Maybe a change in jersey number was just what the doctor ordered.
In four quarters Saturday, Fozzy Whittaker scored as many touchdowns as he did all last season.
The senior running back, who wears No. 2 but wore No. 28 last season, scored on a seven-yard scamper after taking a direct snap and found the end zone on a 26-yard screen play.
“Fozzy has one speed, and that’s full [speed],” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “He’s just a dirt dog. He’ll do whatever he needs to do. That’s what we love about Fozzy.”
Whittaker was the catalyst of a five-headed backfield that shredded Rice’s defense, one that produced more yards than the Owls’ entire offense. He was also impressive catching passes out of the backfield, making a team-high four grabs for 55 yards.
“Fozzy is just a workhorse,” said senior offensive tackle Tray Allen. “He brings excitement to what he does. We make sure we throw our blocks and Fozzy’s going to use his speed. His cuts make the rest of it work. Fozzy did a really good job on Saturday.”
The Longhorns have plenty of talented tailbacks at their disposal. Six other players carried the football, four of them running backs. Senior Cody Johnson was solid in short yardage situations, junior D.J. Monroe showcased his world-class speed as he ran for 41 yards on five carries, and even freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley got 25 yards on three rushes. It was evident that Whittaker’s time spent with the freshmen running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron paid off. Brown had a game-high 86 yards while Bergeron showed potential as well, going for 28.
“Before the game, I was just getting in their ear,” Whittaker said. “I was saying, ‘Hey, just play like you played in high school. There’s going to be a lot of people here. Block it out. Don’t focus on anything else but what you have to do on the field.”
When the dust settled, Texas had amassed 229 rushing yards, including 123 in the fourth quarter.
After a season of futile attempts to establish a dominant running attack, Whittaker and his fellow running backs had their way with the Owls, though it took a couple quarters to get on track. Texas ran for just 83 yards in the first half with only 51 of them coming from running backs. In the second half, however, the Longhorns offensive line took over in the trenches and the Texas running backs took advantage.
A solid rushing attack will be necessary to keeping the Longhorns offense balanced and take pressure off of the passing game and quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who happened to have Texas’ longest run of the game — a 24-yard sprint up the middle on a broken play. The Longhorns didn’t have the personnel to make the running game a point of emphasis last season. Now that the backfield has added Brown and Bergeron and seniors like Whittaker and Johnson have improved, they do.
“I’m glad we’re back to Texas football,” Allen said. “That’s been Texas’ strength for the last 100 years or so. Running the ball is how we make the fans happy.”
Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Whittaker starts season on right foot