Whittaker emerging as Horns’ big-play back

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Fozzy Whittaker carries the ball during the Longhorns’ 55-17 loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 8 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Whittaker sparked the Longhorns with a 100-yard touchdown on a kick return in the second quarter of the Red River Rivalry.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

He caught the kick, shot upfield, broke a tackle and 100 yards later, found himself in the end zone. Not bad for Fozzy Whittaker’s second career kickoff return.

“A big hole opened in the middle of the field,” the senior said. “All I had to do was take it and make the kicker miss. That’s what I did.”

Whittaker’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown kept Texas in the game momentarily before Oklahoma reeled off 28 unanswered points and pulled out a 55-17 win. But Whittaker’s performance — six carries for 45 yards, a 15-yard reception and the long kickoff return — was a silver lining of sorts.

“Fozzy had by far his best game at Texas,” said head coach Mack Brown. “I thought he played like the way we need the rest of them to play. He ran hard, he broke tackles, he returned kicks, he was on punt block. He really took over and played great.”

With his most recent performance, Whittaker is making a convincing case for more touches. True freshman Malcolm Brown is the only Texas running back to have more than 10 carries in a game, but Whittaker is averaging seven yards per carry in his last three games and is playing with a reckless abandon and confidence.

“I thought he played the best of any offensive player,” Brown said. “He’s stronger. He’s more confident.”

But the fifth-year running back from Pearland, Texas, couldn’t keep his team from losing by nearly 40 points. Texas committed five turnovers and forced just one, an uncharacteristic mark considering the plus-six turnover margin the Longhorns had going into this year’s Red River Rivalry. They’ll have to protect the ball better against Oklahoma State, whose offense will be hard enough to stop without it working with a short field.

Whittaker offered another solution Monday.

“Senior leadership is the biggest key on this team,” he said. “A lot of the senior leaders were here last year. We know exactly what it feels like for something to snowball and how to turn it around.”

Oklahoma State’s defense, while not as strong as the team’s offense, is an opportunistic one. The Cowboys have forced 10 more turnovers (17) than it’s committed (7), and their secondary has picked off nine passes in the last three games.

“They have guys that fly around,” Whittaker said. “Their defensive line is really quick. They’re big guys that can still move around very fast. Their linebackers are fundamentally sound, and they have great defensive backs. They have a lot of turnovers, so that’s a thing that’ll be key to protecting the ball against that defense.”

Against Oklahoma, Whittaker apparently suffered a minor ankle injury, but it barely kept him out one play. Brown said he “couldn’t get [Fozzy] out of the game” because of how badly he wanted to play despite the lopsided margin the scoreboard showed. That kind of effort is catching the attention of some of his teammates on offense.

“Fozzy did outstanding,” freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley said. “He did great for us on offense. That kickoff return really sparked something for us. I know we were behind, but that showed a little bit of his character on that kickoff to try so hard.”

Even those that aren’t his teammates are taking notice of Whittaker. Mack Brown’s wife, Sally, mentioned to her husband how great of a mentor he is after observing Whittaker maneuver Malcolm Brown, his partner in the backfield, around a dinner table much like he does on a gridiron.

Whittaker’s response?

“Someone was good to me,” he said.

The best thing Whittaker could do for now, though, is to do what he’s been doing all season — showing how it’s done on the field.

Printed on Thursday, October 13, 2011 as: Blizzard Of Fozz: Senior tailback continues to build on impressive season, sets example for freshmen