past Saturday. Red Raiders quarterback Seth Doege has completed at least three passes that long this year. Bottom line: The Longhorns’ defense will not have it as easy as it did last week.

“I feel like I’ve played them more than any other team for some reason,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “Every week preparing for them is different since their offense is prolific. It’s always a great challenge just seeing how your defense can match up against a great offense like this.”

Texas Tech may not be recognized as Texas’ rival as much as Oklahoma or Texas A&M, but the Red Raiders have provided some great entertainment for Longhorns fans over the years. Texas Tech knocked Texas out of the national title picture with a thrilling 39-33 win at Lubbock in 2008. From 2002-2007, the Longhorns and Red Raiders nearly averaged a combined 80 points per game, with half of the contests being decided by six points or less. Texas is favored by 12 points this weekend but has not beaten Texas Tech by that much since 2007.

“They’re definitely a formidable rival,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “It’s never the team we see on tape. Whatever mistakes they made, they always bring a little extra for Texas. That’s fine. That’s how we like it.”

Texas made nine tackles for loss last week and recorded three sacks, including one each from starting defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor. The Longhorns had the ball for more than 44 minutes but the little time the Jayhawks were on the field they couldn’t move the ball as they got only three first downs.

“We couldn’t have asked for much more of a complete game,” Acho said. “Their offense was very good. They averaged over 400 yards per game. People tried to overlook that. That was a pretty big feat to go out and do what we did.”

Kansas didn’t play much better than Texas Tech did last week. The Red Raiders, after ending Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak, were pounded by Iowa State at home, 41-7, possibly because they were looking ahead to their meeting with the Longhorns.

“We’re definitely expecting the OU-Tech team,” said sophomore defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. “I don’t think the Iowa State-Tech team is the one we’re used to seeing. We know that they’re going to be ready to play us.”

Doege went from a 441-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Sooners to a 171-yard, two-interception showing against the Cyclones. But the junior quarterback, who throws for nearly 350 yards per game, leads the Big 12 in completions per game and will present a stiff challenge against a secondary that had a field day against the Jayhawks.

“He should be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Our league has the best quarterbacks in the country by far. I think he’s what sets them apart.”

But, unlike Texas Tech teams of old, Doege hands the ball off every now and then. In 10 seasons under Mike Leach, 81.3 percent of the Red Raiders’ total offense came through its passing game. Under Tommy Tuberville, who’s in his second season as Texas Tech’s head coach, that number has dipped below  70 percent.

“We know they can run the ball,” Jeffcoat said. “I feel like they’ve been running the ball more than lately. They do a decent job with it so you have to be ready.”

It didn’t seem like there was much room for improvement last Saturday, especially on defense. But senior linebacker Keenan Robinson cited missed opportunities to force turnovers, something Texas has emphasized since its most recent bye week. 

If the Longhorns play better defense than it did this past weekend, Texas Tech will have trouble getting its aerial attack moving downfield. But keep in mind the Red Raiders can get away with running for -2 yards if they throw for 450. 

(Photo illustration)

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns are halfway through their 12-game schedule and several players have caught our attention. Here are The Daily Texan’s midseason awards.

MVP: Fozzy Whittaker

Whittaker has been the surprise of the season and the Longhorns’ most improved player. The senior running back is finally healthy and it shows on the field. Whittaker has done just about everything for Texas this year: run, block, catch, pass, return kicks and, most importantly, score. He leads the team with seven touchdowns (one receiving, four rushing and two on kick returns). Whittaker is second with 43 carries for 220 yards and third with 12 catches (85 yards). In three games since being named kick returner, Whittaker has eight returns for 372 yards (46.5 average) and two touchdowns — both covering 100 yards. He’s scored 42 points, second only to placekicker Justin Tucker’s 46. Whittaker started hot against Rice, when he was the first Longhorn to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same quarter since 2006, and hasn’t tailed off. His 677 all-purpose yards are tops on the team. He’s been successful out of the “Wild” formation, scoring three times off the direct snap. Whittaker’s given Texas everything he has and the Longhorns are praying he stays healthy.

Offensive MVP: Jaxon Shipley

The freshman wideout burst onto the scene with a touchdown grab in his first game and hasn’t looked back. Shipley leads the Longhorns with 28 catches and is second with 391 receiving yards. His three touchdown catches are tied with tight end D.J. Grant for tops on the team. He’s also third with 459 all-purpose yards (76.5 yards per game). Shipley is an all-around player who’s done almost everything on a football field this year — even pass. He threw a five-yard touchdown against UCLA and connected on a 23-yard pass against BYU. Shipley’s best game came on the road at Iowa State, when he caught six balls for 141 yards and a touchdown. The rookie is also involved in the run game, carrying 10 times for 32 yards. So far, Shipley’s made people forget about his older brother, Jordan, and started his own legacy at Texas.

Defensive MVP: Emmanuel Acho

Acho is making the most of his final season in Austin. The linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense, and plays like it. He leads the Longhorns with 58 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries. He’s also tied for the lead in sacks with two. Acho can do more than just stop the run, though. He’s defended two passes and broken up another pair. Acho has five games with double-digit tackles, including a season-high 13 against BYU. His best performance came against UCLA at the Rose Bowl when he had 10 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and three QB hurries. Acho has done well transitioning to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s new scheme and should continue to improve.

Most Valuable Freshman: Malcolm Brown

The freshman tailback has breathed life into a once dormant Longhorns ground attack. Brown leads Texas with 103 carries for 516 yards and has been a workhorse out of the backfield so far in 2011. He averages a clean 86 yards per game and five yards per carry. Brown’s debut against Rice (86 yards on 16 rushes) was the second best for a freshman since Jamaal Charles in 2005. He broke the century mark in only his third game, a 110-yard performance against UCLA. Brown’s best game came against Oklahoma State, when he carried 19 times for a season-high 135 yards and two touchdowns. He’s only the 13th freshman to rush for at least 500 yards and is on pace to be the Longhorns first 1,000 yard rusher since Charles in 2007. 

Printed on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 as: Texan MVP Awards

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Mack Brown knows how to get the Longhorns to forget about the Oklahoma game and move on.

He’s never lost a game following the Red River Rivalry in his 13-plus years at Texas. Brown said he learned early on the difficulties of coaching before and after the OU game.

So what’s his secret?

“We’ve made a real conscious effort to not talk about that game the week before, but to put it to bed really quickly, win or lose, immediately afterwards.” Brown said. “Its such an emotional game and it means so much to everybody that it can linger.”

The Longhorns have been in this position before: coming off a loss to OU and preparing for a top-10 opponent. Last year, Texas upset No. 5 Nebraska on the road after a 28-20 loss to the Sooners.

Now, senior tailback Fozzy Whittaker says the Longhorns are looking forward to another tough matchup against No. 6 Oklahoma State.

“We’ll be ready to answer the bell,” he said.

Keenan Robinson believes Texas will be able to pull off another upset this year, just like in 2010. The senior linebacker says this group of young Longhorns is ready to turn the page and get back to the success that followed them before a disappointing trip to the Cotton Bowl.

“The loss doesn’t discourage me at all,” Robinson said. “We’re still the same team we’ve been all season. We played four great games. We just have to focus on the little things. We’ll be fine.”

The Longhorns pouted after losses a season ago and would let one loss beat them twice. But Brown maintains that Texas is a changed team and that his players won’t make the same mistake twice.

“This team’s got a lot of pride,” he said. “Especially after last year. They’re not to let what happened last year happen again. They’re going to fight every week and make sure we don’t get the down games we had last year.”

Senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho saw that happen one too many times in 2010. But the Longhorns are a year older and a more mature team than that 5-7 outfit. He says Texas will get the mistakes that plagued them a week ago against OU fixed — and quickly.

While the Longhorns don’t want the results off last week’s debacle to carry over, they think there’s room to learn from their mistakes and take those lessons forward.

Acho expects to see growth in the green Texas secondary this week after a tough matchup in OU game — one that’s typically an eye-opener for the younger players.

“It grows you up quickly and it helps you mature,” Acho said. “I think that’s what they’ll do.”

Sophomore cornerback Carrington Byndom is one of a handful of first-year starters in the back end who got a first-hand look at a high-powered offense in the Sooners last week. They’ll face a similar opponent in OSU.

The Cowboys have an all-American wide receiver in Justin Blackmon and a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Brandon Weeden.

The Sooners torched the Texas secondary for 347 yards passing and three touchdowns. But Byndom and company views it as part of the learning curve for this inexperienced defensive backfield.

“We can definitely learn from what happened,” Byndom said. “It’s just an experience you have to go through. Sometimes you have to experience things to learn from them.”

Brown said he spoke with his team this week about his 2003 team that lost to OU, 65-13. That was a similar game to the Longhorns’ 55-17 loss this season. Texas turned the ball over at least five times in each game and had a freshman quarterback throw multiple interceptions. But the coach reminded his squad that the ’03 team ran the table in the regular season after the OU game and finished 10-3.

It’s part of the positive mentality Brown is trying to create in the locker room.

“It’s my job to pick them up,” he said. “I’m not going to let them get down because it obviously didn’t work last year.”

Brown’s been around long enough to know the ins and outs of coaching after the Red River Rivalry. But his staff features six coaches in their first-year with the Longhorns.

Bryan Harsin got his first taste of OU weekend, and the co-offensive coordinator is looking forward to the Longhorns’ response on Saturday.

“This is a great opportunity to see where we are after a difficult loss,” Harsin said. “How we come back and how we prepare and our mentality going into this week. I’m excited to see how we respond. Because I think we’ve got guys who are going to respond well and execute.”

Texas has done it before.