When quarterback David Ash and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks were injured in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State, the Longhorns lost arguably their best offensive and defensive players.
The same could be said about running back Johnathan Gray (ruptured Achilles tendon) and defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee), who suffered season-ending injuries in last week’s victory over West Virginia. The Longhorns (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) will look to others to step up when they host Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We’ve gone through this on both sides of the ball, obviously with David and Jordan Hicks,” junior center Dominic Espinosa said. “They had to step into leadership roles instead of playing on the field and now something similar is happening with Chris Whaley and Johnathan Gray. Now we’re ready to step up and fill their shoes.”
Gray is the Big 12’s third-leading rusher with 780 yards. Whaley has scored two key touchdowns, on an interception against Oklahoma and on a fumble return against Kansas.
Cornerback Quandre Diggs called Whaley the team’s emotional leader.
“We’ll miss him a lot, not just as a leader but as a player,” he said. “He was playing tremendous this year. It’s a big loss for us, no doubt.”
If the way Texas responded after losing Ash and Hicks is any indication, the Longhorns should be fine. Hicks (Achilles tendon) and Ash (concussion symptoms) haven’t played since Sept. 21, a 31-21 victory over Kansas State.
“This team has been very resilient,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I was talking to [defensive backs] Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips about the injuries and how unfair it is … their answer was, ‘It’s football. That happens. It is what it is. They’ll be fine. We’ll take care of them. We’ll move on.’”
Malcolm Brown, who has rushed for 379 yards and seven touchdowns in his last four games, figures to take over for Gray as the Longhorns’ featured back. Joe Bergeron, whose role has been limited after running for 15 touchdowns last year, should get more carries as well.
Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, who started 11 games last year, is back in the starting lineup with Whaley unavailable. Against West Virginia, Jackson quickly recorded two sacks and forced a fumble after filling in for Whaley, who was injured in the first quarter.
Case McCoy threw for a season-high three touchdowns against the Mountaineers, the last one a 2-yard toss to fullback Alex De La Torre, which gave the Longhorns their first overtime victory in team history.
But McCoy has been picked off six times in the past four games and will be facing an Oklahoma State defense that has 16 interceptions, the seventh most in the country.
“They take the ball away quite a bit,” co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “They’ve got three experienced linebackers back, two or three guys in the secondary, couple guys up front. … They’re a very, very good football team top to bottom.”
Texas vs. Oklahoma State
2:30 p.m. Saturday, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin
Head to head
|Points per game||34.4||40.7|
|3rd down conv.||44.1||38.9|
|Def. 3rd down conv.||38.4%||39.6%|