With injuries mounting, Brown says Texas is a mess
Fozzy Whittaker rolled into the Texas football media luncheon on a scooter with his right knee wrapped in a pressure sleeve and brace to help stabilize it before surgery.
He was a living picture of the problems facing the once-confident Texas Longhorns with three games left in the season, starting Saturday against No. 16 Kansas State (8-2, 5-2 Big 12).
Whittaker, the Longhorns' most dynamic player and heart of the offense, is lost for the season after tearing two ligaments in a non-contact injury suffered early in last week's 17-5 loss at Missouri.
Whittaker was the do-everything player for the Longhorns: tailback, kick returner and occasional quarterback when Texas (6-3, 3-3) ran the wildcat formation. He led the team with nine touchdowns, including two 100-yard kick returns for scores.
Compounding the problem of his injury is that freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, the battering rams of Texas' punishing running game, missed the Missouri game with toe and hamstring injuries and freshman quarterback David Ash fell flat in his first road start with a miserable 13 of 29 passing effort.
''We've got us a mess right now,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said Monday. ''We've got to figure it out in a week.''
Kansas State has won three in a row over the Longhorns and will roll into Austin brimming with confidence after a 53-50 overtime win over Texas A&M behind quarterback Collin Klein's five rushing touchdowns.
Losing Whittaker could have a ripple affect over the entire Texas offense.
He ran Texas' wildcat formation to near perfection - most notably on third down - and had been praised all season as a mentor for Malcolm Brown and Bergeron. The running game pounded out an average of 440 yards in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, and effectively hid Ash's inexperience and gave him room to grow into the position.
All that changed minutes into the game against Missouri. Whittaker was hurt on Texas' first drive when his knee buckled on a cutback before a defender even touched him.
Clutching his knee, Whittaker immediately knew the injury was a bad one.
''Excruciating pain,'' Whittaker said. ''I just knew. Feeling my knee buckle, it was a nasty feeling.''
Without the running game to back him up, Ash was exposed as a young player who still struggles with accuracy and reading defenses. When fourth-team tailback Jeremy Hills gained just 35 yards on 11 carries, Texas tried to put the game on Ash's arm, but the freshman struggled.
Making matters worse for Ash was that freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, the team's best pass catcher, missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury.
Stuck in neutral on offense, Texas punted 10 times against Missouri and was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2004.
''We got an identity and all of a sudden that identity was gone in the first quarter of the Missouri game,'' Mack Brown said. ''There's no question the key players got hurt, but you don't stop the game. Thirty years from now, nobody is going to care who played and who's out. They don't (care) today.''
Mack Brown said Texas will have to prepare for Kansas State as if Malcolm Brown and Bergeron can't play an entire game, even if one or both return to the lineup.
Texas players said they haven't lost confidence in themselves or their quarterback.
''There are people who overcome and people who quit. I just don't see (quit) in Ash,'' senior guard David Snow said. ''I believe that with everything in me.''
Whittaker said he'll be on the sideline Saturday night when Texas bids farewell to its senior class before the final home game of the season.
''This team is not just about me,'' Whittaker said.
But he was the team's inspirational leader and will be tough to replace, both as a running back and as a mentor.
''Somebody has to step up and assume that role,'' junior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin said.