Fozzy Whittaker is running wild. Literally.
The senior tailback has thrived in the Longhorns’ version of the wildcat formation, which Texas has simply dubbed “wild.”
Whittaker has scored three of his four touchdowns this season out of the wild set, which substitutes the quarterback for an extra blocker.
Although the formation is no stranger to college football, it’s being used for the first time at Texas and is part of the unique scheme co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has brought from Boise State.
“It’s not something new, people have been doing it, but when you have the right guy back there it’s effective,” Harsin said. “It’s more about Fozzy than it is scheme.”
“He’s been able to hit some of the plays,” Harsin said, “whether it’s designed to hit front side and he gets the ball in his hands, realizes they’re overplaying it and hits it backside, which we’ve done a couple times.”
When the Longhorns first debuted the wild formation during the season opener against Rice, it paid immediate dividends with the senior’s seven-yard touchdown run.
Against UCLA, Whittaker took the snap and found a gaping hole to easily score from 36 yards out.
The success continued last week against Iowa State, with Whittaker finding the end zone on a 16-yard run in the first quarter. An encouraging sign, considering the Cyclones prepared for it and knew Texas would run that play.
Harsin, however, added a new wrinkle to the wild formation against Iowa State. On the Longhorns’ possession following Whittaker’s touchdown, he ran right before stopping and floating a pass intended for sophomore receiver Mike Davis in the back of the end zone. The ball sailed just out of reach and Texas was also flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield.
“I was reading if the safety bit down on the run at all, then we’d try to slip Mike in right behind him and I could throw it over (the defender’s) head,” Whittaker said. “The safety bit and he was flat footed, so I figured I had Mike over the top. But I overthrew him just a tad.”
Another reason why the wild formation has been effective rests on Whittaker’s improved physique. He slimmed down over the offseason and focused on his speed and quickness. So far, the oft-injured tailback has looked better than ever.
“Looking at him in the UCLA game and some of the other games, he looks a lot more agile and faster,” said senior right tackle Tray Allen.
While Texas has plenty of talented tailbacks, including leading rusher Malcolm Brown, Whittaker fits best in this package because he can become a coach on the field. That skill only comes with five years of experience, an asset the rest of the running backs don’t have.
“He’s got a good command back there,” Harsin said. “We break the huddle and he finishes the play call and he makes sure that we’re set, guys are in the right spots, the motion timing is correct and the cadence is right. There are a lot of things before we even run the play that need to be done and he’s able to handle that.
The wild package can also provide the Longhorns with insurance should the two remaining scholarship quarterbacks get injured in the same game.
“Fozzy can help with the wild formation,” said head coach Mack Brown. “We’re more multiple than we we’ve been in previous years so we do have a way to get out of a game.”
Look for Whittaker to take several snaps on Saturday, but don’t be surprised if Harsin adds another offshoot to it by then. It could get wild.